The lane USC traveled to get Kiffin
In less than three years, Lane Kiffin has been head coach of the Oakland Raiders, the University of Tennessee and now USC.
That’s some resume.
Just when it looked as if Kiffin was ready to take advantage of a Florida program that looked at least a little vulnerable with the exit of Tim Tebow and the uncertain coaching future of Urban Meyer, he elected to return to the easy life of sunny Southern California. Although when it comes to the recruiting efforts of a head coach at USC, there’s not a lot of time to enjoy the pleasantries of Southern California — which is why hiring Kiffin made perfect sense. He is a tireless worker.
So how exactly did Kiffin end up at USC anyway?
Agent Gary Uberstine played a big role in the series of events that occurred at the university after Pete Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks. Uberstine represents not only Carroll but also Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Steve Sarkisian.
When it became clear on Monday that Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio was staying in Jacksonville and not taking the USC job, Uberstine’s coaching clientele became the Trojans’ main targets.
While Sarkisian, Washington’s head coach and a former Trojans offensive coordinator, would have been a credible hire, Kiffin’s ability to assemble an all-star staff of assistants and his workaholic nature in regard to recruiting made him the perfect replacement for Carroll.
Orgeron, another of Uberstine’s clients, essentially knew last weekend when the Carroll news was still breaking that he would be back in Los Angeles. Candidates who talked with USC brass were informed that Orgeron was going to be on their prospective new staffs — no matter what.
UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow expressed serious interest in returning to USC last weekend, as son Carter, who worked at agent Don Yee’s agency, contacted Trojans athletic director Mike Garrett. Garrett remained an admirer of Chow and his work despite the rift that occurred between him and Carroll before he left for the Tennessee Titans.
Chow, however, decided on Thursday that he’ll remain at UCLA for his third season as offensive coordinator.
Did the fact that he didn’t have a great working relationship with Kiffin when they were both at USC and that he doesn’t find Kiffin's arrogance too appealing ultimately lead Chow to stay with the Bruins? We could only speculate.
But one thing remains clear: Kiffin needs to find an offensive coordinator at the level of Chow in order to succeed at USC.
Everything isn’t all rosy for Kiffin at USC
Even if the Kiffin hire feels like a slam dunk for the Trojans, there are still hurdles to clear. First and foremost, exactly how much will the football program be under NCAA watch — and perhaps sanctions — after the school meets with the NCAA next month? USC is considered — and considers itself — one of the most prominent programs in all of college football, yet its new leader is young, arrogant and willing to do anything to get the best players in the country. Was it too risky a choice with the program in hot water with the NCAA? Add in the possible trouble with Orgeron’s Tuesday night phone calls to Tennessee recruits, and this could be a program ripe for unraveling.
There’s no doubt that Kiffin is a smart guy, and he knows that he can’t do by himself what Carroll did for so many years. So he’s going to assemble a staff that likely will have other FBS schools envious — with athletic directors across the nation calling next offseason when they’re looking for head coaching candidates for their programs. In fact, USC fans and administration began to question in recent years whether Carroll was replenishing his assistant coach toolbox with the right people after other schools began depleting the cupboard. I don’t expect there to be any questions about Kiffin’s staff when the 2010 season kicks off.
But is Kiffin the right guy right now? He could be a Pete Carroll clone. Or he could be just a guy who gets great talent any way he can, yet he won’t know how to fully utilize all of it and further saddle the program with NCAA trouble. Keep in mind that Kiffin’s career coaching record is 12-21.
Losing out on Chow definitely hurts, as his brilliant offensive mind would have worked wonders with the talent already on board and the incoming recruits for the next few years. Kiffin needs an experienced play-caller, especially when the knock on him has been his coaching tendencies in tight games and the prevailing sense that his teams can be figured out by the start of the fourth quarter. How much can the stats his USC teams put up while he was offensive coordinator be attributed to playing against a mediocre Pac-10?
If an established veteran offensive mind can get on board, the talent will be there. Kiffin and Orgeron will be able to bring in some of the top recruiting classes in the nation — as long as NCAA sanctions aren’t on the horizon. In addition, character problems cannot start to tarnish recruiting classes, such as with Kiffin’s first and only class at Tennessee.
Even with the loss of Carroll and Ken Norton, USC may not lose many of its current recruits. In fact, the class could get bolstered, as Tennessee — which arguably had a top-five class — could lose more than a few to Kiffin and USC.
Without question, USC made a brash hire in choosing Kiffin. Whether that brashness — and his ruthless aggression in the recruiting game — ultimately dooms the Trojans remains to be seen. But if USC is able to evade NCAA violations and other issues off the field, the Trojans should be able to put their four-loss season behind them and return to the top of the Pac-10.
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