More deflating news for Kiffin, USC

Turns out it's been a deflating season for USC in more ways that one.

From ESPN LA: "USC fired a student manager for deflating five game balls below regulation levels for the USC-Oregon game last Saturday, the school announced late Wednesday."

Deflated balls are easier to catch and hold on to, so the idea is the manager was trying to help the Trojans' offense. The Pac-12 has fined and reprimanded USC.

USC also reported this:

When informed of this allegation by the Pac-12, USC investigated it immediately. The student manager confirmed that he had, without the knowledge of, or instruction from, any USC student-athlete, coach, staff member or administrator, deflated those game balls after they had been tested and approved by officials prior to the game.

So this unnamed manager acted alone and without the knowledge of anyone else. Hmm. Pause for a second and allow your credulity to catch up. Now slap your forehead and shake your head. My guess is you just duplicated what USC AD Pat Haden did when he first learned of this small but notable embarrassment.

And, by the way, it's almost worse if the student manager did act alone. That would mean he felt safe and empowered within the culture of the program to take unilateral action. You think any of Nick Saban's student managers feel that way at Alabama?

A couple of things have happened this year with Kiffin and USC, none of them good.

The secondary narrative in August when everyone, including yours truly, was touting USC's national title hopes, was Kiffin's newfound maturity. We all were pointing out that, after all the media and fan recriminations, perhaps Kiffin actually was a good football coach.

Kiffin might indeed still become one. He's a bright guy and a good recruiter. But those two steps forward last season have been followed by three steps back this fall.

It's not just about three losses for a team many thought might go undefeated. It's about embarrassing, minor news items that feel, for the lack of a better term, childish.

We've had him storming out of a post-practice news conference over an innocuous question, a reaction that was ridiculous whether Kiffin's irritation was real or feigned. We've had USC orchestrate a dubious jersey switch against Colorado that served no purpose other than making Kiffin look bad. And now we have deflated footballs from a -- riiiight -- rogue student manager.

If I were Haden, I'd tell Kiffin I needed five minutes today. Then I'd tell him not to talk. Only listen:

Lane, stop it. Coach your team. Focus on the details of coaching your team to execute better. Focus on creating a winning culture. Focus on schemes and game plans. Focus on recruiting. But stop being cute. Stop trying to beat the system. We are USC. We are not quirky. We are not into obsessing about creative ways to ferret out small advantages. We're about lining up and playing better football than the other team because our players are more talented. I do not want to read about or even hear through the rumor mill that you team is doing anything creative or quirky. You're a smart guy. But stop trying to outsmart people. Use your brain to become a better coach.

I'd also add that Kiffin needs to prepare for some serious offseason reflection. Chiefly, he needs to question whether it is time for him to make changes at coordinator on both sides of the ball, which means evaluating the Trojans' two staff members with the last name Kiffin.

Just a week ago, we wrote about the distinguishing consistency of programs such as Alabama under Saban and Oregon under Chip Kelly. There is nothing cute about the way Saban and Kelly conduct business. Their sole obsession is creating a well-oiled machine that matches their vision of what a football team should be.

Kiffin might yet become a fine football coach. But the first thing he needs to do is get out of his own way.