The Lane Kiffin era in Los Angeles mercifully came to an end early Sunday morning, as athletic director Pat Haden informed Kiffin that he had been dismissed once the Trojans had arrived back in L.A. following the team’s 62-41 defeat at the hands of the Arizona State Sun Devils, dropping USC’s record to 3-2 this season. The firing appears to be effective immediately; no interim has been named at this point, although most speculate current Trojans assistant and former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron will get the nod.
Kiffin’s firing after posting a 28-14 record as Trojans head coach over a little less than four seasons just adds to the disappointment that the son of defensive guru Monte Kiffin has endured as a head coach, a résumé that now includes a stint with the Oakland Raiders that saw owner Al Davis spend a press conference lampooning the young head coach via an ancient projector (the Raiders went 5-15 in his two seasons) and a one year stop at Tennessee where fans saw Kiffin name his son Monte Knox Kiffin after the city of Knoxville, talked up the program and got under the skin of almost every fellow SEC coach, posted a 7-6 record then bolted for the USC job.
Although it is clear that the Trojans did not play to their standard under Kiffin’s lead, it is important to remember that the situation he inherited was not exactly ideal: the team was hit hard by the NCAA for violations made during the Pete Carroll era, which included having thirty scholarships taken away for a three year period and a bowl ban for two of USC’s best seasons.
While these violations certainly hindered Kiffin’s chances and abilities, his squad certainly did not get the job done on numerous occasions, most notably finishing the 2012 season 7-6 with three straight losses after starting the season as the #1 team in the country. To put it simply, the writing had been on the wall for Lane Kiffin for quite some time; Pat Haden finally made the effort to remove this graffiti and start all over again.
Now that Kiffin has finally been shown the door, who will replace him at USC? Here are five coaches that I believe could be the next Trojans head coach:
Steve Sarkisian, Washington HC – The former USC offensive coordinator during Peter Carroll’s time at USC has finally gotten over the hump with the Huskies, as the team currently sits at 4-0 and #16 in the nation. Sarkisian holds a 30-25 record in the midst of his fifth season with Washington, which includes three bowl appearances. He may be undervalued by some of the USC faithful, but the thirty-nine year old has shown that he knows how to get good quarterback play, recruit, and most importantly win in the PAC-12.
Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams HC – A former defensive back with the Trojans in the ‘80s, Fisher has had an outstanding career in the NFL, as he holds a 150-131-1 record with six playoff appearances (including coaching in Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000) over nineteen seasons with the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams. Fisher’s current gig with the Rams is not exactly ideal at this point, as the team sits at 1-3 and find themselves in the NFC West, which is arguably the toughest division in pro football. Might Fisher make the move to the college ranks like Pete Carroll did in 2001?
Greg Roman, San Francisco 49ers OC – The former offensive coordinator of the Stanford Cardinal under Jim Harbaugh, Roman has been noted for his teams’ offensive firepower, something that the Trojans have truly lacked for quite some time. Fresh off a close loss in the Super Bowl last year, it may take quite an offer to lure Roman away from Harbuagh and Colin Kaepernick, but then again we are talking about USC.
Jack Del Rio, Denver Broncos DC – Another former Trojans player, Del Rio roamed LA Memorial Coliseum from 1981-1984 and was an All-American his senior year before taking his talents to the NFL, where he played for the better portion of twelve seasons. The former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach (68-71 over nine seasons) now finds himself running the defense of the Denver Broncos, who currently sit at 3-0 and appear ready to make it to the Super Bowl for the first time since John Elway was behind center. Del Rio has a pretty good gig considering that he has future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning to bail his unit out when need be, but as Paul “Bear” Bryant once famously stated about returning to his alma mater, “Momma called. And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin’”.
James Franklin, Vanderbilt HC – Many analysts feel like Franklin may be the top choice for this job considering how well his Commodores have played in his three seasons on the job, as Vanderbilt is 18-13 with two straight bowl appearances (the first back-to-back bowl seasons in school history) under the former Maryland offensive coordinator/head coach-in-waiting’s lead. Franklin obviously has the credentials as far as winning games and recruiting—Vanderbilt is known for its academics and as a result had often struggled mightily recruiting until Franklin’s arrival—but the main concern may be Franklin’s record against the SEC East’s “Big Three” in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida: a dismal 0-7. Vanderbilt was by no means expected to win any of these games, but USC is hunting a head coach that can win and win big. Also, does Pat Haden truly want to go down the familiar road of hiring an SEC head coach out of the state of Tennessee? The previous sample of this situation certainly did not work out.
Other names to watch: Todd Graham (Arizona State HC), Pep Hamilton (Indianapolis Colts OC), Chris Petersen (Boise State HC); Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State HC)
Is there a candidate that was left out that you feel may land this job? Leave a comment and let your opinion be heard