January 12, 2010
When I initially saw the news, I assumed it was a joke. Good satire, but no way it could be true. No way could Lane Kiffin actually be leaving Tennessee after a single season to replace Pete Carroll as head coach at USC.
But where Kiffin is concerned, we should know by now that truth is always stranger than fiction:
Tennessee's Lane Kiffin has been named the next head coach at Southern California, athletic director Mike Garrett announced on Tuesday.
"We are really excited to welcome Lane Kiffin back to USC," Garrett said in a statement. "I was able to watch him closely when he was an assistant with us and what I saw was a bright, creative young coach who I thought would make an excellent head coach here if the opportunity ever arose. I'm confident he and his staff will keep USC football performing at the high level that we expect."
Thirty-four-year-old Lane Kiffin, bearer of a career record of 12-21 as a head coach at two different jobs in three years -- one of which he left in midseason with his boss calling him a "flat-out liar" -- is officially in charge of the dominant college football program of the last decade. Embrace the chaos.
If Kiffin had never left USC after the 2006 season for his ill-fated stint as Al Davis' whipping boy with the Oakland Raiders, he'd be the perfect successor to Carroll's throne -- in fact, he's basically a younger version of Carroll, an energetic, obsessed recruiter who connects well with prospects (Kiffin was name-checked by Lil Wayne, for heaven's sake) and inherited Carroll's loose, West Coast attitude. He recruited a few of the veterans on the USC roster, and as a Carroll protegé, he'd be an obvious candidate for promotion.
But now, barely a year into a college head-coaching career marked so far by bush league spats with rival coaches, a total disregard for minor NCAA regulations and a meh 7-6 record on the field? After Tennessee rolled the dice on his sketchy résumé and dug in deep to give him the most expensive group of assistant coaches ever assembled, including an unprecedented million-dollar deal for his aging father? To return to a school very likely to be walloped by NCAA sanctions in a matter of months? I didn't think cajones came in that size.
Correction: The only bigger pair tonight belongs to USC athletic director Mike Garrett, who found the fortitude to hire a relatively inexperienced controversy magnet willing to walk away from one of the premiere jobs in the nation after a single season. It's really kind of perfect in a way, if absurdity can achieve perfection.
Tennessee, you have officially been treated like a Bowling Green-level steppingstone. The coaching ball is in your court.