Closing The Book On Lane Kiffin

•October 9, 2013 • 1 Comment

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Kiffin Dream Job became Trojan Nightmare

Tempe Arizona became the final stop on the Lane Kiffin farewell tour. Though Pat Haden came out publicly to say the head coach’s job was “safe”, after a 7-6 finish in 2012, those words were easily read as false to anyone following and knowing the expectations of USC football . Truth is that Kiffin began the season on the hotseat. And following an embarrassing 62-41 loss to the Sun Devils last Saturday, he was quickly unseated.

Southern California has chosen to move in another direction. Ed Orgeron has been elevated to lead the program for the remainder of the season, as it searches for another to lead  into the future.

Kiffin never hesitated to accept his dream job, when USC came calling on the then coach at Tennessee. He skipped out of Knoxville in the wee hours of the morning, triggering chaos among the locals, whose coach had abandoned them after only one season. He accepted the west coast position, with pending consequences for past violations.

In all, it was to be a match made in heaven, as the nation’s most arrogant coach was paired with one of the most arrogant programs. This union would soon prove to be a nightmare for both, as each would suffer in the presence of the other.

Lane Kiffin, by the numbers, isn’t anything to be admired. Based on wins and losses, he was easily the most overhyped and overpaid head coach over the past 7 years at any level.  His combined record of college and NFL positions read 40-36, with no playoff appearances or bowl victories.

Kiffin is something different, depending on whom you may speak. Some may describe him with derogatory terms, while others sympathize for the 38-year old that could never catch a break.  What he is is a mystery.  And what he is not is an “X” and “O” man, with career numbers to support it.

Recruiting is what Kiffin did best, though some tactics were deemed dirty by fellow coaches or violations by the NCAA.  Success weighed heavily on the expectation of talent filled rosters overcoming predictability, and too often it did not.

Despite heavy sanctions placed on the program, Kiffin managed to land a top-10 recruiting class in 3 of 4 seasons at USC. The 2013 class fell to 13th, according to rivals.com, though it included some of the nation’s top players at their positions. His 2010 class was ranked No. 1 overall.

NCAA penalties also allowed an easy escape for players wanting to relocate, but with the exception of Seantrel Henderson, there were no significant deserters. Depth was to be an issue, with a reduced number of scholarships leading to fewer players on roster.  This became the cry of Kiffin crusaders, who accepted disappointing outcomes from a coach with his hands tied.  But even bodies short, USC was fielding one of the most talented teams in the nation, and easily the most talented in conference. Game results would have you believe otherwise.

Kiffin was 28-15 (.651) overall in his Southern California tenure, and a closer look at the numbers may reveal reasons behind the mid-season termination.

Kiffin finished 17-12 (.586) in conference play, and was just 1-5 (.166) in his last six Pac 12 games. 2011 was the best year for the Trojans and their coach, as they finished 10-2 with a top-10 ranking. But USC played just 2 ranked opponents during that campaign, managing a split (1-1), as it held off Oregon for the most significant victory of Kiffin’s coaching career. He was 2-7 (.222) overall versus ranked opponents at USC, and 3-10 (.230) as a head coach against all college programs bearing a numeral before their names.

One of the most startling figures of the Kiffin tenure is USC’s 11-12 (.478) record versus opponents that finished the season .500 or better.  The Trojans are currently 2-2 against .500 or better opponents in 2013, making them mediocre at best. Three years of smoke and mirrors managed to screen inadequacies, and what was visible was blamed on sanctions, giving an ill-prepared team and its leader a pass for each loss.

Kiffin career vs Teams .500 or better

Team

W

L

PCT

Oakland Raiders

1

10

.090

Tennessee Volunteers

3

7

.300

USC Trojans

11

12

.478

Total

15

29

.340

Kiffin advocates cited lack of depth as the catalyst of Trojan woes. Fatigue was the major issue, with fewer bodies to rotate, and even less when injuries occur. But his teams were least productive in the first and third quarters of games, which is when players are most rested and coaches are expected to excel.  The games opening is scripted, based on film review.  The third quarter reflects halftime adjustments, and Kiffin offenses were held scoreless in the period in six of the last eight games.

The Kiffin era of USC football began in 2010, and it came with a motto of “No Distractions”. This proved to be great in theory, yet impossible for a freshly sanctioned program with renegade leadership.. USC continued to make headlines, mostly negative, as the NCAA findings were announced. And as the calendar flipped forward, Kiffin would prove to be a distraction of his own.

