New coach Lane Kiffin made his return to USC on Wednesday night to address the media in Heritage Hall where he promised a new era for Trojan football, but the controversy he had been associated with since he left the school in 2007 wasn’t far behind him.
Kiffin, who announced his resignation from the top position at the University of Tennessee late Tuesday, took a flight from Knoxville, Tenn. to Los Angeles midday Wednesday to officially accept the position from Athletic Director Mike Garrett.
Kiffin left Knoxville on Tuesday night in the midst of rioting in the Tennessee area following his short announcement to the media that he was taking the job at USC, and replacing Pete Carroll, who moved on to the NFL to coach the Seattle Seahawks.
In 14 short months, Kiffin and his staff made an impact on Tennessee football — turning a 5-7 team into a 7-6 team — yet he and his staff left in the midst of what looked like a team headed in the right direction.
“The decision was one that was not easy for us, we thought a lot about it,” Kiffin said. “We’re very grateful [to Tennessee], but it became very obvious that when we had the opportunity to come back here, we were coming back home.”
Kiffin spoke directly about recruiting and developing team members in his introductory press conference, saying that if USC is able to recruit the best players, they should expect to perform at the highest levels of college football.
“We want an emphasis on developing players,” Kiffin said. “I really believe that it’s the development of the players and the developments of student athletes that this staff can accomplish.”
Kiffin also talked about his return to the program where he got his first major break as tight ends coach during the 2001 season.
Kiffin’s father, Monte Kiffin, who will join the Trojan staff as defensive coordinator, recognized the appeal of USC and returning to familiar territory.
“This is a unique place,” the elder Kiffin said. “[Lane] knows the lay of the land, he came up here [with Carroll].”
The new Trojan coach arrived with his entire family in tow and immediately set out goals for the program. With NCAA investigations looming over possible violations surrounding Joe McKnight and Reggie Bush, Kiffin was intent on running a spotless program.
“The first thing we’re going to do is have a dedication to running a clean program,” Kiffin said.
Just hours after the announcement of Kiffin’s decision, rumors began to swirl about the coach and his new staff.
Kiffin also took along recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron to be a major player in his Trojan staff as part of his agreement to come back to USC after a three-year absence.
According to various sources, including the New York Times, Orgeron spent much of Tuesday contacting potential Tennessee recruits trying to lure them away from the Volunteers — and possibly to the Trojans along with the new coaching staff.
Orgeron and Kiffin, however, denied any wrongdoing, stating that they did not actively encourage recruits to decommit from the Volunteers.
“I always try to drive recruits in the right direction, all I did was explain options to the families that called me,” Orgeron said.
Despite the controversy, Kiffin felt that his time at Tennessee had prepared him well for what he called his “dream job” at USC.
“Being at Tennessee prepared me for what we have here; the microscope at a top-10 or -15 program is as strong,” Kiffin said.
When asked whether he sees this staff as an extension of the departing Carroll regime that was so successful in its nine seasons, Kiffin was quick to recognize the unparalleled success the Trojans have seen over the past few years.
“If we can go to seven straight BCS bowls, with a 6-1 record, then I’d love to be connected with [Carroll’s years],” Kiffin said.