Questions abound at USC after the hiring of new coaches Lane Kiffin, Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron.
First of all, why Lane Kiffin? The 34-year-old coaching prodigy has quickly ascended the ranks but has made news by alienating many along the way.
Second, how can three high-profile coaches — and possibly four, with former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow rumored — work together under the microscope in the City of Angels?
And, perhaps most importantly, why so soon?
Kiffin became the youngest coach in NFL history when famed Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis hired him to replace Art Shell at the age of 31, after a six-year stint with USC. He and Davis clashed early and often during their time together with the Raiders, and Kiffin was fired after 20 games at the helm.
He moved to the University of Tennessee in November 2008 and went 7-6 in one season with the Volunteers. Now, just 36 months after leaving USC, Kiffin returns.
Said Kiffin on Monday night in Knoxville, Tenn.: “I really believe the only place I would have left here to go was Southern California.”
USC benefited greatly from former coach Pete Carroll’s uniquely personable attitude, utilizing the icon in a variety of facets across multiple levels and marketing the 58-year-old Carroll and his mantras to no end.
That task gets a lot harder with Kiffin, who has had a love-hate relationship with fans and colleagues on all levels. It won’t be so easy to sell Trojan ideals with Kiffin, a man who already left USC once.
Kiffin was also involved in at least five NCAA violations during his 14 months with Tennessee, the most of any program in the nation.
Obviously — and perhaps boldly, considering recent events — USC isn’t as afraid of possible NCAA sanctions as some might have expected.
But with a deposition from Carroll soon to come in the Reggie Bush case and a university investigation
ongoing on the Joe McKnight, NCAA-imposed sanctions are certainly a possibility.
Kiffin’s hiring won’t decrease that.
But on the field, Athletic Director Mike Garrett will get positive reviews for the coaching staff assembled alongside Kiffin. Joining him will be his father Monte, a noted defensive guru, and Ed Orgeron, a recruiter du jour, former head coach at the University of Mississippi and assistant under Kiffin in Knoxville.
“Lane has surrounded himself with others of similar talent. I can’t tell you how delighted we are to have Ed Orgeron back on staff and to have Monte Kiffin join us,” Garrett said in a statement. “They are some of the preeminent coaches in the game. Ed did a marvelous job during his previous time at USC and we all know that Monte is a defensive guru.
“I know Lane will fill out his staff with other outstanding assistants like them, ones who Trojan players and fans will really like.”
But Orgeron and the younger Kiffin each carry prominent personalities — and, many would say, egos — to USC.
As for the time element, USC felt the heat from recruits, boosters and fans in the 96 or so hours since Carroll’s possible departure was first rumoured. Multiple USC commits had given hints or outright said that they would reconsider their college choices after learning of the change at the top.
National Signing Day is Feb. 3, and in the two or three weeks prior, recruiting is more important than at any other point during the year.
But putting all of Kiffin’s transgressions aside, the 34-year-old still has a reputation as a tireless, successful recruiter. He put together what was widely termed a top-25 recruiting class in fewer than 70 days on the job with the Volunteers.
That fact — and the fact that many players currently committed to Tennessee could follow Kiffin to USC — should quell many a fan’s doubts for the time being.
At today’s press conference in the Heritage Hall Varsity Lounge, Garrett and Kiffin will take to the mic in what will surely be a sight to be seen.
And they will face many questions.