From jersey switches to deflated footballs, USC continued to receive bad press. There was also the sudden resignation of defensive backs coach Willie Mack Garza, after being connected to Willie Lyles while an assistant under Kiffin at Tennessee. The Trojans also drew mention in NFL headlines,when Jeff Fisher and the Titans filed a tampering lawsuit against USC and its head football coach.  It was a lawsuit sparked by the hiring of Kennedy Polamalu to coach running backs for his Alma Mater, and built on the premise of respect.  It wouldn’t take long for Polamalu to be disrespectfully forced from the program, while everyone watched and waited for what would happen next.

Kiffin’s travels ended in a parking garage at Los Angeles International Airport, where he was pulled from the team bus upon arrival from Arizona.  He was axed by the man that targeted him in a coaching search nearly four years earlier, and the same man that appeared to stand behind him through troubled times. The coach’s reign would end not because USC was losing football games, but because the team had failed to compete in far too many of them.

Mike Shula | Alabama

Mike Shula | Alabama

With Sanctions so severe, Kiffin was asked to keep the program respectable and afloat.  Championship dreams were those of fantasy, with expectations lowered along with the number of players on the roster. But USC became a sinking ship, similar to sanctioned Alabama under Mike Shula. Like Kiffin, Shula also posted a 10-2 season in Tuscaloosa. And like Kiffin, Shula also had six losses in his follow-up, and was terminated soon after. Shula, like Kiffin,  also had crusaders, who claimed he wasn’t given a fair shake.  But those supporters were quickly silenced by the hiring of Nick Saban and the three National Championships that followed.

Did USC make a mistake in firing Kiffin? Was the coach treated unfairly, being a victim of the circumstances he inherited?  Based on the numbers, I answer no to both.  The Southern California football program wasn’t  built over a century to be average, so it is deserving of better than average leadership. Of all the candidates, I can’t say for certain who is best suited to lead us the rest of the way. But after calculating a career of mediocrity, I can say Lane Kiffin it was not.

A new chapter begins….

`Fight On

USC holds off Keeton and Utah State

•September 21, 2013 • 2 Comments
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

USC 17, Utah State 14

With Utah State invading the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the rebuilt Southern California defense would receive its first test against the spread option. The athletic dual-threat Chuckie Keeton had already proven himself a quarterback difficult to defend, and his Aggies had tilted the scoreboard for 122 points in their last two outings.  The fourth ranked Trojan defense more than accepted the most recent challenge, it would pass this test with flying colors.

USC held the explosive Aggies to 285 total yards, while limiting their star to just 179 passing yards on 39 attempts. Utah State amassed just 106 rushing yards in the game, with Keaton (-15) proving to be no threat to the Trojan front.

The Trojans again called on their defense to preserve a victory, which appears to be the theme of 2013.  The offense continued its struggle on Saturday, managing just 17 points in the victory, and still content to run the ball with other options sustaining failure. Cody Kessler, who played his first full game at quarterback, finished 13-26, 164 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT. Although he took some deep shots against the Aggies, it wasn’t many, and not nearly enough to keep the visitors out of the box and away from Tre Madden.

Madden led all rushers, with 97 yards on 24 carries, but his streak of 100-yard rushing games would end at 3 .  Marqise Lee finished with a game-high 6 receptions for 72 yards, but has still failed in the new offense to record double-digit receptions. Overall, USC receivers caught just 13 passes in four quarters of football, which exemplifies a unit struggling to get in gear.

USC held a 14-7 halftime lead, but was outscored 7-3 by Utah State in the second half. The Aggies had one last opportunity for a tying or go-ahead score, but the Trojan defense held, forcing a turnover on downs at the Utah State 41-yard line with 3:04 remaining.

Game Ball: Morgan Breslin, for 2 big sacks in the fourth quarter to stifle Utah State threats

Up Next: Arizona State

USC Responds With 35-7 Drubbing of Boston College

•September 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment
Chris Carlson/AP

(Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

It was a tough seven days for the Southern California football program. The home opening loss to Washington State wasn’t easy to swallow, and following days were spent absorbing shots from the media, who mercilessly took aim and fired at will.

