Kiffin and USC a shocking mixture

I can only hope that, somewhere in America, a student being asked to explain an explosive chemical reaction on a test is writing “Lane Kiffin plus USC” as the answer.

Changes · Freshman quarterback Matt Barkely will need to learn a new offensive system when Kiffin and whoever the new Trojan coach names as offensive coordinator begin to install their system next season. - Mike Lee | Daily Trojan

Any open-minded teacher would grant at least partial credit.

If USC meant to grab national attention with its newest head coaching hire, consider it a mission accomplished and then some. But the reverberations from the move were still traveling Wednesday when Kiffin was formally introduced as head coach.

The marriage between USC and the brash 34-year-old coach firmly entrenches USC football as one of the most despised brands in college sports. A subtler move would have been replacing the sword-wielding statue of Tommy Trojan with a new version extending the middle finger to everyone not affiliated with USC.

That’s not to say Kiffin will be a surefire flop in his new position. But given the acrimony that his name evokes, USC fans should be prepared to adopt an us-against-the-world mentality for the foreseeable future.

You would be hard-pressed to find a Kiffin supporter outside of Los Angeles right now because of the countless enemies he has made over the years. Columnists and fans almost universally panned USC following yesterday’s announcement.

Whatever goodwill he built up in Tennessee went up in flames Tuesday night, as did a mattress that was burned that evening. Volunteer fans mobbed the university’s football complex in a raucous display so intense that it put the villagers from Frankenstein to shame.

“I thought to myself that they were upset that we’re leaving because of what we were doing,” Kiffin said, in a bizarrely optimistic statement for someone who had merchandise with his image on it burned the previous night. “If they weren’t upset that we were leaving, we weren’t doing anything right.”

Given all the vitriol that follows him, Kiffin would be wise to learn a lesson in playing nice — especially with the folks at the NCAA.

Kiffin’s hire was all the more surprising because of the possible sanctions USC faces, depending on deliberations at an NCAA meeting that Yahoo! Sports reported will take place from Feb. 19-21.

Not only was Kiffin on staff at USC at the time Reggie Bush was alleged to have received extra benefits, but Kiffin also made a name for himself in Tennessee by running afoul of the rules. He committed six secondary violations in his 14 months and was chided by opponents for playing fast and loose in recruiting.

“It was not a large amount of violations; it was not out of whack,” Kiffin said, citing the conference-wide penchant for rule-bending.

Kiffin quickly expanded and said he would strive to not commit any violations, but by then he had already missed a perfect opportunity to take ownership of his past mistakes. The Southeastern Conference is renowned for its Wild West attitude in recruiting, but Kiffin’s pace was still disconcerting.

Bringing Kiffin aboard sends almost the polar opposite message to the NCAA that USC broadcast when the university hired squeaky-clean Kevin O’Neill to run its basketball program.

By hiring O’Neill, USC said, “We repent.”

By appointing Kiffin, USC said, “So what? Bring it.”

Kiffin said Wednesday his top priority would be “a dedication to running a clean and disciplined program,” but that comes just a month after he said he took the NCAA’s investigation of Tennessee’s recruiting tactics as a compliment of his prowess with swaying star prospects. Somehow, I think USC’s compliance office has probably had its fill of such compliments already.

Another lesson Kiffin will have to learn is how to interact with his peers in college football without playing the role of the gnat. He repeatedly irked his fellow coaches in the SEC so badly that, as Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post wrote on his Twitter, “Lane Kiffin did in one day what [SEC commissioner] Mike Slive couldn’t do in eight years: unify the SEC.”

But if you don’t want to believe a journalist’s depiction of Kiffin’s ways, take it from a rapper. On his song “Banned from TV,” Lil Wayne boasted that he could “talk s— like Lane Kiffin.” Upon being informed of the reference, Kiffin said that he enjoyed it because it boosted his program’s “street cred.”

Of course, that street cred comment looked a lot worse when, less than a month later, Kiffin had to boot two players from the program for being charged with armed robbery. But hey, maybe it means there could be change afoot for the Trojans’ pregame song.

No doubt Kiffin knows that there are coaches in the Pac-10 who will gladly trade jabs with him. With UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel and Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh all running wild, there’s the potential for there to be more poking among Pac-10 coaches than a bunch of teenage girls on Facebook.

Kiffin was on his best behavior Wednesday evening, save for a slip when he got into a who’s-on-first routine with a reporter about whether recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron had instructed mid-term enrollees at Tennessee not to go to class to preserve their eligibility.

Maybe Kiffin is a changed man and truly has learned from the past. Maybe his all-star staff is so good that none of his supposed baggage matters. And maybe USC can prosper while playing the villain role in college football.

But if the new L.A. Lane needs to show anything, it’s that he can play by the rules and keep USC afloat. One out of two won’t cut it.

Whatever the case, I hope Kiffin remembers where he left his favorite USC visor, because there’s no switch to turn off that spotlight shining in his face.

6 replies
  1. Greg M. Schwartz
    Greg M. Schwartz says:

    Great column. Certainly should keep things interesting in the Pac-10. I wish the Buckeyes could get anothr crack at the Trojans, but I’m planning on seeing the Scarlet & Gray in Arizona on 1/10/11

  2. Laura
    Laura says:

    “A subtler move would have been replacing the sword-wielding statue of Tommy Trojan with a new version extending the middle finger to everyone not affiliated with USC.” LOL.

  3. the stick
    the stick says:

    It’s not USC vs. the world anymore, it’s like half of USC vs. the world. Did you see how empty the stands were for the UCLA game? How about against Arizona? My guess is that 50,000 show up for opening day. And when USC loses its first game (which it will this year), figure that will drop to 35,000.

    And what is the hype about any of this new staff? Has anyone checked their track records? Kiffin, the Kid, took a program from 5-7 to 7-6. Woo hoo! 5-15 with the Raiders. Ed Orgeron was 10-25 overall as head coach at Ole Miss, going 0-8 in his conference in the final year. And my guess is that he won’t coach a day at USC. They’ll have to fire him due to the fall out of his calling UT recruits. Kiffin, the Dad, is 69. Jesus Christ, he is 69!!! Do you think he is going to be that effective?

    My guess is that USC goes 8-4 or worse next year. Scratch the BCS, scratch the top 25, hello Emerald Bowl again.

  4. Rich
    Rich says:

    wait…since when hasnt it been us vs the world? lol! if this season has shown one thing, the other PAC 10 teams and the rest of the NCAA hates us. We have been playing the villian, why change it up. only in 2010, our players will have something to prove, and we will be playing with a chip on our shoulder for the first time in years. Probably not smart to get in our way.

  5. reader
    reader says:

    Our football program has been “playing the villain” since we won a share of the national title in 2003. I think Lane will feel right at home here, even before he starts the trash talking. Good luck to our boys despite the regime change.

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