Transcript: Kiffin at the Round Table

USC head coach Lane Kiffin wrapped up questions on the stage at Pac-12 Media Day only to be greeted by a lightning round of more questions at the lunch table. Below is a full transcript of the lunch time talk between the media and Kiffin.

On how Penn State players could affect scholarships… I as of yesterday, I'm of the understanding that we would operate the same way but would be 10 less obviously. So if we were to go to 76 we would come back to 74. It has to be one less the next year.

On anyone may not qualify academically… We don't talk about our guys academic situation. That's pretty personal. But I think everybody always has people that are close.

On if the start of fall camp is the academic deadline… No, I'm not under the understanding that that is the deadline. We can still figure it out, I do need to double check what the date was. My understanding is that it was later in camp but if we have an issue, I don't think it's going to be an issue to be at or above that number, but if it is, we'll check that out.

On recruiting Penn State players… I would think that anybody in the country would. As a head coach, if you're not investigating situations where players can potentially play for you, you're not doing a very good job. You'd better look into everything, so I would just consider that doing our job and I would assume – I would never view it as we were taking a player off Penn State's roster or anybody's roster because he's obviously – whoever it is – if he's coming to us, he's going somewhere anyways, so it's not like we'd be the only team doing that.

If Robert Woods will be 100% at the start of camp… I don't. Our reports have not said that he'll be 100%. Obviously, we'd like for that to be the case, so until I can physically get with him – which I'm not allowed to right now – and see him move around, I can't really tell myself where exactly he is.

On the ankle being a nagging inury... It really is – after the season he had the surgery to try to get this back to being 100% like he was when he was a freshmen. And it just never recovered like it was supposed to in the spring. For whatever reason there have been setbacks within the recovery and he's still not there.

On the health of Torin Harris Torin Harris – we think Torin will be cleared to go, which is really big, I don't think that's talked about very much. Our back 7 returning on defense, when Torin got hurt he was arguably playing as well as Nickell Robey was, so that was a big loss at that time. Guys stepped up the rest of the year but to have Torin back 100% is a big story.

On the health of Christian Thomas Christian Thomas – we think that Christian – from what I've been told – is recovering well – but we don't think he'll be 100% either.

If any players will be ruled academically ineligible… We just talked about that. We don't specifically talk academics, those matters are private, I'm sure everybody around the country has guys that go down to the wire just like we do every year.

If the USC scholarship has more weight behind it since there are only a limited number… I don't know if there's a way to be able to tell for sure has that impacted this run of success of recruiting over the last couple of months, as you know I can't talk specifics, but I can talk in general. It's been a great run of stuff happening and energy around the program, but I think that really – I don't think that's based off the numbers, I think that's more based off the perfect storm that I talked about in there today. I talked about from Max Nikias to Pat Hayden, their leadership and support of football to the John McKay Center opening, to some great assistant coaches that have just gone on the road and recruited their tales off, to Matt and TJ coming back. And also you have new coaches in the conference. I think sometimes it takes staff's awhile to get their feet on the ground and in these schools and stuff, so I think there's been a lot of things combining for this to happen.

On recruiting in the area as a new staff… I think our situation was different [from other new Pac-12 coaches]. We had been in these schools, we knew these people, not just – if you come from the conference it helps, obviously, but if you come from the exact school as we'd been – myself and Kennedy, and Ed having been here before, that made the transition a lot easier.

On Nelson Agholor at summer workouts... First off, you know that I don't know what he's been doing in the offseason workouts, I just know the direction that we need to go and that really came from Tre Madden's injury. As you look at it, we have to have some guys there. Injuries happen and all of a sudden you're in one of these tough road games and what are you going to do? You better have some answers. We're trying to figure that out day one and not figure it out later in camp.

On Nelson Agholor... I think what's special about Nelson – he's such a great kid – and much like Marqise and Robert who came before him, that he's going to do whatever it takes. You're going to do whatever it takes to help us win and he's said that before and that definitely helps his transition and he's a student of the game so I think at the same time he'll still be studying the outside stuff even if he's doing the inside stuff.

On Agholor being a RB... No, we have to do the best thing for our team and figure out how to get the best guys on the field in the best position.

