Lane Kiffin may have lost the masses in Southern California, but he still has the backing of USC athletic director Pat Haden. And at the end of the day, at least so far as his job is concerned, that's all that really matters.
Haden released a "State of Football" video on the eve of the Pac-12 Media Days, and in it he expressed undying support for his embattled head coach:
His Kiffin-specific comments begin at the 2:30 mark of that video, where Haden says:
I anticipate the media will ask me if our football coach is on the hot seat this year. Here is my answer and will be my answer whenever I'm asked: He is not.
I'm behind Lane Kiffin 100-percent. I have great confidence in him. He's a very hard-working, detail-oriented coach. He's a dynamic play-caller, in my estimation, and he's an exceptional recruiter. He knows USC and he knows what it takes to be successful here.
USC, coming off a two-year bowl ban, was ranked No. 1 in the country at the start of last year. That season went off the rails, though, and the Trojans finished unranked at 7-6. Per Arash Markazi of ESPN.com, they were the first school since Ole Miss in 1964 to enter preseason No. 1 in the AP poll and finish outside the Top 25.
Though the bowl ban did play a potential role, Kiffin has never won a bowl game in his four years as a college head coach. He lost the Chick-fil-A Bowl in his only year at Tennessee and the Sun Bowl 21-7 to Georgia Tech last season. Now that the Trojans are cleared to play in the postseason, success in that domain will be demanded.
Though his on-field tenure has largely been a disappointment, Kiffin has earned Haden's support for a myriad of reasons. Per the "State of Football" video:
We all know the second half of last year was disappointing, but I firmly believe we'll bounce back strong this season.... I understand that many people judge a coach by the win-loss record, but as the athletic director, I must look not only at that but at a lot of other things that are important to us at USC.
There are many factors, including academics, NCAA compliance, community engagement, the character of his players and off-field issues. Lane Kiffin gets very high marks in all of those areas. All of these things, including winning, are important to us.
Last year USC was remarkably average. It beat every bad team on its schedule and lost to every good one. At some schools, that type of consistency, and a subsequent trip to the Sun Bowl, would be deemed acceptable.
But USC is not one of those schools. And despite what Haden might say, Kiffin needs to beat some quality opponents before his job starts feeling safe.