Were NCAA Sanctions Lane Kiffin's Downfall, or Is He a Bad Head Coach?

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor ISeptember 29, 2013

Sep 14, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Lane Kiffin arrives before the game against the Boston College Eagles at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Losing seven games in the last 11 tries and getting blown out 62-41 in the latest loss was apparently the straw that broke the camel's back for Pat Haden and Co., and Lane Kiffin allegedly wasn't even allowed on the team bus back to school on Sunday morning. 

The message was clear; Lane Kiffin wasn't wanted by the USC Trojans anymore. 

Whatever Pat Haden's reasoning was behind his decision to fire Kiffin on Sunday morning, the one question that will undoubtedly and rightfully debated is: Was Kiffin's fate sealed by NCAA sanctions, or was it sealed by his coaching ability? 

If you believe Kiffin, the sanctions were responsible for everything from an unsafe environment (spoken just days before the ASU game to NeonTommy.com)...  

They've changed our practice feel, the way we practice, the amount our guys play and at some point there becomes a player safety issue involved, there, too. We have some players on our defense that play almost 100 percent of special teams and defensive snaps combined. That was never that way here before. You don't want it to be that way.

That's the situation we're in. We're just trying to maximize it. Sure, it's difficult at times, but I think it speaks a lot to our players that they're playing this well. We expect to win every week and everyone expects to win every week regardless of our numbers.

...to why Matt Barkley wasn't being considered a serious Heisman Trophy contender (h/t ESPNLA.com):

I think what Matthew's suffering from is things outside his control: the probation, the sanctions, the dark clouds we've talked about. In reality, to me, that should go the other way. He's the only one dealing with that and putting those numbers up.

Basically, everything that went wrong during his tenure at 'SC were the sanctions' fault. 

If only the sanctions hadn't been there, Kiffin's Trojans wouldn't have gone 5-4 in Pac-12 play two out of three years.

Sep 28, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils linebacker Carl Bradford (52) sacks USC Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (6) during the second half at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

If only the sanctions hadn't been there, he wouldn't have had a quarterback battle to sort out this season.

If only the sanctions hadn't been there, his team would've scored more than seven points against one of the worst defenses in the country in the Sun Bowl.

If only the sanctions hadn't been there, a massive fight wouldn't have broken out in the locker room following said loss in the Sun Bowl.

Hopefully, you are seeing the pattern here. 

Now, there is some credence to his claim about player safety, given the fact that 20 players were out this past spring game because of increased reps thanks to fewer numbers available to them.

Or at least that was how Lane Kiffin spun the story. 

But that isn't the full story, as it also appears Kiffin made the move to make practice more physical as well. Whose fault is that? 

That is the type of decision a coach makes the last time I checked, and that is just the first bit of evidence that the sanctions had less to do with Kiffin's tenure at USC and more to do with his deficiencies as a coach.

Then there is the whole recruiting side of things. USC was supposed to be hamstrung by a reduction of 10 scholarships for three years from 2011-13.

Despite the sanctions against the Trojans, they had the third best class in 2011, the ninth best class in 2012 and the 12th best class in 2013, according to the 247sports rankings.

Aug 29, 2013; Honolulu, HI, USA; Southern California Trojans safety Su'a Cravens (21) celebrates after an interception in the first quarter against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Aloha Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

So, Kiffin's teams were stacked with some of the best talent in the country. 

Those nasty NCAA sanctions did what to your ability to recruit some of the best talent out there?

Once again, Kiffin was put in a position to have everything he needed to be successful, and it was on Kiffin to take that collection of talent and make them into a good football team on the field.

Then there's the real issue at hand for me and that's history—a history that suggests Lane Kiffin is a mediocre head coach at best. 

He was all of 5-15 in his year-plus tenure at the helm of the Oakland Raiders. Kiffin then went to Tennessee and managed a mediocre 7-6 season that included going just 4-4 in SEC play. 

Yet, Kiffin's name was one of the hottest in the college football coaching world and that offseason, he was headed to the Men of Troy. 

His tenure at USC started off alright, going 8-5 in his first year and then going 10-2 in 2011, the first year of the NCAA sanctions era for the Trojans.

However, that season proved to be the exception to the rule as the next season was more like his first, going 5-4 in conference play and going from the preseason No. 1 to unranked and losing the Sun Bowl in 2012.

For me, that's the real story. Lane Kiffin's time at Tennessee and USC had one theme in common—mediocrity in conference play. 

That wasn't going to get it done at either school, where expectations of fans and administrators are much higher than being just good. 

But, perhaps the most damning evidence that it wasn't the NCAA sanctions, but rather Kiffin's coaching ability, comes from the man who fired him on Sunday morning, Pat Haden. 

Following a bad season and a terrible ending to that season in 2012, Haden went on record with the Los Angeles Times, saying the following

I understand people disagree with me. . . .But in my judgment, and I get paid to make the best decisions I can for USC, there's no reason that Lane Kiffin shouldn't be our coach.

Haden acknowledges that the Trojans "played horribly a couple times," and "got shredded on defense a couple times" and "turned the ball over way too much."

But . . .

"These are things that all can be fixed," he says. "And they all can be fixed by Lane Kiffin."

Pat Haden gave Kiffin the benefit of the doubt this past offseason, thinking Kiffin was a good enough head coach to fix what was ailing the Trojans. 

Yet, just five games into the very next season and an 0-2 start to Pac-12 play, Haden's firing of Kiffin made a loud statement that Kiffin couldn't fix what was wrong with this football team. 

Otherwise, why fire the guy, right? 

Pat Haden's move on Sunday was as much an admission of missing the boat on Kiffin's ability as a coach on the field as it was anything to do with off the field considerations.

At the end of the day, Kiffin may point to being hamstrung by NCAA sanctions over the last two-plus years, but the reality of the situation says it was his inability to get some of the best collection of talent in the country to play well that cost him his job. 

Plain and simple—Lane Kiffin only has Lane Kiffin to blame for being fired on Sunday morning.


*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter for more coverage.


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