Those were the first two words out of my mouth when I heard Lane Kiffin was hired as the next coach at USC. After it seemed like everyone in the country was turning down the USC job, out of nowhere comes Kiffin. Kiffin’s move is and isn’t surprising.
Like many of the other names tossed around, Athletic Director Mike Garrett is familiar with Kiffin. Kiffin was on the coaching staff under Pete Carroll from 2001 to 2007 — first as a tight ends coach, then as the offensive coordinator for two years — and ran a successful offensive unit through quarterbacks Matt Leinart and John David Booty.
After Kiffin left USC in 2007, he coached the Oakland Raiders for a year and a half before he was let go in a messy firing. He went 5-15 as the coach and was never given a chance by Raiders owner Al Davis.
Yet, while Garrett is familiar with Kiffin, this surprising move reeks of desperation.
Why would Garrett hire Kiffin, who was notorious for his recruiting violations during his one-year stint at Tennessee, at a time when USC’s own program is under NCAA investigation for violations concerning former running back Reggie Bush? And why would Kiffin, who had only been at Tennessee for one year and had, by most accounts, one of the best recruiting classes in the country coming in, bolt from Knoxville, Tenn. so quickly?
The answer is simple: USC needed a coach now in order to retain recruits, and there must not have been many people who wanted the job. Kiffin must have wanted to come back to where he got his start in the coaching ranks and hold a prestigious job in a prestigious football program.
Garrett reached out to four or five candidates (that we know of, possibly more) before he hired Kiffin, who will check his bag containing all his NCAA violations when he boards the plane to come to Los Angeles.
Despite all of this, there is some upside to Kiffin. He runs a pro-style offense, something quarterback Matt Barkley wants, and is a recruiting genius. He also has assembled a highly experienced coaching staff before he has even stepped foot on campus again.
Arguably the most important of those men is Ed Orgeron, one of the best recruiting coordinators in the nation. Orgeron spent a considerable amount of time with USC under Carroll as well at the beginning of the decade. He was one of the men responsible for bringing in the talent that won two straight national championships in 2003 and 2004.
With many of USC’s top-flight recruits wavering on their commitments — including top wide receiver Kyle Prater and MaxPreps.com’s high school player of the year, running back Dillon Baxter — Orgeron will help reel them back in and solidify the recruiting class Carroll started.
Not to be lost in all this is Kiffin’s father, Monte Kiffin, who will join his son’s staff as defensive coordinator. Monte held that title at Tennessee last season, and before that with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2008. Monte is a defensive mastermind who is considered one of the best defensive coordinators in NFL history. He is the father of the famed “Tampa 2” defense that has been imitated by many other coaches across the football world. USC’s defense, which was very strong under Carroll, won’t skip a beat with Monte.
Then there’s Norm Chow. While it’s not official, rumors have been swirling that Chow, currently UCLA’s offensive coordinator, could take on the some role under Kiffin. This would be a dream scenario for Trojan fans who have seen the offense rapidly decline since Chow vacated that same position he held at USC from 2003-2005. It was no secret that Chow and Carroll butted heads, and, with Carroll gone, one of the best offensive coordinators in college football history is free to come back.
Orgeron, Monte Kiffin and Chow are are the core of a very strong coaching staff and USC fans should be delighted to have them wear Cardinal and Gold. This is essentially Carroll’s former staff during his greatest years — minus Carroll.
Still, the hiring of Lane Kiffin is questionable. He went to Tennessee with much fanfare, calling out then-Gators coach Urban Meyer for cheating and providing the now-infamous quote claiming that he would sing “Rocky Top” — the Tennessee fight song — all night long once he Florida. Meyer didn’t cheat, but Kiffin sure did. And Florida beat Tennessee.
Garrett is taking a big gamble with this hiring, and that’s not surprising. This could end up being a brilliant move — or it could also end up being a stupid decision by an athletic director who has proven to be prone to ill-advised decisions.
One thing’s for sure about Kiffin. He will waste no time getting down to business and luring back the wavering recruits
Welcome back, Lane.
I guess I’ll hold my judgment until the end of next season.
“Spittin’ Sports” runs Wednesday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Kenny