Timing of Polamalu’s firing ethically gray

Last Friday, USC decided to part ways with offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu after three seasons on the job. Head coach Lane Kiffin offered a predictable and politically correct statement on the firing, saying “as we continue to evaluate all facets of our program, including the organization of our staff, we made the decision to go in a different direction at this coaching position. Kennedy Polamalu is a good coach, a good person and a good Trojan. We wish him and his family the best.”

We don’t really know why Polamalu was let go. That information probably won’t be disclosed anytime soon. And normally, the dismissal of an assistant coach wouldn’t really garner much analysis.

In this case, however, there’s another question worth examining: Was the timing of Polamalu’s firing ethical?

Think about it: National signing day was Feb. 6. Polamalu was fired on Feb. 8. It’s not unreasonable to believe that some of the new recruits, especially on the offensive side of the ball, could be influenced by the fluidity of USC’s coaching staff. So was this move put off until after the Trojans officially recruited the prospects they were hoping to lock up?

My best guess: Probably. And while it’s not a particularly proud moment for Kiffin and company, firing a coach a few days after signing day is about as tame as it gets during an incredibly tense recruiting period.

If another coach had done something similar to Kiffin (and surely other coaches have done something similar in the past), there would be significantly less blowback from the media and the team’s fan base. That’s not to play the “woe is me” card for Kiffin — after a string of dishonest maneuvers last season, including the infamous ball-deflating incident, USC’s coach really doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt anymore.

That doesn’t mean what he did this time around was particularly wrong though.

The recruiting process in 2013 is about as cut-throat as it gets. Prospects change their minds on where to go to school on a day-to-day basis. Case in point: highly regarded linebacker Reuben Foster committed to Auburn, got a tattoo of his soon-to-be alma mater, and ended up choosing rival Alabama on signing day. USC needed every scholarship it could get, especially after multiple verbal commits ended up going elsewhere when it came down to decision-making time.

Add in the crippling sanctions that continue to limit the Trojans’ options on a year-to-year basis, and it becomes increasingly harder to blame Kiffin for making a tactical decision of sorts.

It sounds strange summing up the job security of a coach as a tactical decision, but that’s essentially what it was. Polamalu was an important recruiter in the program and helped bring in running back Ty Isaac, among others. Kiffin likely knew long before Friday he didn’t want to keep Polamalu around, but he needed to keep the outside appearance of stability in the coaching staff. Besides, for all we know, recruits and even Polamalu himself knew what was coming.

If no one involved in the signing day process had any idea of the impending firing, then Kiffin’s maneuvers become a little more suspect. That would change things from a strategic decision to something less acceptable. From all indications, Polamalu was a well-regarded figure in the locker room, and his firing was met with a fair amount of opposition from Trojan players. Ultimately, though, Kiffin made a choice, and dwelling on his motives isn’t worth the time and effort.

After a 7-6 season, Kiffin is on the hot seat more than Haden will ever admit. It’s put-up or shut-up time for the Trojans, who, admittedly, won’t be as talented as the last season’s underachieving squad. Kiffin has been criticized for his lack of creativity at times with the play-calling, especially with weapons such as sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee and junior running back Silas Redd at his disposal. This is his chance to show that he’s capable of righting the ship. Bring in a new offensive coordinator, take the issue seriously and make the offense a top priority.

Polamalu wasn’t the problem for the Trojans in 2012. In the end though, he took the fall for the Trojans’ coaching staff. The timing of the move was questionable, but if Kiffin can make amends next season, all will be forgiven and forgotten.


“The Fifth Down” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Alex at ajshultz@usc.edu.


3 replies
  1. frank aguirre
    frank aguirre says:

    back in the early 70s.same thing happend to at bmhs.then other coach went afterother coachs until hegot the head coaching job.he did not produce.stayed until released.bs the people at lbst.anthony.did the same there,got booted out there also.same goes for the recent deal on the pope same thing,things are getting hot.got to bail out. look at mahony,and he has the testicles to wear a cross around his neck.

  2. dave
    dave says:

    are you trying to be the DT’s version of scott wolf? is this the new yellow journalisma dn do you too have an ax to grind like that hack at the daily news? How many asst coaches fled to new jobs the day after signing day? including the georgia o line coach, their dc, the florida dc,. the bama o line coach…do you think those too were also spur of the moment? dont you realize that they too waited until after signing day to announce? its not kiffen that is the problem, it is the media like yourselves who keep harping and counting on page hits, sad journalism and nowhere near objective. Kiffen had nothing to do with the footballs etc. why keep mentionint it like its gospel he did? wow

  3. jOHN
    jOHN says:

    Your lack on knowledge on this particual subject, the one your have chosen to opine on, is very troubling. If you had done any investigation at all, instead of just suposition, you might have written a half-way interesting article. But, since you seem to have no knowlege of what everyone else knows, from just reading blogs from the recruits, concerning this situation, your are just a day late and a dollar short.

    On the other hand, yes, when the Head Coach fires a large number of his staff while he remains, it is very troubling indeed, as the problems seem to be related to the Head Coach and not to his staff.

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