Kiffin never had a chance at USC

It ended with a whimper, not a bang.

The Lane Kiffin era at USC finally, mercifully, came to an end in the wee hours of Sunday morning, providing a jolting wake-up call for most Trojan fans who stayed up late the night before watching their team get blitzed by Arizona State in a 62-41 defeat.

The resolution to the most talked about coaching hot seat of the year was two hours old before most people even knew about it.

When all is said and done, Kiffin’s record at USC will forever stand at 28-15, with seven losses in his past 11 games and zero bowl game victories. But the numbers don’t come anywhere close to telling the entire story.

Kiffin inherited a program in shambles. USC fans don’t like to think of their team this way, but that’s exactly what it was in the process of becoming when Kiffin took over. The bowl ban cost the team a chance at the Rose Bowl in 2011, sure, but the loss of 30 scholarships was by far the most crippling aspect of the sanctions levied by the NCAA in 2010.

Take the ASU game, for example. When two wide receivers went down with injuries, Kiffin was forced to play walk-on redshirt freshman Robby Kolanz in the second half of a meaningful Pac-12 game. This is just one instance of a dire situation, but it illustrates how much the scholarship losses put this roster behind the eight ball.

Given the adverse conditions Kiffin was forced to deal with, 28-15 actually does not sound that bad. Consider that from 2002-04, while facing a two-year bowl ban and loss of 21 scholarships over three seasons, Alabama went 20-18, with the lack of depth on its roster being a key factor in its struggles. When the NCAA hits you with some of the harshest penalties in college football history, it doesn’t want you to succeed.

But that wasn’t the only hindrance Kiffin had to overcome upon his arrival in Los Angeles. Rightly or wrongly, deserved or undeserved, Kiffin came to Troy with a bad reputation. To be blunt, it was easy for people to dislike him. He shot his mouth off at Tennessee, didn’t schmooze the L.A. media and was perceived as someone who “failed up” throughout his career, consistently receiving marquee coaching jobs without ever having succeeded at his last stop.

It was always an uphill battle for Kiffin to win the hearts of the locals. The 2011 season, in which the Trojans went 10-2 and finished ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll, helped win some support, but the reviews were anything but unanimous. Then the 2012 season happened, which can only be described as an unmitigated disaster, and the approval ratings, again, tanked. His short leash grew even shorter in 2013, eventually resulting in the plug being pulled just five games into this season.

During his time here, the criticism came in all shapes and sizes. A lot of it was definitely warranted. The ball deflating, jersey switching, coaches’ poll voting and media ditching were all self-inflicted wounds that could have been avoided. Kiffin’s playcalling was also constantly criticized — though I’m not sure if the disapproval of fans that know next to nothing about football can be taken too seriously.

Other barbs thrown Kiffin’s way, though, don’t hold water. Many pointed to his stoicism and lack of enthusiasm on the sidelines as evidence that he didn’t connect with his players or was unable to provide inspiration to them. Kiffin has pointed out before that he keeps his  fist-pumping to a minimum so that he remains focused on the next play, and he stands far from the line of scrimmage, and away from people on the sidelines, to get a better angle at the field, not because he can’t connect with the players.

Athletic Director Pat Haden and USC players who have spoken to the media in the wake of Kiffin’s dismissal have nothing but good things to say about their former coach. A skeptic might chalk this up to political correctness, but I will just take them for their word and believe that Kiffin had his players’ respect and loyalty.

As for his sideline demeanor, I guess judgment on that is based on results. If USC won, then Kiffin was praised for his      laser-like focus. Against Oregon in Autzen Stadium in 2011, with the crowd going crazy and the Ducks mounting a comeback, he was a calming presence amid the chaos that helped the team hold on for the upset victory.

But in a loss, critics called him boring: He lacks enthusiasm, he can’t inspire his players, and his dispassionate ways have a negative impact on the team. When things got out of hand in the third quarter against ASU, he looked confused and couldn’t take control of the situation, killing any chance the Trojans had of winning.

Thus is the nature of coaching at USC. Expectations are high, sometimes unreasonably so, and Kiffin knew that when he took the job. It’s the reason he made a reported $4 million annually — to win, no matter the circumstances.

