The Perception of USC Head Coach Lane Kiffin Is Not Always Reality

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The Perception of USC Head Coach Lane Kiffin Is Not Always Reality
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USC Head Coach Lane Kiffin is often criticized, but is it always fair?

The 41st Law of Power as outlined by Robert Greene says, “Avoid Stepping In A Great Man’s Shoes.”

Apparently, USC Coach Lane Kiffin didn’t get the memo. 

The law goes on to say, “What happens first always appears better and more original than what comes after.  If you succeed a great man or have a famous parent, you will have to accomplish double their achievements to outshine them. “

Well, you could certainly say that Kiffin has “outshined” Carroll, though it’s not in a way that gains him any love from the Trojans fanbase or the media.

But is Kiffin really the black sheep of college football? Is he really the worst thing to happen to USC?

Brace yourselves—I don’t think that he is.

Seriously. Just hear me out.  

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Pete Carroll ran the city of Los Angeles when he coached USC, and now has the same effect as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks

When the beloved Pete Carroll departed USC for greener pastures in the NFL, we had no idea how fast the Trojan ship was sinking. We didn’t know that when the talent left following  2008 (USC had 11 players drafted in the 2009 NFL draft), the Trojans were a rebuilding project that had yet to reveal itself as such. We didn’t know heavy sanctions loomed on the horizon.

And then Kiffin stepped in to inherit the mess, and that may have been his first mistake, as also argued by Matt Hayes of SportingNews.com, though for different reasons.

When Carroll controlled the reins at USC, it was a happier, more victorious time. Practices were open to fans and celebrities alike, games sold out and the head coach walked on water in Los Angeles. He was loved for what he did on the field as well as what he did off of it.

But it was that very culture that the fans loved that got USC into trouble in the first place. The NCAA hated the party-all-the-time arrogance of the Trojans, and it did everything within its power to show them who the boss really is.

As much as people knew the culture had to change, many did not accept Kiffin to be the guy to change it.

Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports
Lane Kiffin successfully guided USC through the bowl ban years, and now looks to get the Trojans through the scholarship reduction

Kiffin is in many ways the exact opposite of Carroll, and that is exactly why the former USC AD Mike Garrett (and the board of trustees, including current AD Pat Haden) brought him on board. He’s no nonsense, he’s more reserved and—save for a few incidences—he has run a ship that has seen USC’s players do well in the classroom (no players are academically ineligible this season) as well as stay out of trouble. He’s been a top-notch recruiter, reloading talent and bringing in some of the best athletes in the country to play for a sanctioned team.

But he gets no credit for any of this. Why? Because people have selective memory, that’s why.

Yes, 2012 was an unmitigated disaster, and much of that does have to do with Kiffin shying away from his responsibilities as the leader of the team. But as much as people gripe about the play-calling and how "poor" the offense was, USC statistically looks nearly the same as it did the season before.

USC Offensive Stats 2011 vs. 2012
USC 2011 Opponents 2011 USC 2012 Opponents 2012
Scoring Points/Game 35.8 23.6 32.1 24.3
First Downs: Total 295 259 281 294
Rushing Yards/Attempt 4.98 3.62 4.99 4.07

http://www.cfbstats.com/2012/team/657/index.html

Furthermore, if we accept that Kiffin is solely to blame for 2012’s results, then do we give him all the credit for the unexpected success the team had in 2011?

Many analysts and fans alike had written the Trojans off after the sanctions came down. Kiffin’s efforts kept USC relevant in terms of media coverage during what's essentially been the dark ages. He turned a 10-2 anomaly season into a preseason No. 1 overall ranking despite the fact that the numbers put up by stars were clearly the result of force feeding. Even if the season did not pan out as planned, the Trojans remained relevant.

Just ask Alabama circa 2002 exactly how important that is.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Lane Kiffin is just a bridge between USC dynasties, a prospect many fans want to be the case. He hasn't left the cupboard bare for the next man, unlike his predecessor. He's kept the ship floating just long enough through a heinous probation and recruited well enough that a competent game coach is going to have all of zero rebuilding to do.

In the meantime, we can’t expect Kiffin to change. We can’t expect him to grow a personality that we approve of and we can’t expect him to be as media-friendly as Carroll was.

But Nick Saban is not media-friendly, and people accept him as he is.

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The difference, of course, is obvious: Saban wins. 

Kiffin is still working on grasping the 41st Law of Power, but he still has time to master the second half of it before his tenure at USC is over.

“Do not get lost in their shadow, or stuck in a past not of your own making:  Establish your own name and identity by changing course.  Slay the overbearing father, disparage his legacy and gain power by shining in your own way.”

And in the words of his former boss Al Davis, Kiffin’s course of action to establishing his own name at USC is simple: Just win, baby. Just win.  

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