To say the decision to hire Lane Kiffin to replace Pete Carroll after the 2009 season was controversial is being modest. Now, after only three seasons at USC, Athlon Sports has Kiffin ranked as the number one head coach on the hot seat.
When he was hired at USC, Kiffin was coming off a mediocre 7-6 season in his first and only year as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers. In his time spent there, he gained notoriety for false accusations and outlandish remarks. However, to the Trojan family, he was a familiar face associated with a golden era at USC.
With the awareness NCAA sanctions were likely to be handed down, Trojan fans viewed Kiffin as returning to save the program, bringing with him another name etched in Trojan lore – Ed Orgeron, who is widely regarded as an ace recruiter and one of the top defensive line coaches in college football.
Kiffin’s first season at USC didn’t produce the rosy results Trojan fans expected. However, considering the state of the program at the time, the entire blame could not squarely be placed on his shoulders. Crippling sanctions and the underwhelming recruiting success during the latter stages of Carroll’s tenure created depth issues throughout the roster.
2011 arrived and with it was a Trojan team that got off to a blistering 6-1 start. After a tough triple-overtime loss to Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal, USC quickly rebounded to close the season out riding a four game winning streak, with victories over Oregon in Eugene, and a resounding 50-0 win over their crosstown rival (UCLA) in the final game of the season. USC would finish in first place in the Pac-12 South standings, but due to NCAA sanctions, they were not able to participate in the conference championship game, nor a bowl game.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, they reverted back to bad habits in 2012 and finished with a 7-6 record, despite being considered a national championship contender when the season began. Like in 2011, the Trojans once again started off 6-1. However, this time they were losers in their last five of six games, including an embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.
Kiffin now finds himself once again facing a myriad of questions. Namely, is he capable of leading USC back to national prominence? While many believe he is not, and were calling for his termination after last season, I believe Kiffin can succeed and has already taken measures in an effort to do so.
As experienced as the elder Kiffin was, his Tampa-2 defense simply is not built to defend against the various spread offenses that have grown in popularity. Recognizing that, a change was made and Clancy Pendergast was brought in as the new defensive coordinator. The change is encouraging, as Pendergast has had success in defending against spread offenses with talent less than what he’ll have at his disposal with USC.
Kiffin is also reportedly considering sharing offensive play-calling duties, which is something he hasn’t done since he and Steve Sarkisian were co-offensive coordinators at USC. The hope in incorporating some assistance is Kiffin will be able to better manage the team in a larger sense, rather than be buried behind his large play call sheet for which he has become mockingly famous for.
USC has undeniably high expectations and justifiably so. Another 7-6 or 8-5 season simply will not cut it in the Land of Troy. However, before final judgement can be rendered on Kiffin, let the 2013 season serve as redemption and justification for retaining his coaching services, or be the final nail in the coffin before making a change.
With a relatively favorable schedule and aggressive coaching changes, don’t be surprised to see the Trojans once again proclaimed relevant.