Only two games into the season, USC found itself in an odd predicament. The program had not suffered a loss in the first two weeks of the season since its 1-1 start in 2001, Which was also the last time a Trojan team was unranked in the month of September.

Troy hadn’t suffered a loss in its home opener since falling 14-7 to Florida State in 1997, and it suddenly lost its grip on Washington State, after more than ten years of dominance over the conference foe.

After two games, the team was even in wins and losses, 0-1 in conference, and quickly fading into college football obscurity.  For seven days there was doubt, concern, and fear of mediocrity.  And as each day passed, we were left wondering if coaches were not only losing games, but also losing the team.

USC responded to doubts and worries by delivering a 35-7 blow to Boston College.  The Eagles were ambushed in the Coliseum, where the Trojans refused to lose a second in as many weeks.  The ACC representative was used to temporarily silence critics and douse flames beneath a coach sitting uncomfortably in his seat. Visitor became victim, with the talent of Troy on full display, as it overpowered and overwhelmed its opponent in every facet of the game.

Saturday marked the transformation of Cody Kessler, who went from being just one half of a quarterbacking  pair, to the primary leader of the huddle.  The change in circumstance proved to bring about change in play, as the sophomore managed his team to victory, in his first error-free game.

Kessler completed 15 of 17 pass attempts against the Eagles, for a career-high 237 yards. Now playing with the coach’s confidence, the newly named starter also threw for two scores.  But more importantly, L.A’s newest gunslinger recorded his first game as a Trojan without a turnover.

Marqise Lee contributed a large chunk of Kessler’s passing yardage, leading all receivers, with 90 yards on just two receptions.

The Trojan attack remained unbalanced, with a team total of 19 pass attempts in the game, and 43 rushes through the four quarters. Tre Madden continues to be the workhorse, reaching the 100-yard plateau for the third consecutive game, after receiving a team-high 16 carries.  Madden now tallies 66 rushes for the season, at an average 5.5 yards per attempt.

Freshman Justin Davis followed up his 2 carries, 2 yards performance against Washington State by finishing just shy of the 100-yard mark (96 yds) on Saturday. With the game well in hand, Max Wittek entered at quarterback, attempting only 2 passes in the final period, and rushing for a USC touchdown.

The Trojan defense remains one of the best in the nation, pitching a shutout through three quarters, before Boston College got on the board with a touchdown in the fourth.  It was only the second touchdown the unit has surrendered in 2013, and snapped a streak of six consecutive quarters without an opposition touchdown. Unlike the first two weeks of multiple sacks, the unit would get to Chase Rettig just once.   But the Trojans allowed just 184 total yards to the Eagles, as the defense continues to smother opponents.

Key to victory: USC’s 28-point victory didn’t come without  error. The Trojans drew a season-high 10 penalties. The difference between winning and losing is third down conversion success. After converting just 6 of 27 conversions through the first two games, Southern California raised its total to 50 percent in game three, converting  5 of 10 times against B.C.

Game Ball:  Tre Madden, who became the first USC running back since Marcus Allen to rush for 100-yards in each of his first three games.

Up Next: Utah State

Notes

  • For the first time in 28 career games, Marqise Lee was on the receiving end of a touchdown pass thrown by someone other than Matt Barkley.

  • Tre Madden’s 30-yard TD run in the third quarter ended a drought for the period that extended 5 games. USC had last scored offensive points in the third quarter on November 10, 2012, in a victory over Arizona State.

  • The Trojan offense scored multiple touchdowns in a quarter for the first time since losing 38-28 to UCLA. USC scored two touchdowns in the second quarter of that game.

  • Starting in place of the departed Robert Woods, Nelson Agholor has just 6 receptions through 3 games.

Kessler gets starting nod for reasons only known to Kiffin

•September 10, 2013 • 1 Comment

Cody-Kessler-USCThe USC quarterback battle began in the spring, resumed in the summer, and extended into the first two games of the season.  From the beginning, it was a race said to be “too close to call”, resulting in the Trojans opening the 2013 season with a two quarterback rotation. Two games, one loss, and a Coliseum chorus of boos later, Lane Kiffin brings the battle to an end, by choosing Cody Kessler to lead his offense this weekend.

The sophomore will start for USC against visiting BostonCollege. It will be his third start of the season, after leading the offense in the first half of each of the first two games, but the first without having to look over his shoulder for a substitute arm trotting in. It took 120 minutes of game time assessment for Kessler to defeat the challenging Max Wittek.  And based on the performance of both quarterbacks, I’m not sure how or why.

