USC's Lane Kiffin still making calls; Pat Haden makes one too

Lane Kiffin finally made the call.

Throughout the off-season and spring practice, USC's football coach evaluated whether he should keep or relinquish play-calling responsibilities for the 2013 season.

With training camp set to open Aug. 3, Kiffin ultimately chose not to audible.

"It's in the best interest of our football team for me to continue to call plays," Kiffin told reporters Friday at Pac-12 Conference media day.

USC fans angry about last season's 7-6 finish might not agree. However, Kiffin has the backing of Athletic Director Pat Haden.

On Thursday night, 12 hours before Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott kicked off media day at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Haden ran interference for Kiffin. Haden released a video and said Kiffin was not on the hot seat.

"I anticipate the media will ask me if our football coach is on the hot seat this year," Haden said in the video. "Here is my answer, and will be my answer whenever I'm asked. He is not.

"I'm behind Lane Kiffin 100%. I have great confidence in him. He's a very hard-working, detail-oriented coach. He's a dynamic play-caller, in my estimation, and he's an exceptional recruiter.

"He knows USC and he knows what it takes to be successful here."

Immediately after Kiffin addressed reporters Friday, he said he had not seen the video.

Asked if Haden's decision to release it made him feel better about his situation, he said it only reinforced what he knew.

"It doesn't make me feel better because I already knew his feelings," Kiffin said. "I do think it creates less of a distraction for our coaches and for our players because I don't think they're going to be asked as much now."

They were asked about it Friday.

Junior receiver Marqise Lee, a Heisman Trophy candidate who is on the cover of USC's media guide, said he never thought Kiffin was on the hot seat.

"I don't think Pat made that statement for us, as players," Lee said. "I think he made it just for everybody on the outside who was wondering."

As for Kiffin's keeping play-calling duties, Lee said, "That's cool with me."

Linebacker Hayes Pullard, a fourth-year junior, also backed Kiffin.

"I just feel like I want to fight for Coach Kiffin," Pullard said.

Kiffin has a 25-13 record at USC, including a 10-2 finish in 2011, when the Trojans were ineligible for postseason play. Last year's team opened the season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll and then spiraled downward after midseason, finishing with an embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

Kiffin said his decision to continue as play-caller came after reviewing every facet of the Trojans' season and also after consulting with former head coaches who had surrendered play-calling.

"They really regret changing because of what other people wanted — the fans or the media," he said. "They really feel like they made a mistake."

USC's season opener is Aug. 29 at Hawaii.

Third-year sophomores Max Wittek and Cody Kessler and freshman Max Browne will compete to replace Matt Barkley as the starting quarterback.

Lee hopes a starter is named sooner rather than later.

Asked if he could foresee playing two quarterbacks in the first few games, Kiffin said that it would not be an ideal situation but "I'm not going to say it can never happen."

Quick hits

Tight end Junior Pomee is no longer with the program, Kiffin said. Pomee was removed from team activities after he was arrested in January on suspicion of receiving stolen property. A jury trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 8 in Los Angeles Superior Court, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office said Friday. . . . Kiffin said he anticipated that all players would be academically eligible when training camp begins.

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