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“Let’s just earn it on the field,” Haden said. “Let’s play as hard as we can. Let’s have no off-the-field distractions. Let’s play the game with a sense of purpose and fun and with a little more physical nature than we did last year.”

Last year was anything but fun.

The Trojans became the first team to start the season No. 1 in the AP poll and finish it unranked since Mississippi in 1964, when the rankings only went 10 deep. They lost five of their last six games, including a downright depressing 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

They couldn’t run the ball. The defense fell apart. Star quarterback Matt Barkley was inconsistent, and finished the year injured. For the first time since 1995, USC lost to both UCLA and Notre Dame.

“The way that I think of it in a positive way is we’re going to learn from it,” Kiffin said. “That can’t happen again. But we’re not going to change everything because prior to that game (a 39-36 loss at Arizona on Oct. 27) we had won 17 of the previous 20 games. We were 17-3 in the middle of sanctions, probation, reduced roster. All those things going on, we’re winning 17 of 20 games. We’re doing something right.”

But during those last two months of last season, “Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” he adds.

And with the losses, came drama. That always seems to be the case with Kiffin.

His 20-game run in the NFL ended with then-Raiders owner Al Davis calling him a liar and firing him with cause. While Kiffin clearly wasn’t the solution, a decades’ worth of futility in Oakland suggests he was far from the only problem with the Raiders.

A couple of months later, Kiffin landed at Tennessee, a fading program in the midst of an awkward breakup with longtime coach Phillip Fulmer.

Kiffin managed to tick off most of the Southeastern Conference, talking trash and pushing the envelope in recruiting as he tried to pump some life into the Vols.

They did get better under Kiffin, going 7-6, but he turned out to be one and done. He couldn’t resist the temptation to return to USC, where he was offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll, and replace his mentor. He left behind NCAA violations and a thoroughly ticked off fan base in Knoxville.

He hasn’t exactly been embraced by the USC faithful, skeptical of his credentials and exasperated at time by his actions.

In three seasons with USC, he’s been fined by the Pac-12 for criticizing officials, battled the local media over access to practice and the reporting of injuries and had special teamers switch jerseys to run trick plays against overmatched Colorado.

So, of course, when it was revealed that a USC team manager under-inflated the footballs for last year’s Oregon game, Lane got blamed again even though there was no evidence he had anything do with it.

“He’s the anti-Teflon coach,” Haden said. “Stuff sticks to him that’s not even his fault. He gets blamed for earthquakes and wildfires.”

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