In the famous words of Ron Burgundy, "Boy. That escalated quickly."
They actually led 14-7 in the second quarter before ASU ripped off 41 of the next 48 points, shredding USC's offense and, surprisingly, its defense on a national stage.
But before that collapse, when the Trojans held an unlikely lead, respected minds like NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah actually heaped praise on Kiffin's performance:
Lane Kiffin is calling a great game. Seriously, he is.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) September 29, 2013
Therein lies the most vexing part of Kiffin's USC tenure: inconsistency.
He could call a great game for one quarter and then crumble during the next three. He could lead a 10-2 season one year and go 7-6 the next. He could land the best recruits one summer but swing and miss the summer after that.
All of that instability, especially in recruiting, makes him an unlikely (and undeserving) candidate to land an immediate head coaching job—at any level. Among many other things, his hostile persona—at least right off the bat—is not the temperament any school is looking for in its leader.
But Kiffin can still be a very good offensive coordinator, a role he held at USC under Pete Carroll before leaving to coach the Oakland Raiders. Back when he was just "Monte's son," and not some sort of world-renowned punchline, Kiffin helped the Trojans make good on their talent en route to 23 wins in 26 games.
I'm not alone in this line of thinking either. B/R's Michael Felder agrees:
I think Kiffin will make a good OC somewhere. Guy just couldn't get the defense right to keep his job.— Michael Felder (@InTheBleachers) September 29, 2013
I know what you're all thinking: Lane Kiffin as an offensive coordinator? Isn't the offense what's been failing him all year?
Yes, but perhaps there were extenuating circumstances. Kiffin did, after all, inherit the massive sanctions incurred in Carroll's tenure, which included the crippling loss of 30 scholarships. Perhaps cultivating this offense, with no ability to recruit and sustain positional depth, was more difficult than it seemed.
"It is what it is," Kiffin said of the decreased scholarships (prior to getting fired), according to Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles. "Everybody's got problems, and we're just trying to maximize the situation that we're in."
But that makes things sound less dire than they were.
It's hard to win without a quarterback, and though Cody Kessler has slowly improved, USC doesn't appear to have one. It's hard to win when your best player—in this case, receiver Marqise Lee—drops a big pass every game. And it's hard to win when your offensive line functions like a sieve.
What's equally hard is trying to play the blame game. Did Kiffin struggle because of all those things, or did all those things exist because he struggled? Are the massive scholarship losses responsible for the lack of offensive talent, or does Kiffin not know how to properly develop it?
Maybe—and most likely—Kiffin does know how to develop talent, just not when he's preoccupied with the other facets of being a head coach. He's overtly misanthropic, and so much of holding this position is dealing with the media and becoming the face of a program.
Kiffin isn't good at that. He sneers at reporters after losses and isn't much better after wins. It always seemed like trying to play nice was taxing to him, a noxious chore, like it took something out of him to have to pretend.
It seemed like a genuine distraction.
What will Lane Kiffin's next job be?
If he lands a good offensive coordinator gig, Kiffin wouldn't be "out of the spotlight." But he also wouldn't get so bright a glare. He could leave the sideline and sit up in the box during games—not quite obscured from the wandering lens of the camera, but not its main focus either.
He could finally get back to focusing on football, and football alone.
I'm not here to defend Kiffin from his dismissal. It was a long time coming and completely deserved.
But I also think that Kiffin's name will be dragged through the mud, and that when he does land an offensive coaching gig, whether it be in college or the NFL, people will throw their hands in the air and ask how he keeps getting hired to do anything.
And though I can't believe I'm saying this, he might prove them wrong.