By the time the dust settles in 2013, the odds are that one of the nation’s most coveted head coaching jobs will be up for grabs.
These are coaches who don’t need seven wins and an appearance in a decent bowl game to keep making a zillion dollars. No, Brown and Kiffin need to—at minimum—capture their respective conference titles, make a BCS bowl and be part of the national championship conversation.
Anything short of this could mean the final whistle for either.
What’s interesting about discussing Brown and Kiffin in tandem is that as much as their situations are the same in 2013, they are different.
What’s In The Cupboard?
Texas and USC have both recruited lights-out over the past several years. To illustrate, from 2010 to 2013, the Trojans have an average recruiting class ranking of No. 3, while the Longhorns are at No. 8.
This makes USC No. 3 in FBS recruiting over the past four years while the Longhorns are No. 6.
What this means is that both Brown and Kiffin have the benefit of battling huge expectations with similar levels of top talent.
What separates the two in 2013 is the level of experience on their talented squads.
The Longhorns bring back the most starters in the FBS this season and are ranked No. 1 in Phil Steele’s experience ratings.
These numbers include the entire offensive line, the top four rushers, four of the top five receivers and the starting quarterback. On defense, six members of the front seven return, as do three members of the secondary.
The Trojans, on the other hand, return the 24th-most starters in the FBS and are ranked No. 80 in Phil Steele’s experience ratings.
Though USC returns four members of the offensive line and four of the top five receivers, gone is quarterback Matt Barkley. Also missing is the No. 2 rusher—Curtis McNeal—who accounted for 718 of USC’s 1,958 rushing yards.
On defense, five of the front seven are back and two starters return from the secondary of a unit that gave up 30-plus points in three of its last five regular-season games.
This all adds up to Brown trumping Kiffin in the number of athletes who will hit the field game-ready when the season starts.
Texas also has an edge in on-field leadership, a component that has been missing in Austin since 2009.
The most direct route to becoming BCS bowl-eligible is winning a BCS conference.
For Brown, this means finishing the season with the best record in Big 12 play. For Kiffin, it means first winning the Pac-12 South and then beating the best team from the North in the conference championship game.
The lack of an extra game against a high-quality opponent makes Brown’s goal of a top-tier postseason game easier than Kiffin’s.
Scheduling nuances may never be more important for Brown and Kiffin than they are in 2013.
Suddenly, the list of opponents stand not only between a coach and his prize, but a coach and the continuation of his paycheck.
Brown and the 'Horns have non-conference games against New Mexico State and Ole Miss at home and BYU on the road. They get Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech at home, while Iowa State, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor are on the road.
Phil Steele rates the Longhorns’ schedule the 15th-most difficult in the FBS.
Kiffin and the Trojans have non-conference games against Boston College and Utah State at home and play Hawaii and Notre Dame on the road. They draw Washington State, Oregon State, Cal and Stanford from the North, leaving Oregon off the regular-season slate. The UCLA and Stanford games are at home in Los Angeles.
Phil Steele rates the Trojans’ schedule the 35th-most difficult in the FBS.
Despite Steele’s nod to Texas’ schedule difficulty, both slates will provide a serious hurdle to Brown and Kiffin’s quests to stay employed.
The difference between Brown and Kiffin’s respective relationships with their employers comes down to the results they’ve each produced.
Brown is 150-43 in 15 seasons at Texas. He’s led the Longhorns to a national championship, two Big 12 titles and six South division crowns.
He’s managed to get to BCS bowls on four occasions and is 3-1 in BCS play. The Longhorns finished in the final AP Top 25 every year of the Brown era, with the exception of 2010 and 2011.
Kiffin, on the other hand, is 25-13 in three seasons at USC. He’s led the Trojans to one Pac-12 South title and one final AP ranking. He is 0-1 in bowl play.
It's worth noting that USC was ineligible for postseason play during Kiffin's first two seasons.
What all this means is that Kiffin is more vulnerable.
Think about it this way: Is it easier to walk away from a relationship that was amazing for one year out of four, or one that was hot and steamy for 14 of its 16 years and produced one beautiful crystal football-shaped child?
Brown will turn 62 later this month. Kiffin turned 38 this past spring.
This makes the answer to the question, “Where do I go next?” different for each guy.
Whereas Brown likely retires if he gets ousted after this season, Kiffin—with a young family and a career in front of him as opposed to behind—has to find another job.
And this will be more difficult to achieve if he’s just tanked with top recruits, amazing facilities and stacks of cash at USC.
Who’s Got a Bigger Target On His Back?
With what both Brown and Kiffin have to work with at Texas and USC this season, neither will have much of an excuse not to be in—at the very least—the conference championship conversation.
But, that said, Kiffin is the guy who will experience more of an “under the gun” situation.
Not only will Kiffin try his luck against a difficult schedule with less experienced players, but he doesn’t have the history at USC to be afforded much saving grace.
What tips it over the edge for Kiffin is that his age puts him in more of a “desperation” situation.
The pressure is squarely on him to produce now or get fired. Were he to lose his job, Kiffin would probably be forced to settle for an assistant job or a lower-tier head job.
Brown, on the other hand, could retire with a national championship ring and his solid reputation intact.
And that’s the case even if he falls short of the big expectations in 2013 and is forced to resign. Brown doesn’t have the added pressure of needing to salvage the job at Texas in order to find one somewhere else.