Lane Kiffin thinks USC deserves a break. And not just from media and USC fans who have been beating up on the Trojans for their performances in the first two games.
Kiffin also thinks the Trojans deserves a break from Kiffin.
After all, he's the one who said this after USC improved to 2-0: "I hope you can tell the disappointment. We're not getting it done. It's the most miserable 2-0 locker room I've been in, which is good."
After a few days in which he could digest that being one of 43 2-0 teams isn't the worst thing ever, Kiffin took a longer view.
"Our standards are so high because we are at 'SC and because we have high standards in general, coaches and players," he said. "I think everyone, including ourselves, forgets that it is our first year. We expect our players to have picked up three new systems. There's only one coach here from last year out of all the 10 coaches. We do sometimes forget that because we expect our guys to play great and never make mistakes in our new schemes."
So is Kiffin talking about the "P" word? You know: Patience?
"Were probably not doing a very good job of that because we have our expectations set so high," he said. "We do probably need to have a little more patience with them."
Though it seems like most of Kiffin's motivational coaching shtick involves directly challenging his players in person and through the media, he changed tack this week and gave them a little bit of positive reinforcement when he pinned a printout on every door of Heritage Hall, which compared the season to a 13-round heavyweight boxing match and featured a picture of Muhammad Ali glowering over a fallen Sonny Liston. It exhorted the Trojans to "Stay focused!" and "Toughness and Discipline!"
USC faces another long trip Saturday to an opponent that should be overmatched. Minnesota, after all, lost at home to South Dakota last weekend.
When asked if his team might yawn at the prospect of facing the wounded Gophers, Kiffin was quick to point to the Kansas case study: Bad enough one week to lose to North Dakota, but good enough to beat No. 15 Georgia Tech the next.
And if USC plays as bad on defense as it did against Hawaii, and as bad on offense as it did against Virginia, it could lose this one.
But that's seeing the glass as half-empty. The offense played great at Hawaii, while the defense was solid vs. the Cavaliers.
"The positive on that is we know we can play well on both sides of the ball," Kiffin said.
Two things are particularly hurting USC. In both games, the Trojans seemed to get tired. Kiffin said that was due to playing starters too many snaps. The plan is to play backups more, even if that makes the coaches nervous.
The second issue: penalties. USC ranks 119th in the nation in penalties, averaging 12 flags for 120 yards per game.
Kiffin said penalties have been an area of emphasis -- avoiding them, not getting them -- since he started in the spring. He said the coaches talk about limiting penalties endlessly. So his new approach is this: silence.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said when asked about the penalty issues.
Perhaps that's an answer in itself. Kiffin and USC need to lighten up a bit and recognize that he's a first-year coach leading a depleted roster during a tumultuous time for the program. Things are much different than when Kiffin was the offensive coordinator back in 2005.
So, as the wise men of Guns N' Roses once noted: Maybe we all just need a little patience.
Of course, selling that to demanding USC fans might not be that easy.