For those of you who can’t get enough of Lane Kiffin, another cantankerous coach sporting a visor will occupy a Coliseum sideline this Saturday: Oregon’s Chip Kelly.
Of course these days, the visor and surly personality might be the only similarities these two share.
To say Kelly came out of nowhere is a bit generous. The 2010 Associated Press Coach of the Year’s skyrocketing career began at Columbia in 1990 where he was a secondary and special teams coach — not for the varsity team, I might add, but for the freshman squad.
After graduating from New Hampshire with a Bachelor of Science in physical education, the greatest offensive mastermind in Division I college football — apologies to Mike Leach — couldn’t even land an assistant position on Columbia’s varsity coaching staff.
Let that marinate for a moment. Playing in the “rugged” Ivy League, the Columbia football program’s all-time record is 371-625-43. Columbia’s Wien Stadium seats a mere 17,000, and the program’s only notable football alumnus is novelist and former tailback Jack Kerouac. To be fair, though, Kerouac had a higher calling than running the football.
Kiffin, on the other hand, has coaching in his blood.
Perhaps the greatest fodder for Kiffin’s detractors has always been the entitled air with which he has coasted through his coaching career — the idea that Kiffin has ridden his father’s coattails and not earned his keep. The icon of “Arrogant Nation” still stands as the youngest head coach in the Bowl Championship Series, but his records with the Oakland Raiders (5-15) and Tennessee (7-6) — not to mention his bouts of controversy at those stops — never really seemed to merit his third head coaching chance.
No one can claim that Kelly never paid his dues, however, as the Oregon coach toiled in obscurity as the offensive coordinator for New Hampshire for eight years. In seven of those seasons, his teams produced better than 400 yards per game in total offense.
Upon first learning of Kiffin’s hiring, I remember questioning why USC sought out the rabble-rouser who famously tweaked Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow before the 2009 season and later lost to No. 1 Florida. Kiffin appeared to be a classic attention-seeker and self-promoter.
Factor in the reality that USC was awaiting the results of an NCAA investigation into NCAA violations, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around former Athletic Director Mike Garrett’s boldness. Kiffin arrived during an unprecedented confluence of events — Pete Carroll’s stunning departure and the 2010 sanctions.
Though I won’t argue that Kiffin was more qualified than other candidates or that he’s been perfect or that he’s not sometimes infuriatingly stubborn, he’s loyal to the program and can still recruit with the best.
Most newly hired coaches — even Rick Neuheisel — are allowed four years before they are judged by their results.
The USC fan base must briefly suspend judgment and not be so reactionary. You can’t love the crabby, evasive Kiffin and hail him as a maverick when USC wins, and then pan him for those same attributes when the Trojans suffer an upset.
A couple of unfortunate losses later, we’re right back where we were midway through 2011. Fans are once again imploring Kiffin to fire his father and hire an offensive playcaller. Some are directly calling for Kiffin’s dismissal.
Kiffin muffled those calls in 2011 when the Trojans rampaged through their final four games of the season, beating their opponents by a combined 101 points. Apparently, that string of success did not build up enough capital with USC fans base to earn Kiffin the benefit of the doubt if the Trojans stumbled in 2012.
In the thankless field of college football coaching, wins are soon forgotten, while losses fester long after the final whistle blows.
Hopefully for Kiffin, a victory against Oregon on Saturday will once again ingratiate him to the USC fan base. The challenge could not be steeper, however, as the other visor from up north just continues to win.
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