If Kiffin is surprised to find himself in this position after leaving Tennessee and being placed under sanctions… No it doesn't. I think we came back here to be in these spots. It's why, it's not like I didn't know that day when we left Tennessee that there was going to be some backlash, it wasn't going to be smooth when you're at a place for a year. So you better make sure you have a plan in place and a vision of why you're going somewhere and what you're going to do. So, just like these players who have come here over the last couple of years, they've come here to be in these conversations. Our staff came here to be in these conversations like we were last time we were here, so this is exactly what we expected. Obviously when we took the job we didn't know that it was going to be this difficult because we didn't know the sanctions and probation and reduction of scholarships – we didn't know about that – so that's just made it more challenging, but probably has also made it more fulfilling too, to play with less players, to sign less players, and still be in the position we are today. Now, we have a long ways to go still.

Do you feel more pressure to perform being bowl eligible this season…and do you have any regrets how you left Tennessee… I think kids do in general feel a little bit of that. I think there is something to the feeling of "wow, I do get to be one of the whatever number that year is" as opposed to one of the 25 or…(inaudible)…league meetings with the commissioner and other coaches and it happened and I tried to go back to tell the players first, had kept my athletic director informed through the entire process of what I was thinking and what was happening, it was no surprise to him, and unfortunately it leaked on the way there, like it normally does, thanks to you guys, and so the team didn't go the way I'd like it but I was – I felt like the media in Tennessee had been very fair to us in our time there and very good to us, and so what I was trying to do was setup something where I could say goodbye to them and explain my decision to them and so through our SID I was trying to set that up and I had a lot of people saying don't do that, get on a plane and get out. And I was trying to do that and it just backfired and it just didn't go the way it was supposed to. So I guess I regret trying to do what I thought was right at the time and it just didn't work out.

On his exit from Tennessee… I don't call that a press conference, whatever it was. I've seen pieces of it of the conversations before I got there and after I got there.

On pressure to win, now being bowl eligible... I think it can with the players – definitely. Your first question was do I feel the pressure? I don't at all because I've felt that from the day we got here. That is USC. I don't care if you're on probation, I don't care if you have 10 scholarship players, your fan base at USC is going to expect you to win and not take any excuses so there's very high standards here and there have been so there's been pressure since the day we got here regardless of not having a bowl game so I don't feel that's changed for myself but we do have to manage our players and how they handle everything. At the same time, I sat down with Tebow this week because he came to workout and talked to him about preseason number one his senior year – like what Matt's going through, and he reminded me of something that I have to make sure we do – and I have to make sure we're having fun too. There's so much pressure to not just win games, but to win games big and Heisman, stats, All-Americans and all that - to make sure our guys are enjoying the process and enjoying the year as well.

If he knows why they were voted as a national championship contender… I do not. I don't know how you vote a team number one that has less players than everybody else. So I don't but I'm sure I know our issues more than other people do, especially at running back.

Biggest depth concerns after running back… Defensive line and defensive tackle. Number one inside, just not many guys that have played. We've got to get our defensive linemen that haven't played to have a great camp and that's our freshmen coming in, that's our JC transfer, and that's all the guys that redshirted so I think that's 5 or 6 guys right there that haven't play a down for us and we're going to have to develop depth if we're going to be successful this year. You better rotate guys in there for your first couple years.

If he and his staff have done a good job at developing depth… I don't. I don't think we have done a very good job. A lot of our players didn't develop and we wanted to redshirt a lot of guys because of what our long term plan was, so I don't think we have done a great job. So we've got to do that, we've been doing a better job than in year one, year two. But the conference of college football has changed extensively. You know, we didn't rotate – in our days before – we didn't rotate very much because the offenses weren't so up-tempo number one, but number two, we were so good on defense that we were three and out a lot and so you're not out there a lot, so if you're not playing well on defense and you're not rotating, that's a lot of snaps guys stay in there for so it was a combination of us not playing really well and not being used to that and this whole thing with the conference heating up and it's going to be faster than ever now with the coaches.

On Arizona's offense… I read that awhile back saying the same thing. They're going to do a great job, he's done a great job wherever he's been. I just remember watching the games Michigan playing on Saturday afternoon and it would be 50 to 48 or something like that so we're going to have our hands full.

