I have a few theories as to why Lane Kiffin would get himself into this easily avoidable kerfuffle about the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. Kiffin somehow managed to say he wouldn’t vote for his own team to be number one in the initial poll, voted for them anyway, got called out by the poll for lying, and then said that when he said “I wouldn’t put us No. 1,” he meant it as advice for other coaches, like “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Then USC’s athletic department released a statement expressing their disappointment in the poll for releasing Kiffin’s vote, which was supposed to remain secret until after the season.
Completely ridiculous. And easily avoidable. We know the poll was just being reactionary and spiteful. So what the hell is the coach doing?
Scenario #1: He’s just that dumb. I know Booter, our legal adviser and UCLA alum, would probably vote for this one. And I have to admit that it makes sense. It’s not like Kiffin’s bar for deep thought has been set especially high. This was his first time ever filling out a ballot for the poll, and he had help, so you’ve got to wonder if he put any thought into this situation at all. College football, at least among the coaches, is a highly-political atmosphere. Maybe Kiffin just sucks at playing that game. Actually, there’s very little maybe about it.
Scenario #2: He’s crazy like a fox. The Coaches’ Poll is the most notoriously unreliable of all the polls, and it used to be one of the best arguments against the BCS before the playoff came and fixed everything (it didn’t fix everything). Maybe Kiffin knew that the poll would publicize his vote if he were caught lying about it, lied on purpose, and now he can unleash quotes like this beauty:
“Really, it doesn’t make sense to me. The coaches vote, and the coaches I know, the good ones, they don’t watch other games. They’re trying to worry about their own team, watching film…Yet we vote on who’s best.”
If you subscribe to the Kiffin-as-performance-artist theory, then this is his way of being able to take shots at one of the most ridiculous institutions in college football. He’s exactly right about the coaches’ poll, only you never hear coaches say anything like that because they all know it’s a way for them to beat the system. The old system, anyway. They never watch the games week to week and are still somehow expected to be experts.
Every coach knows that they’re able to rank their own teams too high in their anonymous ballots and that their coaching friends would vote them higher as well, as long as they weren’t also competing for at-large BCS bids. The whole mess was based completely on getting their conferences and schools as much of the BCS pie as possible. There was a rule limiting the number of schools from a given conference in the BCS, but they fought like homeless dogs over that second at-large bid. The poll was obvious corruption and until recently, no one tried to do anything about it.
Now all that’s changed. There will be a playoff in college football, and the polls will sink back down into irrelevance, or at least be less relevant than they were. All the schools have to figure out a way to lobby the selection committee because their old system with the Coaches’ Poll is gone. At least until they shoehorn it into the new playoff formula. This allows Kiffin to take a shot at the dumbest part of the BCS without real consequences.
Scenario #3: He’s an idiot savant. I actually vote for this one. I sincerely doubt he planned to contradict himself. At best, he’s guilty of misspeaking and sounding very stupid. But Lane Kiffin is nothing if not a guy who can recognize an opportunity. So maybe he realized he messed up and decided to take a shot at the poll anyway as revenge for them being dicks. It’s not like he was invested in it in any meaningful way, so what the hell?
Either way, this controversy is hilarious because Kiffin got the Coaches’ Poll to undermine its own credibility by outing his lie, meaning other coaches won’t trust the poll and are less likely to fill out a ballot. I think that would be fine with everyone.