When USC coach Lane Kiffin announced that star running back Dillon Baxter won't travel to Hawaii for the Trojans' season opener on Sept. 2, he called it "an extremely strong message and a very severe punishment for a player that may potentially be the most-skilled player on our whole roster."
But Kiffin won't say exactly what that message is about. And Baxter has been coy, telling reporters last week, "I've done a couple things, and things happen, and I made a mistake. But I'm going to move on from here on out."
The File has learned that one of the things Baxter would rather not talk about is a letter he wrote in June that details precisely how he hoaxed his coaches into thinking he was being improperly recruited. The letter, obtained under a freedom of information request, was included in a package of correspondences that USC athletic director Mike Garrett sent to five counterparts before his firing in July, apologizing for the embarrassing incident.
Baxter's claim in June immediately set off alarm bells and caused USC's compliance director to write an outraged letter to a Pac-10 official, asking him "to remind the [rival schools] they cannot speak to this student-athlete." Within a week, though, Garrett was recanting his 18-year-old RB's claim.
As Garrett acknowledged in his letter, "I have spoken with Mr. Baxter and he has now confirmed that he did not receive a call from your institution. ... I apologize for any inconvenience or embarrassment this matter has caused to you and your institution."
In this three-paragraph attachment to that missive, Baxter says he got the idea for the stunt on June 10 -- after the NCAA hit USC with four years of probation and a ban from two bowls over improper gifts that Reggie Bush received as a Trojan.
Baxter says he was talking with friends at different schools about "what I wanted to do" when he decided to tell USC's coaches that he was getting interest from outside. He went to the team's receivers coach, John Morton, and boasted that he had offers from Washington, Florida, Michigan, Alabama and Fresno State. "From that point, the situation got blown out of proportion," Baxter writes.
Baxter insists he was confused about the part of the NCAA's order that allows junior and senior Trojans to transfer without missing a season but not freshmen or sophomores. "I misrepresented [sic] the understanding of who college coaches could and could not talk to," he wrote. "I misspoke when I said coaches had contacted me from other schools."
Puzzlingly, the San Diego native skirts the question of what he hoped to accomplish. A starting spot? A bigger dorm room? The Orange Bowl ring that Bush has to give back?
He ends his letter simply by saying, "I am truly sorry for all the chaos I have caused and it was not my intention to implicate other schools and their coaching staffs ... I will do a better job of thinking before I act."
As it happens, Baxter seems to have found trouble little more than a month after writing those words.
The Los Angeles Times reports that USC's Department of Public Safety filed an incident report about an unnamed student "violating team curfew" and "being under the influence of a controlled substance" at the campus dorm where Trojans players were staying during camp earlier this month. A source with knowledge of the incident told the Times that student was Baxter.
In an appearance before reporters on Aug. 18, Baxter said, "I've just got to be smart with the things I do and realize that I'm under a microscope and [I've] just got to be a leader, do the right things." Barring any more flare-ups, his next chance will probably come at USC's home opener on Sept. 11 against Virginia.
Titans go after Kiffin for poaching coach
If Baxter wants to commiserate with someone else who's in the middle of a tampering dustup, he doesn't have to look far. He only has to talk to his new position coach, Kennedy Pola.
On July 26, the NFL's Tennessee Titans filed this suit accusing Kiffin, of "maliciously" poaching Pola after he signed a one-year deal with Tennessee in February. Pola's contract required him to have written permission before he could talk to another club, and Titans coach Jeff Fisher says Kiffin never called to ask for it.
The suit accuses Kiffin of being responsible for the "furtherance of a culture of violation and avoidance of respect for the sanctity of contract."
Pola's Titans contract, seems pretty boilerplate. That is, until you get to Appendix 3, which promises a free taxicab 24/7 on any day of the year "in the events You have been drinking and need transportation to your home or elsewhere."
They must be planning to do a lot of partying in Nashville this year.
Not so much at USC.
Bitter Vols fan creatively slams USC coach
The Titans aren't the only ones who think there's a rank odor coming off Kiffin. While the NCAA was broadening its investigation of Tennessee, Knoxville attorney and Vols season-ticket holder Drew McElroy filed this application before the City Council to have the Kuwahee Wastewater Treatment Plant renamed the Lane Kiffin Sewage Center.
As it turns out, the council didn't have jurisdiction and the matter was dropped. But McElroy got more than enough attention to justify the $262 filing fee.
File under ...
• Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were thick as thieves when they were teammates and workout partners. But according to ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor , Pettitte's sworn testimony went further than anything in convincing the feds to indict Clemens for making false statements to Congress. You can read Pettitte's sworn statement here.
• "The Tillman Story," a documentary about Arizona Cardinals defensive back Pat Tillman, who was killed in the mountains of Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Army, opened in theaters nationwide on Friday. According to Amir Bar-Lev, the film's director, it took three years to make and is based on public documents. One of the most important ones is this March 2007 report issued by the Secretary of the Navy, which found that nine officers and three other generals made "critical errors" in responding to Tillman's death, but found no evidence that the soldiers who killed him committed crimes. Another is this report by the House Committee on Government Reform, which decried the "near universal lack of recall" by top White House and Defense Department officials who were questioned about the friendly fire incident.