It’s easy to hate Lane Kiffin.
Especially when he loses games. After the Washington State debacle two weeks ago, it was hard to imagine a more hated man in college football. After the Trojans put up a single, measly touchdown in a 10-7 loss to the Cougars, “Fire Kiffin” chants echoed off the walls of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Then the following day came the cute “Fire Lane” mock parking signs wrapped around poles on campus. Last week, before the game against Boston College, there were a handful of men wearing “Fire Lane Kiffin” t-shirts.
Luckily for Kiffin, the Trojans dominated the game against Boston College.
Following an 80-yard touchdown by junior wide receiver Marqise Lee in the second quarter, a fan in the fifth row of the student section started waving his arm in the air and chanting,
“We want Kiffin!”
The ecstasy and momentum generated by Lee’s thrilling run just moments earlier dampened with an air of uncertainty, like someone had just cracked an awkward joke. Like the Eagles’ offense that day, the chant never really made it off the ground.
Lane Monte Kiffin might not be a stranger to enmity, but he is best friends with uncertainty. It’s that uncertainty that seems to permeate his tenure that leads so many at USC to make him a scapegoat when things go wrong. It’s not simply the arrogance of a two-point conversion attempt when the team is ahead by double digits, or the fact that he attempts enough fourth-down conversions to make LSU head coach Les Miles blush.
It’s the fact that the same coach who does these things was too skittish to air out the ball against Washington State. People can’t seem to put a finger on Kiffin’s coaching style, and for the most part, many of us haven’t really bothered to try. What might be the youthful tinkering of a man figuring out his strengths and weaknesses looks to the rest of us like an indecisive mess.
What should be beyond the realm of uncertainty, however, is Kiffin’s contributions to USC football during his tenure.
Kiffin willingly took on NCAA sanctions and managed to work within his constraints to keep USC a college football powerhouse.
Kiffin led the Trojans to a 10-2 record in 2011, including a No. 6 finish in the AP poll. The sanctions hadn’t impacted the Trojans on the field immediately, but the scholarship cuts took their toll in the recruiting arena.
But Kiffin did his best with what he had. For the past two seasons, USC has had the No. 8 and No. 13 ranked recruiting classes in the country — despite having 10 fewer scholarships than probation-free schools each year.
Last season alone, Kiffin managed to haul in five Rivals five-star recruits — out of 12 total scholarships. You might have already been acquainted with some of these recruits, including true freshman starting safety Su’a Cravens and freshman Justin Davis, whose leap over an oncoming defender in the Hawai’i game for a touchdown was briefly reminiscent of He Who Must Not Be Named.
Oh, and the Trojans recruited the consensus No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country in 6-foot-5 freshman Max Browne, who’s redshirting this season. Add these factors together with the fact that the Trojans are only going to become more polished and experienced as the season progresses, and it starts to become clear that Kiffin’s impact will be felt for years — even if he doesn’t make it past the end of the season.
The first play of last week’s game against Boston College played out like an extended metaphor for Kiffin’s rough week following the Washington State game.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler snaps the ball and looks primed to hand it off for yet another Tre Madden run.
Groans from the crowd.
Then, Kessler yanks the ball back prematurely (he really needs to sell these play actions better) and drops back to launch a bomb to a sprinting Marqise Lee. Despite the fact that the pass failed to connect, the student section got up and roared its approval of the play call. For that moment, it seemed all was forgiven.
It was later revealed by Kiffin that the first play of that game was called in by none other than President C. L. Max Nikias, who (aside from managing to singlehandedly scare the hell out of Boston College’s secondary) also offered Kiffin some words of encouragement before the game. And isn’t that the way it should be? Shouldn’t the students of this university, at least, stand behind Kiffin, who stood behind them during sanctions?
Lane Kiffin is a complex man, full of contradictions and uncertainties. Controversy seems to nip at his heels, ‘brash arrogance’ a kind of scarlet letter slapped on his breast by the media. He crossed a blazing bridge from Oakland to Knoxville, only to leave the Tennessee Volunteers’ head coaching position after a year and become a persona non grata in both cities.
Yes, it’s easy to hate Lane Kiffin. But since when do Trojans do the easy thing?
Euno is a senior majoring in English. “Euno, It’s Saturday…” runs every other Friday. To comment on this story, email Euno at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.