Kiffin’s dismissal only the first step in rebuild

When Marqise Lee went down with a left knee injury in the opening moments of the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s game against Arizona State, it surely seemed like that would be the most significant news to come out of USC football this weekend. Sure, the Trojans were being manhandled by a Pac-12 opponent, but the result of the game took a backseat to the broad effects of the loss of the former Heisman candidate.

Had Lee torn his ACL? Had we seen the last of him in a Trojan uniform? Would he remain No. 2 on USC’s all-time receptions list behind his old running mate Robert Woods?

But the real bombshell wouldn’t come until 4:35 a.m., when USC’s athletic department released an e-mail statement announcing the long-anticipated dismissal of former USC head coach Lane Kiffin. Suddenly, all speculation centered not on Lee, but on the state of the entire USC football program.

As Lee was taken off the field on Saturday night, the cart transporting him didn’t have room to turn around on Arizona State’s narrow sidelines. So it simply rolled in reverse at a glacial pace up into the tunnel leading to USC’s locker room, as Lee managed to flash one of his trademark grins despite the pain that was surely coursing through his leg. Nothing has been confirmed about Lee’s injury, but it’s never a good sign when the entire team huddles around a fallen player.

Lee’s slow exit from Sun Devil Stadium was the perfect metaphor for the plight of the football program under Kiffin, who compiled a mediocre record at Troy (28-15) and lost 7 of his last 11 games as head coach. Even when the Trojans did win, it rarely came with the perceived effortlessness in blowouts and the sexiness that came along with the high-powered offenses and dominant defenses, all of which were common throughout former coach Pete Carroll’s tenure. As the Trojans kept on backing up and regressing with Kiffin behind the wheel, Haden merely sat in the backseat and grinned.

That is, until now, as Haden has delivered the final blow to Kiffin’s tenure.

When Kiffin was asked the first question about his job security at Saturday’s postgame press conference, redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler, who was on deck for interviews, let out an audible sigh, shook his head and rolled his eyes. It was clear he thought that the blame for the team’s flaws should not be laid at his coach’s feet.

So USC’s players did seemingly stay loyal to him until the end, never criticizing Kiffin or whining about his playcalling — something that could have happened on a team that contained immature, spoiled players or a coach that didn’t have control of his team.

But Kiffin’s most widely-recognized redeeming quality, his recruiting prowess, was hardly shaping up to be a strong point this season. With just seven verbal commitments so far from the class of 2014, the Trojans are ranked as having the No. 63 class in the nation by, only better than two other teams in the Pac-12.

Recently, the main knock on Kiffin has been his performance as an offensive coordinator and playcaller. Concerns were initially roused by the deflating loss to Notre Dame last year before peaking in this year’s matchup against Washington State, when the Trojans’ offensive game plan was more appallingly conservative than the crowd at a Donald Trump rally.

But what finally got Kiffin fired was his shortcomings as a head coach and as a leader.

As the third quarter wound down, the Trojans found themselves deeper and deeper into a hole inside the canyon of Sun Devil Stadium. Behind 48-21, USC’s sideline was absolutely barren of emotion — much like any interaction Kiffin has ever had with the media. Some coaches would have tried to rouse their team with an inspiring go-get-’em speech, or at least a few words of encouragement and pats on the back. But it was clear no such inspiration would be coming from Kiffin — not then, and not during any future showdown at the Coliseum.

So now, as the Trojans are staring down the barrel at another substandard season in Los Angeles, USC’s situation seems to be even bleaker than it was at the conclusion of last year’s historically disappointing campaign.

The squad is down to two healthy scholarship receivers after losing Lee to that gruesome knee injury. The offensive line seems lost in pass protection. The once praised defense now appears to be in shambles after facing its first Pac-12 road test.

And now it is no longer Lane Kiffin’s responsibility to try and fix those problems — USC fans, you can now exhale — but don’t expect the rest of this season to be any prettier now that the elephant in the room has been cut loose.


