Why USC's Lane Kiffin Is College Football's Next Great Coach
It’s been a long, bumpy road for Lane Kiffin—from being the youngest head coach in NFL coach history with the Oakland Raiders to the tumultuous and short-lived head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers’ football program—he finally looks to be hitting his stride.
After being recruited by Mike Garrett, then-athletic director at USC in 2010, Kiffin was also handed the infamous NCAA rules violations sanctions. Many alums and fans were not enthused to see Kiffin become the new leader of the Trojans due to his past two coaching stumbles, but after an arduous two-year program rebuild, Kiffin has proven he has what it takes to return the USC football program to the powerhouse the Trojans used to be.
Key milestones of Kiffin’s coaching efforts can be seen in his winning results. Not only did the Trojans pull off an amazing victory over the No. 4 Oregon Ducks last year, but they also ended the season with an epic 50-0 win over their cross-town rivals, the UCLA Bruins.
In the new 2012 season, Kiffin’s Trojan team has been ranked the preseason No. 1 football program in the nation lead by quarterback and Heisman-hopeful Matt Barkley, and with talks of a possible BCS National Championship, it looks like Lane Kiffin could validate his early career reputation as one of the nation’s best up and coming college coaches.
Let’s take a look at the top reasons why the man under that signature white visor is the next great coach.
Learned from Past Mistakes
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Lane Kiffin has had a lot of diverse football coaching experience—yet it has not been without controversy—much of which was caused by his youthful enthusiasm and inexperience.
In 2008, the Oakland Raiders owner, Al Davis, forced Kiffin out as head coach after a 4-12 record in 2008 beset by owner-coach battles. Then after a tough season with the Tennessee Volunteers and after igniting the ire of Tennessee alums and players, Kiffin moved to the Southland to lead the Trojans football program. One could say there was some significant damage in his wake.
However, it really appears that Kiffin has learned from these past experiences and it has made him a better coach as a result. Certainly in handling the NCAA adversity while keeping the team on a winning track.
Kiffin’s performance over the last two years speak volumes; he is winning and his teams are supporting him. Lane has an incredible amount of experience both playing and coaching in the pro and major college football ranks considering that he is only 37 years old.
Kiffin has learned to surround himself with good coaches which he has done while moving from program to program—and it seems to have paid off. He took one of Oakland’s assistant coaches James Cregg with him to Tennessee. Kiffin also brought in his dad, Monte Kiffin, famous pro defensive coordinator, and despite heavy NCAA sanctions, USC’s defense looks to be as explosive as ever in just two years of rebuilding.
Kiffin has stayed the course of his coaching philosophy and has laid the foundation for an amazing football program—one that could build his legacy—and he seems to be embracing the adage, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Handled Sanctions (Extremely) Well
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When Lane Kiffin signed his contract with the Trojans, he didn’t fully expect or was prepared for the second-harshest sanctions in college football history placed on both him and his team. Most coaches would have backed out of their contract, but Kiffin accepted the challenge and exceeded all expectations.
Kiffin was able to redshirt most of the 2010 recruiting class in order to extend their eligibility, which added to the Trojans’ depth in 2011.
Despite milestone wins against Oregon and UCLA in 2011, the most impressive accomplishment by Kiffin was how he managed to rally the team, the SC student body and alums around his program despite the sanctions. Although the Trojans were not bowl-eligible over the previous two years, Kiffin showed everyone that his team had pride and determination and was now ready to go after a big bowl game.
In 2012 the Trojans while bowl-eligible, will still have scholarship reductions, which may have a bigger impact than most people think due to thin depth in key positions. Despite the lemons Kiffin has been handed, he sure knows how to make a mean lemonade.
Great at Developing Players
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USC has a tradition of producing great NFL players like Heisman winners Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer. In fact, USC has had 473 players go through the draft, with 75 of them going in the first round, more than any other college.
Talk about your NFL factory.
USC’s 11 National Championship titles might lead you to believe that the Trojans care more about bowl games than their players’ futures. However, Lane Kiffin really helps prepare his players for future challenges, whether in the NFL or going after other successful pursuits.
That’s part of the Trojan legacy.
While continuing to mature himself and by learning from his recent setbacks, Kiffin has applied his past experiences as a player, position coach, head pro and college coach to give all his players—and especially quarterback Matt Barkley—how to be the best they can be.
By filling its schedule with very tough competition, USC continues to prove that it can play with the best in any college program, and it gives many USC players a chance to measure up to other pro-bound college players down the line.
Supported by Fans
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Lane Kiffin has not always been loved or even liked by players and fans in past programs—remember Tennessee?—but he has definitely developed a following of Trojans supporters in the Southland.
You could chalk it up to his ability to produce wins under sanctions and recruit the nation’s best talent, but there’s another facet that the “Great White Visored One” brings to the table: personality.
You don’t see a lot of students dressing up as their football coach for Halloween, but Coach Kiffin was one of the most popular costumes at USC last year.
I really believe that working with his dad, Monte Kiffin, has provided Kiffin a chance to mature, relax and become more even-handed. Coach Kiffin still has a spark that gets in him—and his players and fans see it—especially when it is time to “close the deal” in the fourth quarter.
Kiffin has definitely found a home with the Trojans, and if he can build on his two years of hard work, leading the Trojans to a preseason No. 1 ranking this year, then he has definitely found a home with the “Arrogant Nation.”
Nation's Best Recruiter
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It’s not hard to sell USC to a wide-eyed high school football player. All you have to do is show them the trophy case with all the Heisman trophies and National Championship titles in Heritage Hall, and they quickly learn what a great history and winning tradition USC has in college football. The weather in Southern California isn’t all that bad either.
Lane Kiffin has quickly become the new face of the Trojans, and recruits seem to be taking to his magnetic and enthusiastic personality. Coach Kiffin’s incredible learning experiences in football has made him one of the best minds in the college game, and as a result he has made a big and very positive impact on the program. Long story short, many top high school recruits want to be Trojans.
In addition Coach Kiffin has an amazing coaching staff behind him to help keep USC on top in the recruiting world. Just look at USC coach Ed Orgeron he’s the former national recruiter of the year.
Needless to say, there is no shortage of talent on or off the field for the Trojans in 2012 which creates a big sucking sound around the L.A. Coliseum pulling recruits and fans alike to see USC play football on Saturdays.