It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the reality nonetheless. Fans might not have liked what the program did under Kiffin’s lead, but really, he was destined to fail all along. Given the burden he had to bear, he deserves some praise for how much he succeeded. If he had been given a better chance to begin with, who knows how far the Trojans could have gone with Lane Kiffin as their leading man.


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12 replies
  1. Bob S
    Bob S says:

    I think you both are missing several points! Consistency and growth? This is the game of football. It can be different week in and week out year after year. You have different players all the time depending on injuries, freshman quarterbacks, new defensive coach, etc. The week before they played well. The week after? Horrible. Maybe the other team was better than the one the week before? Don’t say Kiffin isn’t showing signs of improvement….say his team does not seem to be performing well. I don’t think coaches expect so many said penalties or for their running back to be out so long but hey, that’s the game of football If it were just up to the coaches, film and X’s and O’s, more teams would be winning but there are young mean in there who make mistakes and try to learn from them. I don’t think Lane called the play where the freshman quarterback was going to throw to the other team. There are many, many coaches who didn’t do well right off the bat and they had much less to deal with than Coach Kiffin. And I’m sorry, I must have missed the article that said before the game, Lane was out there deflating balls. Yeah right! Don’t believe everything you read – try to have some facts to back things up. The years of a USC or Nebraska or Alabama having one coach for a long era is over. No university is patient enough to work through injuries, sanctions, new coaching staff/plays, etc. You win or you’re gone. That’s why I don’t feel sorry for Tennessee. You don’t think if Coach Kiffin lost his first year or two there he would be gone? Of course he would. There is no loyalty at universities anymore. IT’s not even the athletic director handling things….now a President goes on Football Road trips? Does he have a university to run? That tells you what entity is much more powerful!!!!

  2. Bruce A. Ladd
    Bruce A. Ladd says:

    I live in Atlanta, Ga.
    It truly amazes me that the scoundrel Coach Pete Carroll is never talked about. (Talk about a “free-pass”)
    Carroll got USC in trouble with the NCAA and then moves on to Seattle.
    Coach Lane Kiffin stinks but Coach Pete Carroll deserves to be whipped on the USC campus.
    Unless I have missed some comments…this dirtbag ran out on the Trojans !

  3. 1982 USC Alumnus
    1982 USC Alumnus says:

    My only complaint is that Pat Haden should also have been fired. Haden, for all of his reported success, has so far failed at USC by not firing Kiffin on day one of his AD job. Haden simply lacks the fortitude or courage to act swiftly; he was much too dilatory and passive in his handling of the fiasco that defined Lane Kiffin. Kiffin was way over his head to begin with, and dragging USC through the NCAA appeal process (a colossal mistake, IMO), demonstrates just how incompetent the very top USC leaders are (including Nikias, Todd Dickey and others who were also part of the NCAA “lack of institutional control” cast of characters). Until USC truly cleans house, the problems with NCAA violations — which happen every other decade or so — will recur.

  4. TommyT
    TommyT says:


    I usually agree with your opinions, but no disrespect, you are a little bit off on this one.

    I agree that kiffins personality can be spun as a positive or a negative depending on whether or not SC is winning, but you said it yourself – he was paid $4 million to win, regardless of the circumstances, and he didn’t.

    Throw in all of the other issues (deflating footballs, jersey numbers, embarrassingly not showing up to the sun bowl dinner, etc…) and there is a clear disconnect / lack of leadership that just adds to the not being able to win.

    Kiffin era was a complete fail, and he deserves to be shown the door

    • Bob S
      Bob S says:

