Firing Lane Kiffin
Issue   |   Wed, 10/09/2013 - 00:23

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Lane Kiffin, but the way he was treated by USC athletic director Pat Haden is flat wrong. Getting fired after a 3-2 start at a football powerhouse is understandable, but not at 3 a.m., and not just after the team plane had landed at LAX.

At least show some decency to a man who has dedicated so much time and effort guiding the Trojans through scholarship reductions and a postseason ban for Reggie Bush’s misgivings. Saying something like this at my house (a Bruin household) would be heresy, but for some strange reason I feel the need to defend the man who has had the honor of leading some of the most well-known and revered football teams in the nation.

In today’s football-crazed society, the pressure to win right away has never been greater. Increasingly, the pressure has resulted in “arms races” that have produced football facilities costing hundreds of millions of dollars and coaches that command salaries of many millions more. It is that immense pressure that broke Kiffin, like it broke many before him and will break many after.

Kiffin is an enigma. He has held some of the most prestigious head coaching positions in the NFL and college football, and he has managed to bungle all of them.

Interestingly enough, he continued to score prized head coaching jobs. He took jobs that are the pinnacle of most football coaches’ careers, and he failed each time. Yet, he kept on smirking and always seemed to have answers to all of the tough questions. Is he someone that was just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or was he someone that was just in way over his head? Only Kiffin really knows the answer to that question.

As the youngest head coach in NFL history at age 31, he took my beloved Oakland Raiders to a new low. Unfortunately for him, the Raiders drafted one of the biggest busts in NFL history, JaMarcus Russell, with the first overall selection in the 2007 NFL draft.

Thus, Kiffin’s fate was largely tied to Russell’s, and we all know how that ended. Russell showed up to camp late due to a holdout and never found a rhythm. After a 4-12 first season in Oakland, Kiffin entered the season on the preverbal hot seat and couldn’t handle it. After a 1-3 start to his second season, Al Davis, the Raider’s beloved owner, fired Kiffin in one of the most bizarre and disturbing circumstances in recent history.

Davis accused Kiffin of being a “flat-out liar” and was guilty of “bringing disgrace to the organization.” For Al Davis to say something like that I am sure that Kiffin really messed up. And to go from the NFL’s next great young coach to gone in a year and a half speaks volumes to how quickly Lane Kiffin wears out his welcome.

Yet somehow he was viewed as an ideal candidate to revive a once very proud Univ. of Tennessee program. Once again, the youngest coach in Division I, Kiffin was viewed as the savior of Volunteer football and quickly earned praise for his prowess on the recruiting trail. His recruiting classes are the embodiment of Kiffin’s coaching tenure. His classes were filled with promising talent, but they never lived up to their potential.

That in a nutshell defines Lane Kiffin’s coaching career thus far. An offensive guru who could never translate his football knowledge into wins of the field. So after one, yes one, season at the helm of Univ. Tennessee he decided to take his talents to South Beach. And by that, I mean the Univ. of Southern California.

But why would one of the most storied programs in the nation hire a coach who had won a combined 12 of his previous 33 games? Coming on the heels of two disgraceful exits from his prior two head coaching gigs, it seems like a very questionable decision. Oh and did I mention that there was rioting in Knoxville after Kiffin quit as head football coach of Univ. of Tennessee? That is one detail that he may want to forget, but is just another chapter in his illustrious coaching career.

Former USC athletic director Mike Garrett is probably wondering what possessed him when he decided to pull the trigger and hire Lane Kiffin. He put all of his eggs in the Kiffin basket, and guess what? He got burned, and because of it, he got fired. Garrett got the axe within months of his hiring of Kiffin. Coincidence? I think not.

Coaching Pete Carroll’s players, Kiffin went a respectable 8-5 his first season in 2010. But at USC, eight wins isn’t reason to celebrate. His 10-2 2011 season, highlighted by a 50-0 drubbing of rival UCLA at the Coliseum, looked like an inflection point in the Trojans’ history. Coming off of the first season marred by sanctions, USC looked like it hadn’t lost a beat.

In a season that defines Kiffin’s coaching career, the Trojans entered the 2012 season ranked No. 1 in the country. Pundits were proclaiming USC to be one of the best teams this century, and that they would be a dominant offensive team behind the duo of Kiffin calling plays and senior quarterback Matt Barkley throwing the ball to a talented receiving core.

I am still baffled by that 2012 season. I don’t understand how a coach can have all the talent that money can buy and go from the top-ranked team in the preseason poll to unranked by season’s end and a loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

USC and Georgia Tech should never be mentioned in the same breath in a football context, lest it be something like “USC beats Georgia Tech 49-10.” But losing games to teams like Georgia Tech and UCLA (yes, I am not ashamed to admit that UCLA hasn’t been great in recent history) is unacceptable.

But since we are talking about UCLA, how about the Bruins? 4-0 and No. 11 in the AP poll, I think there is a new team running Los Angeles! I digress. This article is about Lane Kiffin and not about UCLA’s rise to the top program in LA.

Or is it? Kiffin’s hiring coincided the Bruin football program’s resurgence and coupled with dwindling attendance at home games, Pat Haden had enough. But who can blame the fans? No one wants to watch a 10-7 loss to Washington State.

Again I still go back to the treatment of Lane Kiffin and what it says about the USC football program. Like every other football program in the nation, USC is in the business of winning football games and making money. But at what cost? What kind of a message does it send to the young men on the Trojan football team that their coach was fired mid-season in the manner that he was? I could imagine a dejected feeling and a sense that the institution had given up on this season and on them.

That is a feeling that no one deserves. And as much as it pains me to say this, I wish them the best of luck. Of course, not against my Bruins, but luck wouldn’t help them much anyways.