On the strength of the defense... I hope that experience is going to help with the back seven coming back plus Torin Harris, with really the two defensive ends who have both started coming back so I'm hoping experience, I'm hoping another year in the system, and then I'm hoping that we develop our depth. So we really will rotate like we need to and we've got to have confidence in that. We've got to have confidence in our backups to rotate guys in and play....we've played 25 games since we've been here and we've been ahead in 24 of 25 games in the second half and I don't know how much, what a better stat can show you that we need to change something and be better at rotating on defense. If you're ahead in 24 of 25 games then you've got to do a better job to look at our scoring in the 4th quarter and look how lopsided it is.

On playing the young guys… I think it was completely about the freshmen and the guys that hadn't played for us. We made a decision during that training camp to really play our young guys and we played them more than we ever had and we knew were going to take some lumps and especially when you go on your first road game. Any time guys haven't played and they go on the road their first time, it's tough on them and we have those new guys playing – 4 out of 5 linemen hadn't played their spot and both tight ends were freshmen and D.J. Morgan was playing as a freshmen, Marqise Lee, and all of our linebackers were freshmen rotating in there so those guys weren't making mistakes later in the year because of the experience earlier in the year and I think that's why some of those guys ended up being some of our best players down the stretch.

On the benefit of playing freshmen early in the season… Yeah I think it was really wanting to be great down the stretch, making sure we were playing those guys and as you know it, there's a business side to everything too. You have five freshmen All Americans because you're playing them so early, last year, don't think that didn't have an impact on recruiting last year and moving forward. There's always a business element to it as well, especially when you're not bowl eligible.

If he feels more "liked" by the public… Winning solves a lot of problems, so the change has not been me, the change has been because our players have won more games. So I think that's normal. You sign up for that when you're head coach and especially the way that I handled things, whether you agree or not, there were specific plans for what I felt we needed to do in Tennessee … I just have got to keep doing what I feel is best for our program and not for national perception.

If he notices it out in public… Yeah, I think so. I feel that, but I think that's natural. As your teams get better you get too much credit as a head coach when you win. I didn't miss the field goal in Oregon, the kicker did. All of a sudden you get all the credit, so it is what it is in the profession. Goes both ways.

If Barkley coming back has helped his public perception… Probably doesn't hurt. You know I think having Matt come back, I think says a lot about Matt, it says a lot about USC but I think people do make that comparison. I've heard recruits parents say as they get negative stuff thrown at them about myself and our program, they say there's no way that can be true about Lane Kiffin or about USC because Matt Barkley and T.J. McDonald wouldn't be coming back. All of these great players around the country wouldn't be coming there if those things were true.

On Barkley coming back... Yeah and I think it was big. Um, I think really any head coach and quarterback you want to have a really good relationship. I think that's very critical, but when you're the play-caller more than ever. So our development and our understanding of each other I think has had a lot to do with his on the field success and that comes from experience, you know you learn from experience in whatever you're doing.

Did the team have a hard time buying in at the beginning… Yeah, but I think that's going to – I think that happens with any staff and it certainly happens to any staff if you come into a place that has had great success. So when you come in and you follow a legend like Coach Carroll and all of the success that the team has had, you're going to have upperclassmen who say wait a second, we don't need to change anything. Why are we any different. So I think if you polled the head coaches around here with everything going on in their program, they feel that. What's unusual for us is usually you're not taking over a program that is elite, usually they've been struggling and it's a coaching change. So this was a unique situation so I think that's why you saw some of that.

Anything you had to meet halfway on with the team… I don't know, he blows that up about we have more fun now or something like that – that he changed me to have more fun. We have more fun now because we win more games, that's why we have more fun.

Did you watch National Championship game? Uhhh, I did. I think I watched part of it, yeah.

On seeing those defenses and how the Trojans might have faired… Yeah we were playing really really well at that point so I think that's why it's a conversation. We had two losses, we were just clicking, all those young guys were playing. It was just different. That doesn't mean we are going to be great this year because that team was. Every team is different so, it would've been interesting. I wasn't picturing us playing LSU because Alabama was dominating the game. I was picturing playing Alabama and I was just thinking because we are a very different team than LSU, LSU was definitely lead by their defense and had some offensive struggles, especially in that game. So they weren't able to really challenge Alabama outside, so I know that's what we would have tried to do. Whether we would have been successful or not, I don't know. But it would've looked different, somehow.

On losing Matt Khalil… Yeah, losing Matt – two years in a row the number one tackle in the NFL draft – so just like we had to replace Tyron, we'll have to replace Matt. So Aundrey Walker is over there right now, he's had a great offseason and lost a bunch of weight but he's never played the left side, never been in a game over there so it's going to be interesting. Just like any of our guys, until you played in the games at that spot, you haven't played. So whether you are a freshman a sophomore like he is.

