Lane Kiffin apologizes for comments

Updated: November 2, 2011, 9:50 AM ET
By Pedro Moura | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Lane Kiffin apologized Tuesday for his comments criticizing the Pac-12 referees following Saturday's USC-Stanford game that netted him a public reprimand and $10,000 fine from the conference office.

Kiffin, the Trojans' second-year coach, had said he was "extremely disappointed" with the referees' decision not to award USC a chance to kick a field goal with one second left in regulation. He said that side judge Brad Glenn assured him that he'd be awarded a timeout if it was ruled that receiver Robert Woods was tackled inbounds with time left on the clock, but, after the play was reviewed by head referee Michael Batlan, he wasn't and the game went into overtime.

USC went on to lose, 56-48, in triple overtime. Kiffin then said Sunday that he was "basically lied to" by the Pac-12 referees. When the fine was announced Monday night, he neglected to apologize, saying only that he would "agree to disagree" with the Pac-12 officials who made the decision to fine him.

After the Trojans practiced Tuesday in preparation for Colorado, Kiffin changed his tune somewhat.

"I am sorry that all this happened, and I've learned from this," Kiffin said. "I've learned that regardless of questions I can't answer any questions that have to do with calls from any games or any conversation that has an official has with me.

"From here on out, I won't be able to respond to any of that."

At first, Kiffin's critical comments weren't in response to any reporters' questions. He brought up his issues with the end of regulation in his postgame press conference unprompted and continued on for some time. He had to be reminded by a school spokesperson witnessing his comments to move on to other topics.

But, Sunday, in his weekly day-after-game conference call with reporters, he was asked a number of questions about the incident and other referees' calls he had qualms with. Those included a holding call on Stanford in the third overtime that appeared to have been called at the line of scrimmage and should have resulted in a second-and-15 situation, not a second-and-7.

He said then that his 2-year-old son Knox knew where the ball should have correctly been placed after the penalty.

"The Pac-12 has specific rules that prohibit our coaches from making public comments about officiating, and this prohibition specifically includes comments that create doubts about the credibility of the conference's officiating program," conference commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement released late Monday. "The conference expects each Pac-12 coach to adhere to our standards of conduct and to conduct himself or herself in a manner which will reflect credit on the institution and the conference."

This is Kiffin's first punishment since he became USC coach in January 2010. Kirk Reynolds, the conference's vice president for public affairs, said Kiffin is the first coach ever fined by Scott, and apparently the first fined by the Pac-12 or Pac-10 for violating rules on standards of conduct.

In an interview with Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley on 710 ESPN on Tuesday afternoon, Kiffin reiterated his apology and said he understands the Pac-12 rules more clearly now.

"What I learned from it, really ... you can't comment on anything, period. Good, bad, indifferent. And so really I've actually been in violation every week. And so now I'm saying nothing, regardless."

Kiffin said his reaction after the game was out of frustration for his players "because there was a part of me that felt it was taken out of their hands, and that's not what you want for these guys who have been through so much."

"I'd like to think I'm always going to defend our players," he said. "I'm just going to do it in a different way from now on."

Kiffin acknowledges that not commenting will be challenging for him.

"God, it's so tempting," Kiffin said with a grin. Asked if he had written a check to the Pac-12 yet, he said "No, I haven't."

With two days of tirades, the Trojans coach lived up to the headline-grabbing reputation he built during short stints at Tennessee and with the Oakland Raiders.

Kiffin hasn't really been the headstrong 30-something coach that fans love to hate since returning to USC. He largely shrugged off the reputation that started during his messy 20-game tenure running the Raiders, which ended with late owner Al Davis calling him "a flat-out liar" who brought "disgrace" on Oakland after numerous disagreements, including his criticism of No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell.

At Tennessee, Kiffin made a series of deliberately bold public pronouncements to drum up interest in the Volunteers, but some were followed by apologies -- most prominently after he falsely accused Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating in recruiting. His abrupt departure for USC after just 14 months cemented his sleazy reputation in the minds of many football fans.

Kiffin had largely toed a line drawn by new athletic director Pat Haden, who has been determined to drain the USC program of the perceived arrogance that probably contributed to the massive NCAA sanctions leveled against the school shortly after Kiffin arrived. Kiffin and his staff also have kept the Trojans competitive despite a two-year bowl ban, probation and the specter of scholarship restrictions starting next year, even re-emerging as a Top-25 team last month.

Yet the Trojans have been on a recent run of impertinent statements that recalls their headline-making years under coach Pete Carroll, when they backed up their talk with seven straight Pac-10 titles and two national championships.

Quarterback Matt Barkley refused to take back his words after he was reprimanded by the Pac-12 last month for referring to Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict as a dirty player. A week ago, linebacker Chris Galippo and Barkley both said Notre Dame quit in the final minutes of its loss to the Trojans when the Irish declined to call timeouts during USC's final drive with a 14-point lead. Galippo apologized for those postgame comments.

Kiffin wasn't the only Trojan making qualified apologies on Tuesday. USC safety T.J. McDonald also expressed regret for a hit on Stanford receiver Chris Owusu that resulted in a half-game suspension at Colorado, although McDonald said he still didn't know how he could have made the play another way.

"I apologized to my teammates for not being there for them in the first half on Friday," McDonald said. "It's going to drive me crazy."

McDonald is the latest in USC's long line of hard-hitting safeties including Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu, Taylor Mays -- and his father, Tim, a two-time team MVP in 1985-86 before his 14-year career with the Cardinals and 49ers. Tim McDonald suggested his son might try wrapping up his targets in a two-armed tackle instead of leveling them with big hits.

"Maybe that doesn't look as bad," McDonald said.

Kiffin claims the Trojans will keep their fighting words to a minimum until their season ends on Nov. 26. He's determined to observe the Pac-12's policy, even if he has something nice to say about the officials.

"I'm sure they won't be mad if it's good," Kiffin said, "but that's the way it was relayed to me."

Pedro Moura covers USC for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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