Kiffin all about business at USC

Updated: April 1, 2010, 4:36 PM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- USC is tightening access to its football practices in an effort to crack down on the type of relationships that have put it under the scrutiny of the NCAA.

Under Pete Carroll, USC was one of the few major college programs to hold open practices. Hundreds of fans sometimes watched practice. Fans could gain admittance as long as they signed their name before entering.

The school released a statement Tuesday in which it said admittance will be limited to "pre-approved guests who submit requests 24 hours in advance."

On Tuesday, the team's first spring practice under first-year coach Lane Kiffin took place in front of at least 150 observers that included players' families, media and some longtime boosters.

"We have just changed the way we monitor a little bit, tightened it up," Kiffin said. "We want to be really on top of who's coming in and out of here, obviously for compliance reasons."

The NCAA is expected to rule late next month on allegations that former tailback Reggie Bush and ex-basketball guard O.J. Mayo received thousands of dollars in extra benefits from would-be sports marketers.

"Those who are pre-authorized to attend practices may only have contact with coaches and athletic department personnel," the statement said.

Kiffin again insisted he'll stay away from the incendiary public statements that provided so much drama at his previous head coaching tenures with the Oakland Raiders and the University of Tennessee, which he left after just 14 months to take his dream job at USC.

"My job here is to coach football and recruit players," Kiffin said. "We don't need to gather attention. We already have a high level of interest from recruits around the country. ... I really want to focus on the toughness and discipline. I think people are going to see that and carry it over onto the field. That's what we believe in."

Tighter access is not all that's changing. Although Kiffin's first spring practice stretched nearly three hours until dusk, it wasn't because of the usual exuberance and horseplay in the Trojans' workouts over the past nine years.

The new coach says his practices will be more work and less fun than the Trojans remember from Carroll's. That seems to be just fine with his players, who hope a no-nonsense coaching staff can get them back on top of the Pac-10.

"They have the bounce and the juice," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "They do not let one thing fly. They do not put up with a mistake. Not one of these coaches is trying to be your friend, and that's what we need."

Kiffin was all business both during and after Tuesday's workout on the campus practice fields where he spent six seasons watching Carroll build the Trojans into the West's dominant program. His Trojans won't wear pads until the weekend, but Kiffin already was critiquing their work.

"I like their energy, but we've got to practice a little smarter," Kiffin said. "There's too many guys on the ground, and everybody is trying to be Troy Polamalu. But it's better to have to slow them down than speed them up."

While Kiffin watched the offense with passing game coordinator John Morton, the defense was overseen by famously energetic coordinator Ed Orgeron and Monte Kiffin, Lane's father and assistant head coach.

Carroll's practices were infamously fun-packed free-for-alls, but his former assistant plans to run a tighter ship at USC, emphasizing toughness and discipline.

Kiffin has declared every starting job open, as most new coaches do. His players are taking him seriously -- particularly at quarterback, where sophomore Matt Barkley and veteran Mitch Mustain both intend to earn the starting job after Barkley's middling debut for the 9-4 Trojans last fall.

"I'm going to take them at their word about what's going on, play the best I can, and see what happens out there," said Mustain, Arkansas' starter as a freshman in 2006.

Barkley looked particularly sharp in Tuesday's workout, zipping passes to receivers including freshman Kyle Prater, one of the nation's top recruits who stuck with his commitment to the Trojans despite the coaching change. Although hobbled by a strained hamstring, the 6-foot-5 Prater -- an early enrollee at USC this year -- made at least two dazzling one-handed catches.

Kiffin has had Barkley's attention since the coach began USC's recruitment of him when Barkley was a freshman.

"I think they're awesome," said Barkley, who lost weight in the offseason to improve his mobility. "It's what I expected. To see them out here all fired up, to hear coach O's voice, I think the attitude has changed. We're more disciplined now, and I think it starts with today."

Kiffin will have the Trojans in pads for Saturday's workout and every practice thereafter except one, building to the spring game on May 1. He has warned his players not to assume anything about last season will continue this year, from their starting jobs to the previous rules under Carroll.

"We haven't done a whole lot of looking at last year," Galippo said. "There was no holding grudges, no reputations. Whatever you've done in the past is forgotten, and this is coach Kiffin's Trojans team."

Mark Saxon covers USC for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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