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Growth in Maturity Evident for Kiffin at Media Day

Kiffin addresses the crowd at Thursday's Pac-10 Media Day at the Rose Bowl (Photo Credit: Jordan Moore <a href=""></a>)
Kiffin addresses the crowd at Thursday's Pac-10 Media Day at the Rose Bowl (Photo Credit: Jordan Moore

PASADENA, Calif. -- If you were to poll college football fans stretching from the left coast to SEC country, it wouldn't come as a shock that most of them wouldn't have too many favorable things to say about current 'SC head football coach Lane Kiffin.

Bruin backers on the west side tend to call him a sleezebag or refer to him by cute monikers such as "Hello Kiffen."

Knoxville denizens seem to enjoy playing the role of the spurned girlfriend.

And the national columnists love to build up their Southern credibility by throwing a guy who has yet to even coach a game at USC "under the buss."

Yes, it's no surprise that many people out there, Bruins and everyday fans alike, view Kiffin as an immature, pompous kid; a spoiled brat who gives the sport a black eye for his various offseason antics.

"A Bad guy?," Kiffin asked. That's kind of personal."

Yet, the Trojans' new boyish looking coach doesn't seem at all phased by the onslaught of attacks from the mainstream media and the misconceptions that have come to defined him during his short six month stint at USC.

"I don't like it, but it doesn't bother me. It doesn't keep me up at night."

In short, negativity be damned.

Despite his reputation as a guy who creates more headlines than a drunk Lindasy Lohan, Kiffin largely seemed at ease during Thursday afternoon's Pac-10 Media Day at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

While he may lack the media savviness of his predecessor Pete Carroll or even his counterpart across town in Rick Neuheisel , Kiffin, in his own way, was in total control during Thursday's festivities.

When asked about the NCAA sanctions, he downplayed their significance.

"We just need to coach really well, recruit really well, and run a clean program."

When asked whether recruiting "well" would be severely impacted by the program's placement on four years probation, a stoical Kiffin calmly dismissed the notion.

"I don't think you base your college experience on one or two bowl games."

When asked if the expectations should be lowered due to the recent handicaps that have been placed on his staff and players, Kiffin was quick to disregard that idea as well.

"I can't imagine ‘SC fans ever lowering their expectations, and we like it that way."

Quotes from Kiffin during the five-hour long media session weren't anything like the ones during his tenure as the coach at Tennessee.

He didn't make any bold predictions, accuse a fellow coach of a rules violation, or say anything that could even be mistaken as divisive.

If the NCAA was to be the storm then Kiffin would the tenured old sea captain, guiding a seemingly ageless Trojan vessel through a swirl of controversy.

It'd be understandable for him to sit there, call 2010 a rebuilding year, and fault Pete Carroll for leaving the cupboard bare. After all, the negligence of Carroll, along with former Athletic Director Mike Garrett, largely contributed to the program's current predicament. But Kiffin refused to do that.

Instead, he sat there calmly, answered questions in a respectable manner, and provided little-to-no bulletin board material for UCLA or the state of Tennessee.

Besides a few offhanded remarks made it jest to the colorful T.J. Simers, he refused to take the bait and provide anything that could be deemed controversial.

Rather, he kept pointing to brighter days in the coming years as opposed to dwelling on the past.

"We didn't come here just to make it through this. We came here to play at a championship level, regardless of the sanctions."

Yet, he was able to keep things in the proper perspective as well.

"We now have to go out on the field and win games if we're to promote a powerful message."

In the midst of this swarm of criticism, Kiffin could care less what the pundits are printing nowadays.

"It doesn't bother me what you guys write. It's your opinion. It's your job."

What is Kiffin's job, however, is to win as many games as possible; defying the perception that USC is suddenly a program on the decline after a season in which they finished 5-4 in the conference.

And thus far, he seems to be doing just that. Granted, the team is down to just 71 scholarship players, but since the sanctions were handed down in early June, not a single starter has transferred. No player from the recruiting class of 2011 has taken back his verbal commitment either. If anything, it seems to be business as usual for USC football.

Expectations are high once again, USC was still picked second in the conference's preseason media poll, and Kiffin appears more than ready to be the face of arguably the most polarizing college football program in the country,

Asked jokingly where he got his newfound gray hairs from, Kiffin remarked, "Oakland-Alameda."

If Thursday was any indication, he's done some growing up since then.

Follow Joey on twitter @Joey_Kaufman