On Aundrey Walker losing too much weight? Yeah, I've discussed that with him. He should be 310 – 315, you can lose too much and then you lose your power and anchor, so hopefully he's in the process of gaining some of that back.

On Matt and stats senior season… Well, I don't think it will really be as much as ‘what can he do better' it will be ‘can he play like he did at the end of the year' and that will be good enough. I mean, obviously it was good enough then and it will be good enough now and can the pieces around him stay in place and are they healthy and are they clicking like they were at the end of the year, because they are all still there, really, except for Matt, so, those guys, if you go back and look at Matt's year, he started really slow. That was not Matt Barkley, that was what was what was around him. All those young guys making mistakes and me being conservative because of that. So, I think that he'll be able to take off from where he was at the end of the year. Whatever the last, whatever Colorado was – the third to last game, the last three or four games he played, he threw 6 touchdown passes in two of them, and that's never been done in the history of the school so just staying where he was at, really.

If they liked the position they were in last season… I think that's where we've always wanted to be, where we were at the end. I think that's where – since day one when we got back here, what we've been trying to get back to, the 04-05 style. Obviously we still didn't have the Reggie effect, you know last year and how dynamic he was, but we did have the 2,000 yard receivers like we used to have, we did have the 3,500 yard passer like we used to have. They started breaking the records again. There've been a lot of great players in the conference and this group of players should've had two more games. They should've had a conference championship and a bowl game and without those two games Robert Woods still catches more passes than anybody in the history of the conference and Matt Barkley still throws more touchdowns than anybody. So, that's where we've always wanted to get back to and finally the pieces came together in order to get back to that.

On Marqise Lee… I don't think that, well I know, I know we didn't think that Marqise was going to be that dominant throughout the recruiting process. We knew he was really good, we didn't know – Marqise Lee down the field is amazing at catching the ball. You guys who have been at practice have seen it 100 times, in games it shows up every once in awhile, but he's really amazing at it, so we didn't know that. So we couldn't have imagined that, and because he's a smaller guy – our guys over the years making those players were bigger guys – Dwayne Jarrett and Mike Williams – they weren't necessarily the smaller guys.

On Marqise being better than Woods in the end… Well, I think if you look at the season, I don't know that stat, but somebody said the stat so I'm just going to throw it out that Marqise was either number one or number two over the last over the last 4 or 5 games last year in the entire country for receiving yards, and to do some of those on the road – to go up to Eugene, 315 total yards or something like that, that's really amazing for a freshman to do, so that's really why I said to see his development so fast and it's obviously to motivate Robert. You've got to find ways to motivate guys who are breaking conference records, you know most catches in the history of the conference, you've got to find a way to motivate them, too.

Is Marqise the biggest small guy to ever play the position… Yeah, he is kind of like a Terrell Owens, especially - as we continue to go through this, the more we get him further removed from high school and where he really wasn't doing any lifting because he was doing all three sports, and we keep him in our program, we're going to see him get bigger and bigger. He's never going to be (Mike and Dwayne) he's never going to be that tall, but he's very physical and strong and put together better than any of the guys that we have in terms of the smaller guys.

On receivers going up in crowds… I think Mike and Dwayne did that as well as anybody. A lot of theirs weren't down the field because they weren't the speed guys. Marqise has both. But Mike and Dwayne have so many of those catches with people around them, a lot of the time they were touchdown catches, not necessarily deep balls.

On getting freshmen to acclimate quickly… Well, I don't know what other schools do, we treat our – when we recruit kids we treat them like draft picks. So from the day that we sign them we start doing everything we can, legally, coaching them and preparing them for the first year and that's a draft pick mentality because in the NFL you're investing millions of dollars into your draft picks, you can't sit around and wait for them to play, so we treat our guys the same way.

On Nelson being further along in playbook than Robert was… I don't know that at all. I'm not allowed to talk football with them, so I don't know.

On Marqise playing two sports… I think that if it's the right kid and he's focused, I think it's actually better to do two sports than one and people will say academics will suffer, but if you study student athletes, they do better in season a lot of the time than they do out of season because they need structure. A lot of college kids don't do well with free time, so the structured environment of being in season with a sport helps kids and it keeps them competitive year around.

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