USC's Lane Kiffin is college football's most interesting man – and one of its most loathed

Pat Forde
Yahoo! Sports

If you want to know who journalists root for, I'll tell you: We root for ourselves.

We root for stories and storylines. We root for whatever interesting outcome makes for the best column. We root for controversy, conflict and characters.

And that's why I'm rooting for USC to be as good as advertised, and for the Southeastern Conference to do what it does best. Because that would bring Lane Kiffin in direct contact with the league that absolutely despised him during his 12-month tenure there. With the national championship on the line.

And yes, we could work with that. 

That's why Kiffin is the most interesting man in college football in 2012. He's got a jerk streak as wide as the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and no amount of attempted image rehabilitation has been able to convincingly change that. He's also being paid a reported $4 million a year at age 37 with a 30-28 career head-coaching record at three esteemed addresses.

Yet the Eddie Haskell of the sport can smirk last if his Trojans win the national title in their first year off a two-season NCAA postseason ban. And even if they don't, they're recruiting well enough to be set for a sustained run at the title over the next several years.

So get used to Lane Kiffin, kids. Like psoriasis, he's going to be around for a while.

He's been interesting enough already.

Saturday, Kiffin and the No. 1 Trojans begin the season against massive underdog Hawaii. The new head coach of the Warriors is former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Kiffin and Chow were on Pete Carroll's staff together from 2001-04. They're so apparently fond of each other that, just in time for Chow's return to the Coliseum, Kiffin acknowledged Thursday that USC has stopped making the stadium available to the visiting team for its walk-throughs the day before games.

This is a new policy for USC. Kiffin says it's about keeping the Coliseum turf intact for game day. Sure.

Earlier in August, Kiffin declared that he would not vote his team No. 1 in the USA Today coaches' poll, of which he was a voting member. Then the paper set the record straight, pointing out that, yes, Kiffin did indeed vote USC No. 1 in its preseason poll. Kiffin then stepped down as a voter in the poll.

None of this will shock folks in the SEC, where Kiffin went 7-6 in his only season. The product on the field wasn't bad in comparison to the 5-7 record under Phil Fulmer the previous year, or the 6-7 record under Derek Dooley the following year. But it was the rest of the Kiffin package that was the problem.

When Kiffin shockingly left Tennessee for USC, Volunteers fans took to the streets to express their outrage. At SEC offices, they probably popped corks on the champagne to express their relief.

[Eric Adelson: Maize, blue tradition finally catches up to Denard Robinson]

The testy relationship between Kiffin and SEC commissioner Mike Slive got going early. On Kiffin's first and only National Signing Day, in 2009, he told an audience of Tennessee fans that then-Florida coach Urban Meyer had committed NCAA violations in trying to land receiver Nu'Keese Richardson. Richardson signed with Tennessee and Kiffin crowed, "I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him."

Except that Urban didn't cheat. There were no rules broken; Kiffin didn't know the rules. That led to a stern rebuke from Slive and a penitent statement from Kiffin – and it set the tone for a testy relationship between the coach and the commish that included two public reprimands.

Understand, "circumspect" is Slive's middle name. Check his birth certificate and it will show that on July 26, 1940, Michael Circumspect Slive was born.

Which made Slive's occasional broadsides at Kiffin all the more noteworthy. Slive has never gone after a coach the way he did Kiffin, capping his undisguised enmity for the coach at the 2010 SEC Media Days.

"As of last week, we had three head coaching changes in the SEC," Slive said at the time. "Robbie Caldwell at Vanderbilt and Joker Phillips at Kentucky were named to succeed the retiring Bobby Johnson and Rich Brooks, respectively. Congratulations to both of them on their well-deserved promotions.

"The other head coaching change took place at Tennessee when Derek Dooley's predecessor left to return to his western roots. I want to welcome Coach Dooley back to the SEC. And when I say 'welcome,' I mean welcome."

[Dan Wetzel: Big Ten gets big weekend to show it can compete with elite]

Before Tennessee, there was Kiffin's 5-15 stint with the Oakland Raiders, where he was the youngest head coach in NFL history at the time of his hiring. It ended with owner Al Davis publicly shredding Kiffin after firing him four games into his second season.

Davis was an aging crackpot at that time. But given what followed the Raiders tenure, Davis might have been onto something with Kiffin.

But no matter how mad he's made many of those around him, Lane Kiffin keeps landing on his feet – and in progressively better jobs. Now all he has to do is guide USC through this season undefeated and match the Trojans up with an SEC kingpin in the BCS title game. That's a premise every sports writer can get behind, even if it makes more than a few fans sick.

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