Bill O'Brien went to State College, PA. to take on the head coaching position of a football program rich in history and tradition.
So did Lane Kiffin, but he he took his talents to Los Angeles, CA. instead.
O'Brien went in knowing the possibility of harsh NCAA sanctions were coming down the pipe.
So did Kiffin.
Once the NCAA's decision was announced—scholarship restrictions, multiple-year postseason bans and probation—O'Brien moved on and focused on getting his team to play hard every week despite the black cloud hanging over the team. To finish the season with a win.
Kiffin did not.
O'Brien led his team to a 24-21 overtime victory over Wisconsin on Senior Day and gave the team a future to look forward to as well as providing his seniors with a reason to smile.
Kiffin did not, losing his final two games against rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.
It's probably a bit unfair to compare Lane Kiffin and Bill O'Brien because O'Brien hasn't felt the scholarship reduction sanctions hit the team yet. But honestly, has Kiffin? This is only the first year of the 10-scholarship reduction for USC—there are two more years still looming.
But already Kiffin has referred to the sanctions in his media sessions with alarming frequency. We get it: You're thin, you have no depth, you only have 75 scholarships to hand out as opposed to 85 for most other teams not on probation.
Even Kiffin's father, Monte, the Trojans' unofficial defensive coordinator, has chimed in with the sanctions excuse (per SI.com).
"I don't think we'll have depth for a while," Monte Kiffin said. "That's what people don't realize that the scholarship [limit] is, the numbers are down. In the old days, I'm sure SC had guys stockpiled."
The sanctions aren't the problem, but that's a different topic to discuss. The Trojans can't defend against a spread attack, a running attack, a pass rush or a referee's flag. But when you look at USC and Penn State side by side, you realize that USC hasn't faced nearly the hardship and tumult that Penn State has endured this season.
Kiffin's team hasn't had to face the scathing chants from other teams' fans nor watch the statue of a once-revered coach—the one who recruited all of their players—get torn down. His team hasn't witnessed other coaches wait like vultures on campus to try and lure them out of their cozy confines.
Come to think of it, didn't Lane Kiffin himself travel to Silas Redd's home in Connecticut to try and convince Redd to transfer—successfully, I might add—from Penn State to USC? Yes, he really did.
Penn State finished 8-4 this year while USC finished 7-5. How's that for irony?
Bill O'Brien seems a lot older than Kiffin but he's not; Kiffin is 37 years old while O'Brien is 43 years old. But watching Kiffin and O'Brien in stressful situations seems to indicate a large difference in maturity levels.
O'Brien never really whined about the dumpster fire he inherited—he answered all the questions while speaking so highly of his players and how proud he was of his team.
Kiffin, after his team's loss to Oregon, didn't even want to deal with the aftermath.
According to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, "A USC team manager backed up Lane Kiffin's black Mercedes S550 and parked it about 10 feet from the door to the USC locker room late Saturday night."
On one hand, you don't blame Kiffin for wanting to get away. On the other hand, shouldn't he stick around and deal with the nuclear waste glowing in the background?
Thamel spoke with a lot of people about Kiffin and their comments in his article are telling.
"There's no excuses with the players they've got," said a coach who faced USC earlier this season. "It's an embarrassment of riches. You've got to find a way with those guys."
"I think at this stage [Washington coach] Steve Sarkisian is a better coach," said an NFL personnel director. "When those two came out there were Golden Boy 1 and Golden Boy 2. I think Steve is the better coach."
O'Brien went 8-4 with a team that nobody had ranked in the preseason. Penn State received 61 votes in the most current AP poll.
Kiffin went 7-5 with the preseason No. 1 team. USC received seven votes in the most current AP poll.
O'Brien has the fans' adoration and trust.
Kiffin does not.
O'Brien is a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate.
And Kiffin...is not.