Kiffin keeps falling forward to USC

So let’s sort out this Lane Kiffin from Tennessee to Southern California deal as best as we can.

USC, one of the top-five jobs in college football, just hired a guy who went 7-6 in his only season as a college head coach. He previously went 5-15 for the Oakland Raiders. Sure, Lane brings his dad, Monte, with him as defensive coordinator, but for how long?

Lane Kiffin, sporting cardinal and gold in 2005, returns to Southern California after a stunning move from Tennessee.
(US Presswire)

USC, which is facing a multi-sport, department-wide NCAA bloodletting next month, just hired a guy who in his tenure at Tennessee was a walking secondary violation (six of them), had two players booted off the team after an attempted armed robbery and leaves with NCAA investigators looking into how the program used recruiting hostesses. And, of course, he was a Trojan assistant when the compliance trouble USC must answer for began.

USC, which is still smarting from the supposed “disloyalty” of Pete Carroll (who left after nine years, mind you), just hired a guy who Raiders owner Al Davis accused of being “immature” and a “flat-out liar.” Kiffin, 34, did his best to disprove Davis by walking out after a single season on a UT administration that gave him a plum SEC job for no known reason.

(Wait, did USC athletic director Mike Garrett just make Al Davis look like he was correct about something?)

Oh, and Tennessee? That roll of the dice on the Smirk of the South leaves them coachless weeks before signing day when finding a viable replacement is exponentially more difficult. Hey, the one-liners about the Gators and the Pahokee High fax machine were fun while they lasted though, right?

Mike Garrett

And despite all of that, I don’t think this was the worst move by the Trojans.

It tells you what you need to know about Garrett and Kiffin, both of whom deserve plenty of ridicule. In terms of potential wins and losses though, this might actually work out. That’s especially true since USC wound up with Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator.

Of course, Lane also needs to avoid self-destructing and no one, absolutely no one, can guarantee that won’t happen.


In the meantime, the real question is who is cackling harder right now: 1. Urban Meyer, 2. Phil Fulmer, 3. Notre Dame fans?

Fulmer, no doubt, doesn’t look so old and uncool to the fans who wanted him out (didn’t you see me in “The Blind Side?”). ND can point out that when it took a flyer on an unproven coach at least Charlie Weis had four Super Bowl rings as an assistant. As an added bonus, it now has a coach, Brian Kelly, who might have a decided schematic advantage over their archrival after all.

That said, based on the video of a laughing Meyer checking his text messages at Tuesday’s Florida basketball game, we’ll go with No. 1. If nothing else, Meyer’s stress level just returned to normal. This clinches it. Soon, the Gators are getting their daddy back.

The least happy person is Volunteer AD Mike Hamilton. He stuck his neck out for Kiffin because Kiffin talked a good game and, hey, when the clairvoyant Al Davis (for about 15 minutes) thinks someone might be the perfect coach for his new franchise quarterback, JaMarcus Russell, how don’t you pay attention?

Now Hamilton is stuck wondering what happened and hoping, when it comes to an NCAA investigation, that nothing actually did. Good luck to Hamilton finding an SEC-level coach at this time of year. This will be especially difficult since the Kiffin debacle will likely undermine his authority and send his boosters into a state of infighting chaos.

After all, Tuesday night police were called in to break up a crowd of fans who were standing outside the football offices chanting obscenities about Kiffin, according to local news reports.

Or, consider my five favorite thread titles on the Volquest message boards Tuesday night (or, at least the printable ones).

5. Glad I only named my dog Kiffin.

4. Al Davis wasn’t as crazy as we all thought.

3. Pat Summitt is more of a man than Lane Kiffin.

2. It’s like getting a divorce from a stripper!

1. Layla can stay.


Mike Garrett was a heck of a running back in his playing days – he won the 1965 Heisman Trophy for the Trojans. He never moved quicker than he did since Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks. This was the speed dating of all coaching searches, Garrett apparently running down his wish list like he was on a last-minute mission to find a prom date.

Lane Kiffin coached Tennessee to a 7-6 record in 2009.
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

He finished with Kiffin, the fair-haired father’s son who may turn out to be a good hire or may be a complete disaster.

The thing with Kiffin is there is truly no way to know – he hasn’t lasted anywhere long enough to show he’s more than a confident kid with a famous football name (Monte was considered a defensive genius during his long career as an NFL assistant). There’s a hint of potential to him, but also a tendency for self-inflicted mistakes. Garrett is the third person to hire Kiffin. The first two wish they’d never heard of him.

Screwing over UT certainly doesn’t say much about Kiffin. Yes, it’s the USC job, coveted beyond belief. And yes, this is America and everyone has a right to better their situation.

There’s also a thing called loyalty. Even by the pathetically low standards of college athletics, this one was rough. Naturally Kiffin soothed everything over by holding an approximate one-minute news conference in Knoxville.

“This was not an easy decision,” he said of the decision he must have mulled over for, what, a half an hour?

Then he refused to take questions and left. He all but stole the school’s last gallon of orange paint on the way out.


Once the smoke of hurt feelings is left behind in the Smokies, Kiffin will settle in with one of the sport’s true Cadillac jobs. Has there ever been a coach who got progressively better gigs despite not experiencing any success at the previous one?

He keeps failing upward, which doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to fail at Troy.

First off, you have to be one lousy football coach to screw up the USC juggernaut.

Yes, there are potential NCAA sanctions coming, but the NCAA doesn’t have a punishment in its bag that can derail one of the big-time programs. Cutting some scholarships or recruiting visits would be a spitball off the Trojan battleship. Only a multi-season postseason ban (not going to happen) or the death penalty (really not going to happen) could slow SC.

If the Trojans have the proper coach, they’ll keep winning. After all, Alabama is on NCAA probation right now and Nick Saban just won the BCS title. A year ago Oklahoma played in the title game while on probation.

Carroll left the Trojans with a slew of future NFL talent, a top-five recruiting class and arguably the hottest brand name in the sport (even if star tailbacks have to stop driving tricked-out cars).

Kiffin can make that work. If there is one thing he learned from his father’s NFL experience it’s to hire assistant coaches who can actually coach. He assembled a top-line staff at UT and is on his way already at SC.

During the course of his one season, Tennessee players appeared to go through a measure of development not always seen at the college level. Especially on offense, the Vols got better. UT was expected to be worse next season due to a lack of talent, but it wasn’t out of the question that Kiffin was going to win in the long-term.

So, yes, the record isn’t much, Kiffin talks a far bigger game than he’s delivered and the complete lack of regard (or understanding) of the rule book would be troubling to most schools (not Mike Garrett’s USC, of course, but most schools). Still, there’s at least a chance this will work out in the win column. Does anyone in L.A. care about anything else?

One way or the other, it won’t play out quietly – it never does with Lane Kiffin.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Jan 12, 2010