QB CMP ATT YDS COMP% TD INT RAT
C. Kessler 18 32 136 56.3 1 2 89.8
M. Wittek 8 18 90 44.4 0 1 75.3

Kessler produced the lone touchdown for USC in its loss to WashingtonState, which came after a defensive takeaway gave him a shorter field to work. He also produced the game’s only touchdown for the Cougars, after serving a pick-six before the end of the first half.  Though he has thrown for more yards than Wittek, and a greater completion percentage, Kessler’s longest toss gained 19 yards, which is the same as his competitor.

Pass attempts are nearly doubled in the first half of the opening games, in comparison to the plays called for Wittek in the final thirty minutes.  Kessler has been sacked just once, while Wittek has been pinned three times.  But that single sack scored 2-points for the opponent, after trapping the confused Kessler in his own end zone.

What I’m basically saying is that neither of the competing quarterbacks has stood out more than the other. And in a competition “too close to call” for many months, how does one finally choose with little to base the decision on?  Quarterback play has been just as awful in the second half of ballgames as it is in the first.  And a run heavy attack does even less to simplify the decision and crown a starter, when it disallows a show of potential in a steady “handoff” system.

The offensive numbers for USC through its first two games should allow every quarterback on roster into the race, instead of rewarding one based on reasons only known to the head coach. The apparent quick-fix is to have consistency under center, and it’s something only time will tell. Time is something running out on Lane Kiffin, with patience and support dwindling with each game. But the time in now for Kessler, who for the moment has been chosen to salvage the remainder of the season and keep the Trojans in the conference race.

USC will enter the third week of the college football season unranked for the first time since 2001.

~Fight On

Washington State upends troubled USC

•September 10, 2013 • 1 Comment
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Chris Carlson/AP Photo

Washington State 10, USC 7

Never before had a Mike Leach coached football program won a game without his offense producing a touchdown.  It happened for the first time on Saturday,  as his underdog Washington State Cougars defeated No. 25 USC in Los Angeles.

The Trojans entered their home opener with the same game plan as the prior week. The play calling remained conservative and unbalanced, while the quarterback situation remained unsettled. For a second week, it was Cody Kessler and Max Wittek splitting the duty under center. And for a second week, both were ineffective.

The USC approach to Washington State was to pound between the tackles, which was the same strategy employed against Hawaii. This amounted to 42 carries by Trojan running backs, while quarterbacks attempted just 21 passes. Much of the load was placed on the legs of Tre Madden, who finished with 32 carries on the night.

Madden has been the lone bright spot for an offense that lacks an identity and is desperate for a spark.  The converted linebacker recorded his second 100-yard rushing game, as senior Silas Redd remains sidelined with injury.  His 151 rushing yards represent 78 percent of the Southern California offense. Quarterbacks combined for just 11 completions for 54 yards, while also completing 2 passes to Cougars defensive back Damante Horton.

Horton returned a Kessler pass attempt 70 yards in the first half to give State its only touchdown of the game. He would later close the door, and break the hearts of those in attendance, as he intercepted Wittek late in the fourth quarter to seal a 10-7 upset victory for the visitors.

It was a wasted defensive effort for a Clancy Pendergast unit that continues to play at a high level. The Trojan defense limited the 2012 conference passing leaders to just 215 yards through the air, and 7 total rushing yards. It surrendered just three points in the sixty minutes, with Andrew Furney’s game-winning 41 yard field goal coming with just 3:03 remaining in the game.

USC added 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery on Saturday, raising the season total for takeaways to 7 through two games. The Trojans also sacked Connor Halliday 3 times,  to maintain their place as the national leader (11).

Marqise Lee led the Trojans with 7 receptions for 27 yards. The 27 yards mark the lowest output of his career.

Game Ball- Morgan Breslin. The defensive end recorded 2 sacks in his return, after missing the season opener with a high ankle sprain.

  • Washington State snapped an eight-game losing streak to USC, which was the longest active streak by a conference opponent.

  • The Cougar victory was the first in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum since 2000

  • Since his arrival in the Pac 12 a year ago, Mike Leach has defeated just two conference opponents. The two victories came in his last three games, and both opponents were nationally ranked. The Cougars upset No. 25 Washington in the Apple Cup Rivalry game to close the 2012 season.