      Tommy T, I think you are a little off on this one. Not everything that happens at USC is Lane Kiffin’s fault. Most of what you read in the paper is a writer’s opinion and usually not based on any sort of fact. Fans at USC are letting the media fuel the fire which happens here in Nebraska as well. There were reasons for the Sun Bowl dinner if you would have read facts from a reputable source, no one knows about the deflating footballs (and who cares) but I think Coach Kiffin is a little busy to be worry about deflated footballs before a game. He wanted a challenge (Knew some sanctions were coming to USC), he loved USC and honestly with the sanctions, not a lot of coaches knocking down their door. Why? Because while they want a challenge probably not one that large. He does have plenty of years of experience coaching as well as leadership skills which the Captains mentioned in Pat Hayden’s press conference. Unfortunately, kids that are between the ages of 18-21 make mistakes and at times, they don’t play well and every once in awhile, they will lose! Sometimes, they lose to better teams – doesn’t mean the coach needs to be fired. Sometimes your quarterback will throw 4 interceptions, sometimes your great running back is hurt, sometimes their line is better than your line. Sometimes, for whatever reason, your kicker misses a chip shot field goal. That is the game of football….many games of football every weekend and you see bad teams beat good teams all the time. You see underdogs win. What is sad to see is that USC has poor fans and a poor student section and if they are losing, they are NOT going to be behind their players or coach. I can guarantee you all the players and all the coaches work extremely hard every week and their goal is to win. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Coaching is a brutal profession and we find a great coach once for 10-2 because we wanted to be number one and we wanted to play for the National Championship every year so we fired our coach we loved and he left. It’s been a mess ever since. Bottom line is Lane Kiffin worked his butt off to help USC for years and it is a sad day in this world when you treat your Coach who is getting home at 3:00 in the morning the way Pat Hayden treated him. If I were the players at USC, it shows me that there isn’t much loyalty or respect starting at the very top!! That’s where there is a clear disconnect. I don’t see USC going much of anywhere with Pat Hayden treating people that way.

  5. DaJuiceSelbs7
    DaJuiceSelbs7 says:

    Now we can only hope to lure Pat Fitzgerald from Northwestern or Herm Edwards from ESPN studios.

    Fight On!

  6. Drew Trojan
    Drew Trojan says:

    Agree ^.

    The players, Haden, etc…. Are all at fault here.

    But the guy lost 7/11 games – what “success” do you mean?

  7. Jake
    Jake says:

    We get it, nick, it’s not all kiffins fault.

    But you talk if praising Kiffin for his success? That is overkill.

    Prove your point and be done – don’t push it

  8. Sean
    Sean says:


    Seriously? If I didn’t know better I would say you are Kiffen’s son! Some of your comments are crazy! Your shot at fans “who know next to nothing about football”…really? Kiffen’s play calling was some of the worst I have ever seen! When my 9 year old son calls the play before the ball is even snapped I would say there is a problem. His lack of enthusiasm I can partially agree with you, but at the end of the day he was the Head Coach of The University of Southern California!! You also need to remember that the 2011 season he had Carol’s players, this season even with lack of scholarships, he had a top recruiting class and you saw the results! So your comment about “destined to fail” again is off base. Kiffen is a horrible head coach and this was the best thing for the program.

    • footballfan
      footballfan says:


      Wow, your 9-year old son calls the play before the ball is even snapped? That is simply amazing. What a prodigy you have on your hands! You must be so proud. As far as the writer’s statement in which you took offense—“…not sure if the disapproval of fans that know next to nothing about football can be taken too seriously”—tell me this: What were the two most common formations used by ASU’s offense? Also, what kind of defense did USC line up in to combat ASU’s favorite tendencies? What was Taylor Kelly reading when the Trojans dropped into two deep coverage? Can you answer any of those questions? Do you even understand them? I didn’t think so. In that case, Sean, the writer is referring to you when he comments on the fans that “know next to nothing about football.” Hey, but at least you can rejoice in the fact that your genius 9-year old son can call the plays before the ball is even snapped.

  9. jp
    jp says:

    Well-written and accurate. Lane Kiffin well-knew what he was stepping into when he took the job, and the sanctions cat was well out of the bag. I mean, if I could spot it, then anyone could. So Garrett had Kiffin in his sights because they got along well and Kiffin’s SC record, where he could hide from the public, was solid. He hired the man as what, a willing target with guts? There were times when SC looked incredible under Kiffin and he let the guys play ball. It was in the losses that he seemed most immobilized. It was that frozen statue in the hoodie at El Paso that lost me.

  10. Roger
    Roger says:

    I think your article misses one relevant point in all this; and, that is consistency and growth. I agree with AD Pat Haden in his assertion that Kiffin was not showing any signs of improvement. I think Kiffin reached his plateau. The only things I can’t get out of my head are the deflated balls and switched jerseys. I think that when you use techniques as these it either speaks to one’s lack of professional ability or you don’t have faith in your team. I think that is something worth delving into.

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