September 29th, 2013
You knew it was coming. You just didn’t think it would be so sudden, or this season. Lane Kiffin was fired as head coach of the USC Football team on Sunday morning. This firing came after the Trojans were spanked at Arizona State 62-41, dropping their record to 3-2 on the season, and 0-2 in Pac-12 play. Kiffin will be replaced by defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, on an interim basis.
Let’s start with the on-field disaster first. The Trojans actually looked decent for the first 20 minutes or so, taking a 14-7 lead on a rushing touchdown from Justin Davis, and a big TD reception from Tre Madden. However, things got ugly shortly after that. The Sun Devils closed the 2nd quarter with an 11 yard touchdown pass by Taylor Kelly to Marion Grice, and then followed that up with a pair of field goals to take a 20-14 lead into the locker room. Although Madden put USC ahead with an early touchdown in the 3rd, ASU pounded the Trojans from there. The Sun Devils would score two touchdowns 47 seconds apart, which included an interception thrown by Cody Kessler, which was returned 46 yards for a touchdown.
Davis and Madden tried to rally the Trojans, as each of them found the end zone again, but the defense couldn’t stop Taylor Kelly, who racked up 351 yards, and 3 touchdown passes. Sun Devils running back Marion Grice also scored 4 touchdowns, and USC gave up a whopping 612 yards in total offense. A shocking amount for a team, whose strength was supposed to be its defense. At least the offense was consistent though. Consistently terrible that is. The Trojans had more turnovers than Betty Crocker, giving it up 4 times, including two interceptions thrown by Kessler.
So the Trojans lost, and once they returned to Los Angeles, athletic director Pat Haden informed Kiffin he would be relieved of his duties. This occurred at the airport terminal, but not before Kiffin tried to change Haden’s mind during a 45 minute meeting. Haden had actually met with a few advisors during the ASU game, which was when he reached his decision, according to the LA Daily News. “I haven’t felt particularly good even from the Hawaii game,” said Haden. “I just felt like we haven’t been the consistent team that we need to be at USC.”
Kiffin’s compiled a record of 28-15 overall during his 4 seasons at USC, but they were filled with turmoil and off the field distractions. He was hampered by sanctions that were handed down by the NCAA just a few months before taking the job, which cost the school thirty scholarships over three years, and two years without a bowl appearance. The end of the 2011 season looked promising, and USC looked poised for a run at a national championship at the beginning of 2012, when they were the pre-season #1 ranked team in the AP Poll. However, the Trojans finished a disappointing 7-6, including losses to rivals UCLA, Notre Dame, and a loss in the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech.
More than anything, Kiffin demonstrated that he could recruit great talent, but that talent seemed to regress over time. Matt Barkley looked great in his first couple of years, but by his senior year, Kiffin appeared to crush his confidence, which ultimately ruined his NFL draft position. Robert Woods emerged as a great wide receiver in his sophomore year, but by his junior year, Kiffin stopped utilizing him. This year, Kiffin has found a way to stunt the growth of quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, while failing to consistently utilize the talents of talented wide receiver Marqise Lee.
This doesn’t even mention all the off the field turmoil that Kiffin brought to the program. He closed practice to the media, he gave up his vote in the coaches poll after some public drama with another Pac-12 coach, and more recently, he lied to the media about a players only meeting taking place. Kiffin has also been known to simply rub people the wrong way. He was not well received in Tennessee, and lasted only twenty games with the Oakland Raiders, and even feuded publicly with owner Al Davis, before being dismissed.
So where does this leave the USC Football team? Considering the timing of the decision, I think even Pat Haden thinks this season is over. There’s still 8 games left in the Trojans season. However, this was a smart decision, because it gives the Trojans time to save their recruiting class, and to take their time finding an elite head coach. USC also doesn’t play until October 10th against Arizona as well, so Ed Orgeron will have plenty of time to prepare.
So where will this elite coach come from? I think most Trojan fans are hoping for Rams coach Jeff Fisher, or Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, both of whom are alums. The big issue with both of these coaches is the timing that the NFL season finishes, and them taking over a college program. I would imagine that there would be some interest from both of these guys, and USC would love to re-produce what they had in the Pete Caroll era with another NFL guy. Some other possibilities could include Kevin Sumlin, Bobby Petrino, or even Chris Peterson. The Trojans have their work cutout for them in order to rebuild the program, but they definitely took some steps in the right direction today.