Kiffin puts his stamp early
The free-wheeling days of Pete Carroll are over as USC opens spring practice
As players entered the practice field at USC on Tuesday for their first spring practice, they were greeted with a sign on the gate that read, "Lock In!"
And it had nothing to do with the school's new policy of restricting public access to practice.
By the time the players got through their first day -- which dragged on for nearly three hours -- the term "lockdown" might have felt just as fitting. The days of free-wheeling Pete Carroll, who often participated in drills and liked to talk trash and pull pranks, are over.
Camp Kiffin promises to be a heavier, less lighthearted affair.
On one sideline, linebacker Jordan Campbell was all by himself, doing what new coach Lane Kiffin described as "unpleasant conditioning." His infraction: showing up late for a tutoring session.
Another player, Devon Kennard, was being moved to a position, middle linebacker, that he never wanted to play. In fact, Kennard said that when he was being recruited, he turned down schools that wanted to move him.
Too bad, kid.
Kiffin said the players will practice in full pads every session this spring but three, the minimum no-pads days required by the NCAA, and that practices will be "very physical." Defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron barked at players as they ran through footwork drills.
If Carroll motivated with fun, Kiffin seems to be motivating with fear.
"There's no 'loose' right now," receiver Ronald Johnson said. "They're not loose at all."
Nobody would say it, but the implication seemed pretty clear: The culture around USC's football team had grown lax near the end of Carroll's tenure. The Trojans ranked 95th in fewest penalty yards this past season.
Kiffin boiled it down to two words: toughness and discipline.
"We want to make sure we're playing really smart when we go into games and, when you watch us, you see a very disciplined team," Kiffin said. "That's what we believe in in all three phases on the field."
Trying to figure out how good this team will be at the end of March is an impossible task, but finding differences in how it does things was a breeze after one day. Carroll used to race around the field as players moved between stations. Kiffin slowly wandered around the field, often holding a play sheet over his mouth.
Carroll's voice could be heard throughout practice urging his players on. You couldn't hear a peep from Kiffin. His father, assistant head coach Monte Kiffin, had to walk to within a few feet of a player's face mask to be heard in one drill.
Most of the new Trojans coaches, including both Kiffins, come from NFL backgrounds. The culture they are instilling at USC appears to have been adopted from the pro ranks. It's more about attention to detail and less about emotion. The common denominator: a quick tempo.
Maybe Lane Kiffin will loosen up by the time the team gets into fall camp. Maybe he'll take his foot off the players' throats by the time they actually have to start playing games in five months. Nobody could tell Tuesday.
For now, the No Fun League has reached the vicinity of Heritage Hall.
"Tolerance is low right now," Johnson said. "I'm just here to have fun right now. I'm not paying attention to it and just going with the flow. You've got to do everything right, basically."
After the first practice, Kiffin already was lamenting the team's lack of discipline. He said too many players wound up on the ground during a no-pads practice, risking injuries. He said the players were trying to be "Troy Polamalu, because it's Day 1 out here."
"Everyone's going to want to know how good we are right now. Someone asked, 'Are we dominant?' or something like that," Kiffin said. "We haven't even put pads on."
Oh, but they will, starting Saturday. But don't bother showing up, unless you call the USC athletic department 24 hours in advance. USC is restricting public access, another step toward cleaning up the program.
Some of the players who have been around the longest sounded relieved that elements of discipline were being reintroduced. Players who were accustomed to national title games and Rose Bowls don't just go 9-4, play in the Emerald Bowl and feel good about themselves.
"I think we were more organized today in practice," tailback Allen Bradford said.
Mark Saxon covers USC football for ESPNLosAngeles.com.