Lane Kiffin: Manager acted alone

Updated: November 9, 2012, 12:15 PM ET
By Pedro Moura | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Lane Kiffin insists that a student-manager who intentionally deflated five footballs before the team's loss Saturday to Oregon acted completely on his own.

USC announced late Wednesday night that an unnamed student manager had been fired after admitting to the school's compliance department that he deflated five balls before kickoff against the Ducks.

The Pac-12 accepted USC's self-discipline Wednesday, reprimanded the school and added a $25,000 fine to the football program.

"As a conference, our paramount goal is to provide a safe and fair competitive environment for our student-athletes, their teams, and their fans," a statement from the Pac-12 said.

Athletic director Pat Haden said USC accepted the Pac-12's reprimand and fine.

"We regret this incident occurred," Haden said in a statement. "It was unacceptable and we apologize for it. I can assure you this will not happen again."

That didn't stop some from thinking Kiffin was behind it. The coach repeatedly has searched for small competitive advantages in his three-year tenure with the Trojans. He has switched players' numbers on special teams to confuse opponents, has refused to disclose injuries during game weeks, and has motivated his players in the preseason by telling the media he had not voted his team No. 1.

But he insists the program's latest minor offense had nothing to do with him.

"For all the conspiracy (theorists) that'll think that we were behind this, I don't think if we were trying to deflate balls we would direct a student manager on the Oregon sideline, right in front of them, to be deflating balls and be playing with some deflated balls and some non-deflating balls," Kiffin said. "I'm sure if we knew that, our kickers wouldn't be very happy with that, either, because no kicker's ever gonna want a deflated ball."

Asked Thursday if he understood how people might struggle to believe the manager was not instructed by those with authority to deflate the balls, Kiffin said he did.

"Yeah, I can totally see that," Kiffin said. "That's exactly what I said to our compliance department, too. That's why it was just very frustrating for a distraction like this with none of the players or coaches being involved in it."

Kiffin also said it was "fair" to question the culture he's established at USC, where a student manager presumably thought he could get away with deflating balls on the sideline. But Kiffin said he didn't agree with that perception.

"I don't believe that at all," he said. "I believe this was a very isolated incident that had nothing to do with the coaches or the players on this team."

Oregon coach Chip Kelly said Thursday on Sirius XM Radio that he heard about the situation postgame but didn't think much of it.

"They can do whatever they want," he told Eugene-area reporters later Thursday. "It's no big deal to us."

Kiffin said he didn't know why Kelly was alerted one day before he was.

"That's a great question," Kiffin said. "The only thing I can assume is that because the student manager was doing it on their sidelines, that their people saw it and then it was reported to the officials by their people, so I would assume that's how Chip found out."

USC's student managers typically pick out their six game balls with Barkley after the team's Thursday practice, with the quarterback selecting ones out of a larger pool.

The balls are then required to be left alone until the day of the game, when they are examined by the referees. Each team uses six game balls, which are stored on opposite sidelines during games.

USC (No. 19 BCS, No. 21 AP) is 6-3 after losing its past two games to Arizona and Oregon. The Trojans, who have not lost three in a row in 11 years, host Arizona State on Saturday at the Coliseum.

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