Bond with Kiffin helped bring Barkley back

One couldn't blame Lane Kiffin for being smug when Matt Barkley announced that he was returning to USC last Thursday. AP Photo/Jason Redmond

In the week since Matt Barkley’s announcement that he would return to USC, there have been plenty of stories written about the reasons for his decision.

There has been talk of unfinished business, of national titles and Heisman Trophy runs. But one important reason has been left out of most discussions, and it’s the one which could impact his football career the most -- his relationship with Lane Kiffin.

One of the undeniable truths of the 2011 USC Trojans season is that Kiffin and Matt Barkley have developed a unique chemistry.

On the surface, they would appear to be polar opposites. Barkley is good-natured with a pristine image. On the other hand, Kiffin is viewed as one of the most controversial coaches in sports.

Yet the one key thing that bonds them is the way they prepare to play the game. Both are extremely competitive and love to work hard to find that extra detail in the game plan. They are gym rats in the film room, and that shared desire has proven to be a huge blessing for Trojans fans.

“Both of these guys study really hard and they want to be masters of the game,” former USC wide receiver John Jackson said. “They truly enjoy the Xs and Os and trying to outsmart the other team. They love to use shifts and motions, they love to go against their previous tendencies. There is a lot of imagination to what they are doing.”

Kiffin has built his reputation as an offensive coach, and this year was the best example of how his play-calling could impact a game. Kiffin utilized many variations within the offense, such as lining up receivers in the backfield and motioning the tight ends all over the place, and the pupil Barkley was in synch with his coach the entire way.

“It’s not a surprise that Barkley gravitated to Kiffin because he is a strategy mentalist too,” Jackson said. “They were really on the same page this year. You saw it with the way Barkley was disciplined in his reads. That decision making really separated him from all other quarterbacks at the end of the year.”

The final six games of 2011 were a statistical bonanza for Barkley, as he completed 70 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Barkley was playing so well that most observers figured he was a sure-fire lock to strike while the iron was hot and declare for the NFL draft.

What those observers didn’t take into account, however, was the fact that Barkley knew how much he would continue to progress as a quarterback if he stayed at USC. His relationship with Kiffin was a huge security blanket when it came to making his decision.

For his part, Kiffin has already said that Barkley is ready to make the leap to the NFL, so it will be important for Kiffin to make sure that Barkley continues to develop next season -- that his growth as a quarterback is not stunted by the decision to stay in school.

Kiffin has already talked of incorporating different elements into the playbook, such as letting Barkley call his own plays at times. This is a huge concession for Kiffin to vary from a plan that has worked so well, but it shows how much respect the coach has for his player. You can’t imagine that Kiffin would be entertaining these kinds of changes for any player, and it’s clear that he doesn’t think of Barkley as any player. It is a mutual admiration society between the two, as Kiffin hasn’t shied away from referring to his quarterback as “special”.

Kiffin and Barkley are tied at the hip at this point when it comes to the Trojans' success in 2012. Each one will be relying on the other and both will relish the challenge. The future of the Trojan Family couldn’t be in better hands.