  • USC has lost 6 of its last 8 games

Defense Powers USC to 30-13 Victory Over Hawai’i

•August 30, 2013 • 1 Comment

1513577_SP_0829_usc_WJS

A final score will reveal a winner and a loser, without saying much of anything else. Such is the case in Southern California’s season opener, where a 30-point performance may give the illusion that all is right on the offensive front, when in fact it was continuity of the late season struggles of a year ago.

Lane Kiffin extended his quarterback competition into the season’s first game.  And just as it was in fall camp, there is still no clear winner. Cody Kessler received the start, and played the entire first half, but the Trojan offense struggled to find rhythm in the passing game. The first time started was limited to conservative handoffs in his half of play, and Max Wittek didn’t fair any better, entering the game in the third quarter, and playing to similar circumstances and results.

USC’s two-headed snake combined for just 172 passing yards in its season debut, with Kessler finishing 10 of 19 for 95 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, and Wittek adding 5 of 10, 77 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT. Much of the struggle came up front, where an offensive line that failed to protect Matt Barkley down the stretch displayed the same pattern in Honolulu. It’s a front that is more experienced than a year ago, but missing the senior leadership of the now departed Khaled Holmes in the middle. Hawaii held its own against the Trojan bigs, with Norm Chow seemingly in Kiffin’s playbook before the coach could deliver his call to the field.

Defense was the theme of the opening quarter, and it was defense that carried the Trojans throughout the game. 17 of USC’s 20 first half points came off Hawaii turnovers, which included an interception returned for a touchdown by Josh Shaw. The Trojans would record 5 sacks and 3 interceptions in the first 30 minutes, as they built a 20-5 lead.

The third quarter struggles continue. The Warriors held the Trojans scoreless in the period, as the teams spent the next 15 minutes exchanging punts and turnovers. USC would hang 10 on the board in the final period, with the last coming with 42 seconds remaining and the game well in hand. Hawaii would also tack on a late score, to give us our 30-13 final.

Marqise Lee began his Heisman campaign with a quiet 8 receptions for 104 yards. Most of the damage came late, as Kiffin decided to open up the offense, and Chow already conceding defeat. USC rushed for 192 yards, with Madden delivering a game-high 109 yards on 14 carries, playing in place of the injured Silas Redd.

The Warriors managed just 231 total yards against a stout Trojan defense, with the team gaining just 23 yards on the ground. USC finished with 8 sacks and 4 interceptions on the night, as it wreaked havoc in the opposing backfield from beginning to end.

Game ball:  Clancy Pendergast for game preparation and his aggressive defensive approach.

Kennedy Polamalu becomes fourth to exit USC

•February 8, 2013 • 1 Comment

Kennedy Polamalu-USCThe 2012 football season may have ended weeks ago, but we continue to see the fallout from a disappointing 7-6 season. Kennedy Polamalu became the most recent assistant coach to face the firing squad, as he was reportedly let go by Lane Kiffin on Friday.

Kiffin hired Polamalu away from the Tennessee Titans in 2010. The hiring sparked a lawsuit by former Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who claimed USC and its head coach wrongfully lured an assistant without first contacting his current employer. Polamalu was immediately named the new running backs coach for the Trojans, and though he was also labeled as offensive coordinator, it was Kiffin that fulfilled the playcalling duties.

USC ranked 25th in the nation as a rushing offense in Polamalu’s first year. It would slide to 51st in 2011, and further to 71st this past season. After a small gain in total offense from 2010 to 2011, the Trojan unit suffered a lapse in his final year, falling to a 41st overall ranking and 5th best in conference.

Polamalu was a favorite among players and the last member of the coaching staff to have actually played football at USC. He was instrumental in the recruitment of running back Ty Isaac, and the timing of the termination would indicate that the program purposely waited for the National Letters of Intent to come in before pulling the plug.

Southern California has now lost four staff members since the close of the season, with Polamalu following assistant head coach Monte Kiffin, defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders, and linebackers coach Scottie Hazleton out the door. The multiple moves also signify a head coach on the hot seat, altering his staff in hopes of securing a future.

Polamalu had long established himself as one of the best running back coaches in the country, and should have no trouble securing a new position elsewhere. My guess would be a return to the NFL, and a possible reunion with Jeff Fisher in St. Louis.

[ Polamalu out as USC OC ]