Lane Kiffin: 'Nothing physical'
USC coach Lane Kiffin on Wednesday denied an ESPN report that a brawl took place in the team's locker room following its Dec. 31 Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.
Multiple sources told ESPN that a "flat-out brawl" transpired when one of the team's younger players began "bad-mouthing Matt Barkley." The player questioned why the injured quarterback did not play and challenged USC's collective senior leadership in the room.
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The Los Angeles Daily News also reported on the incident earlier Wednesday.
"Contrary to media reports, there was not a brawl or altercation in our locker room after the Sun Bowl," Kiffin said in a statement. "There was a noisy verbal exchange among a couple players who were frustrated with the outcome of the game. It lasted less than a minute. There was nothing physical. That happens sometimes in football locker rooms after a disappointing loss."
Barkley, in speaking with ESPN Radio's "The Herd With Colin Cowherd" on Wednesday. said that "tempers flared" but that no punches were thrown.
"I would say tempers flared, yeah, but that's football," Barkley said. "It's an emotional game, and when you end your season on a negative note like that, emotions are going to be high. Guys were expressing their opinions, for better or worse, but we had it under control. It was nothing to be alarmed about."
"If you ask some of the guys who were there what happened they'll negate those claims about people throwing punches and all that stuff or whatever was said," Barkley added. "Obviously, in the locker room after that game, which was a loss, there's gonna be words exchanged. People weren't in the best mood, but that wasn't to say we were fighting each other or there was an altercation."
One USC player, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that he arrived at the locker room a few minutes after most of the team but saw a chaotic scene, though he never saw punches thrown.
"When I came into the locker room ... it was just pure chaos in there," the player said. "... I think there was a lot of frustration. There were some things said by some guys on our team who are just hotheads."
Several other upperclassmen, including senior safety T.J. McDonald, came to Barkley's defense, the sources told ESPN. A security guard confirmed only that "tempers flared," while other sources said that "it was haymakers."
"People were upset, I think the leadership was there, if you saw the leaders step up in the locker room," Barkley said. "T.J. McDonald, Khaled Holmes, myself, we stepped up when we had to and handled the situation in an appropriate way when other people weren't."
According to the Daily News, freshman offensive tackle Zach Banner would not discuss the incident but did say, "It's going to be a whole new family atmosphere next season, and you can quote me on that. For the seniors, it's terrible."
Barkley, a onetime Heisman Trophy contender, did not play in the bowl game because of an injury to his shoulder. He was ruled out by the team's medical staff and previously missed USC's regular-season finale against Notre Dame after suffering the injury in the Nov. 17 game versus UCLA.
Barkley's absence was one thread in a season full of disappointment for USC. The Trojans were the top-ranked team in the preseason but struggled mightily, finishing 7-6 overall and 5-4 in the Pac-12. Meanwhile, several players in USC's 2013 recruiting class -- ranked No. 6 by ESPN.com after once being ranked No. 1 -- decommitted, including Max Redfield, the No. 2 athlete in the ESPN 150, wide receivers Eldridge Massington and Sebastian LaRue, and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, ranked No. 10 in the ESPN 150.
"It's kind of a bummer," the anonymous player said. "This was our last game together -- and that's the last memory I have with my team is being in that locker room. ... I'm excited about the future of USC, but it's kind of a bad, sour way to end a bad, sour season."
ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski contributed to this report.