For the first time in recent memory, the media will not be allowed inside the USC Trojans football practices during the season — not that head coach Lane Kiffin has ever been especially welcoming to members of the press.
Fall camp, which begins August 3, will still be open to the media, and players and coaches will continue to be available after in-season practices, but aside from that, Camp Kiffin is officially on lockdown.
The decision will have little direct impact on fans. The wide-open practices of the Pete Carroll era have been over since the NCAA sanctions mandated that practices be closed to the public, and after Kiffin irritated the local media last season, many outlets stopped sending reporters anyway.
The ban also affects coverage of USC football on the USCTrojans.com blog, which typically publishes daily practice reports complete with video of the coach’s post-practice remarks. In a post addressing the new policy, Jordan Moore, the Director of Social Media for USC Athletics, said the practice reports would continue but would no longer include any descriptions of plays, practice events or injuries.
Kiffin’s media-unfriendly attitude doesn’t do much except hurt the coach’s already-damaged public image — and perhaps his team.
LA Daily News reporter Scott Wolf was briefly banned in 2012 after reporting that kicker Andre Heidari had knee surgery, which led the Daily News, Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times to adopt their own policy of not attending USC practices.
Wolf, who wasn’t planning on returning to practices this fall, wrote on Tuesday that Kiffin’s decision signifies that the coach is still as paranoid as ever and that the Trojans are in for more of the same in 2013:
“…If he acts paranoid, it can have a negative effect on players. If you observed their reactions last year to his media-practice restrictions, you would know it affects the respect they have for him in other areas.”
Kiffin acknowledged that leaving practices open would be the more popular decision but that closing them is best for the team, noting that the majority of major college football programs also hold closed practices. (So what if the other teams close their practices? Isn’t the goal to be better than the majority of other programs?)
Kiffin’s decision might be a shock to those accustomed to USC’s traditional open practices, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected, especially after last season. ESPNLA’s Arash Markazi tweeted that the change was in the works for awhile:
No surprise Lane Kiffin will be closing practices this season. He’s been wanting to do it for the past three seasons.
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 29, 2013
In some ways, this policy is actually less frustrating than last season’s, when the media was allowed to attend but was limited in what could be reported to the public.
As with nearly anything else in college football, if the team wins in 2013, few fans will care that Kiffin changed the practice policy (again). The concern is that Kiffin’s attitude and way of running things is so completely different from years past — but he’s not getting the same results.
As the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke tweeted:
Nobody cares about media watching practice, but this is 1st USC team in memory that feels it has something to hide http://t.co/QGYtoN5q6U
— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) July 31, 2013
That’s the problem.
When the team was consistently among the best in the nation, the program was laid-back, easy-going, and fun to watch. USC coaches weren’t paranoid about what the media was saying about practice, or what other programs could glean from news reports, because the Trojans were confident that they were going to beat the next week’s opponent anyway.
They had a swagger that USC’s recent lackluster teams haven’t, and they’d earned it.
Kiffin hasn’t earned anything, and he’s not leading his team with a winning attitude. He’s running scared and coaching not to lose (games or his job), and in the end, it might cost him.