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11 replies
  1. Pat SC'11
    Pat SC'11 says:

    To all those who criticize the early morning firing, there is something you are failing to consider. It was done this early so that USC and Los Angeles as a whole would not erupt into a media rage calling for his head in the papers and other media outlets on Sunday. USC’s ability to recruit this season was already negatively affected by the Washington State loss that caused an outburst of rage. A second outburst would only serve to hurt USC more. While you can say SC fans should have known better that is a nonsense argument because rage is defined by letting your anger over come your reasoning. After that 3rd quarter in the desert rage was coming on Sunday. Pat Haden did the right thing and nipped in the bud before it could happen.

  2. Computerpals
    Computerpals says:

    Yes, it is true that Pat Haden didn’t hire Kiffin, the former AD did, Mike Garrett, the man who stood in front of a microphone and blazenly told a group of the school’s sports boosters that the 2010 NCAA report was “nothing but a lot of envy.” Garrett went on to say “As I read the decision by the NCAA, all I could get out of all of this was … I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy, and they wish they all were Trojans,”
    That shows what kind of respect USC leadership in 2010 were showing the NCAA….and does anyone WONDER why the NCAA org. will not give USC a break? At least on implementation of the 2010 sanctions.
    USC is a great, elite tier school in sports, nothing to be ashamed of….but the cocky attitudes towards the NCAA and rest of sports world has got to stop. Kiffin was just as guilty of this in his persona, with all the stupid little tricks he played on sidelines with jersey trading, ball deflating, etc. Everyone that has any sense knew it was not the student team manager who decided on his own to deflate balls. all these little tricks and comments about USC football aided in pushing Kiffin out the door, and the team down the tubes. EXTREME hope that the team and their long time assistant coach can push on and fight on to become better, in MANY WAYS.

  3. Jennifer '91
    Jennifer '91 says:

    I was in the fire Kiffin camp. However, 4am at LAX is just wrong. They couldn’t wait the 20 min it takes to get back to SC from LAX.

    • Computerpals
      Computerpals says:

      He might have been leaving to go somewhere else, and that is all they could do, OR they might have wanted to ‘control’ what was said to the press in LA, before he left the airport. Large organizations always want to ‘control’ the press and getting LK at LAX was probably thought to be best way to end any issues with LK talking to press or getting questioned by LA press.

  4. Leigh Ann
    Leigh Ann says:

    I have never understood all the hype about Kiffin anyway. Glad he fled in the middle of the night from TN. #karma #vol4life

  5. Jim Morrell. USC '58
    Jim Morrell. USC '58 says:

    First, Pat Haden didn’t hire lane Kiffen. Lane seemed never to hold the respect of the University, its alumni and the media. He was a “non entity” in a University with a glowing history dating far beyond my own history of over 60 years. Yes, Lane was saddled with the toughest and most outrageous sentences by the NCAA in my memory, and all because of the rule breaking of one dishonest player, but he never measured up to our own high standards as a leader of the University. Time now to forget this man whom we put into the wrong position and focus on building the future of one of the greatest institutions of learning in history. Fight On, USC!

  6. paros2010
    paros2010 says:

    Time to rally around the coaches and the team. Haden’s proactive decision gives the coaching staff and players valuable time to adjust and get ready for Arizona. Everyone loves a Cinderella story. Let’s stay forever hopeful that this season has a happy ending. Let’s have fun one game at a time. The stands will be rocking for the Arizona game. Fight On.

  7. USC parent
    USC parent says:

    John, I agree wholeheartedly. Further, this is very poor modeling for students of conflict resolution. Also, if I were a prospective coaching candidate, Haden’s behavior would give me pause before accepting working under Haden. Perhaps Haden needs to be “pulled off the bus as well”, though in more professional manner.

    • Trojan Parent
      Trojan Parent says:

      I agree. As a parent, I’m disappointed in the seemingly “public shaming” of the coach. All USC Coaches/Professors, etc. are role models for the students. Is this the behavior we want our students to model? I think not.

  8. John from UCLA
    John from UCLA says:

    Perhaps Kiffen deserved to be fired, but he did not deserve to be fired in such a demeaning way in the middle of the night, if the report in the Daily News is accurate.
    If Pat Haden had any class he would have waited until later on Sunday (or even Monday) to dismiss the coach in a business-like way in the athletic office.

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