Closing The Book On Lane Kiffin

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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

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~ by Anthony on October 9, 2013.

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