Being Lane Kiffin

Lane Kiffin is a polarizing figure in the realm of college football. Those close to him say his persona and unorthodox coaching style add to the mystique, but they also say you can't listen to the hype. They say he's just a normal guy looking to bring the Trojans back to the top.

There's no filing cabinet that enters into the mind of Trojan head coach Lane Kiffin.

And unlike John Malkovich's coworkers, affluent Trojan fans would assuredly pay more than $200 a visit if such a gem existed.

Why? What makes this 36-year old so elusive, so hard to figure out? Step into the pretend world, and imagine what it's like Being Lane Kiffin.

I'd imagine you'd hear lots of freshmen groans inside his mind, find rusty playbooks from historically winning teams, catch flashes of Rey Maulauga or Taylor Mays tackling and taste the air from every collegiate bowl game he coached alongside Pete Carroll. I'd imagine his nightmares would consist solely of cut-ups. I'd also imagine there wasn't a blip of orange to be found.

"He's just a little bit different," USC defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron said. "He's just unusual in some of his ways, which is good. I think he likes that persona about himself."

The story of how Kiffin rose to coaching prominence began with a young passion for the profession. As a quarterback at Fresno State, Kiffin attempted to master all parts of an offense, not simply what's required under center. Two years of assistant coaching jobs later, Kiffin found himself a new hire of then head coach Carroll at USC. Within the last decade, he has encountered a swarm of uncomfortable situations and fought them off, all while leading packs of more than 100 men (many of them the nation's top athletes).

"I think that he's able to attract some top players by the way he's young [and] a little brash sometimes. But he gives players confidence in him. But also when he gets up in front of the T.V. he has his stuff together and they respect him [for it]," Orgeron said.

You could watch every game from his time in Oakland or Knoxville and still be surprised by a game he calls today. Akin to his players' professors, Kiffin constantly hands out pop quizzes. His tests just involve a few more eyeballs and a little more sweat.

"There are things that we're not going to expect but it's just how we learn to adapt to those things. Throwing different plays that we've never ran-- he just wants to test us to see how we're going to respond," offensive tackle Matt Kalil said.

When asked what makes him such an unorthodox coach, Kiffin said he didn't know he was.

Maybe "orthodox" is the wrong word. Maybe "puzzling" is better. "Mysterious" makes it sound as if this were a story for GQ.

"I know one thing, he's tries to stay a step ahead of everything. You know what he does, I think he looks ahead at ‘this could happen, that could happen' and has a good feel for it," Kiffin's father and associate head coach Monte Kiffin said.

In four interviews for this story, halved by players and coaches, one sentence was shared among them all. Verbatim.

You have to know him.

"I was there the day he was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1975 at Lincoln General Hospital. I've known him for 35 years. I think I know him pretty well," said the elder Kiffin. "If he was a jerk, if he was a smart aleck or something like that, and he wasn't a good coach, I don't think I'd be working for him. He'd still be my son but if I didn't think, what some other people think, they need to know him."

Even after knowing him, not every player likes Coach Kiffin. Not every player will like every coach they play for, or teacher they have, or trainer they work with. Pat Kirwan once wrote that a head football coach works 168-hours a week. Kiffin may seem like a ruthless disciplinarian (and an expert luggage-packer), but he doesn't have time (like most coaches around the country) for those who don't have a similar mind, full of trophies and tackles.

"You've seen some coaches over the years who were very successful and lately stopped doing it even though they were still young so there is a lot that goes into it. I think the really good ones want to know everything," Kiffin said.

But Kiffin's resilience is commendable. And if he amasses more winning records, so, too, will his resume.

Until then, he doesn't relax. A year under his belt at his dream job, and Kiffin still has a one-track mind.

"I don't really [relax]. When we win a lot of games then I'll tell you. We went 8-5 [last season]," he said.

Never relaxed, never settled, Being Lane Kiffin sounds stressful.


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