The Meteoric and Largely Undeserving Rise of Lane Kiffin

Daniel MuthSenior Analyst IJanuary 13, 2010

Now I'll be the first to admit that Lane Kiffin's previously held positions at USC were incredibly successful. 

His time leading the Trojans recruiting efforts produced the talent that was partly responsible for USC's dominant national title years, and his stint as offensive coordinator was even more successful than Norm Chow's.

Kiffin took over the coordinator position in 2005 and called an offense that won 88 percent of its games, albeit with superior talent and a dominant defense in the relatively down Pac-10.

Therein lies the entirety of Lane Kiffin's successful coaching experience.

Yes, he coached receivers and tight ends for a couple of years before that, but prior to Al Davis' inexplicable call to make Kiffin the head coach of the Raiders, he only had two years of experience as a coordinator and absolutely no head coaching experience whatsoever.

During his first year stint with the Raiders, the team finished 4-12, and was into a 1-3 start the next year when Kiffin was unceremoniously dispatched by Raiders' owner Al Davis who was not pleased with the young coach's performance, and went so far as to call him "a flat-out liar" to reporters while announcing his termination.

It's easy to give Kiffin a break for this fiasco because the Raiders were/are a franchise in disarray and their owner is, to put it delicately, a certified nut job.

So most people had the feeling that Kiffin would land on his feet after his dealings with the Raiders based on the publicity Al Davis unintentionally gave him by creating such a circus, and based almost solely on this nonsensical rule of college football, "once a head coach at the next level, you're a catch for any NCAA program."

This of course neglects even the most bizarre circumstances under which that promotion took place (and Kiffin's hiring was bizarre), and even the length of tenure and relative success.

And though we can't blame Kiffin for the Raiders' woes, his stint there cannot be exactly categorized as a success.

Either way, Tennessee bit at the proverb and made Kiffin their head coach on Dec.  1, 2008.

It didn't take long for the young coach to make waves with the Volunteers, and not necessarily in the manner that one would hope.

Within two months of his hiring, he publicly (and inaccurately) accused Florida coach Urban Meyer of recruiting violations,  which in of itself was a violation of SEC policies. Two weeks later he went on to commit minor recruiting violations himself when he commented on the status of high school players he hoped to recruit.

In short, Kiffin's one year at Tennessee was more known for his spats with other SEC coaches, his derogatory remarks about other programs, and a slew of minor recruiting violations than for his success on the field.

Tennessee finished the season 7-6 with a surprisingly close loss to No. 1 Alabama and a win against the No. 21 ranked Gamecocks.  But they also suffered humiliations against Ole Miss and against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A bowl at the end of the year.

All in all, Tennessee was mediocre under Kiffin's watch, and given his propensity for getting into trouble with his mouth, a volatile mediocrity at that.

This is the extent of Kiffin's coaching experience.  A very brief but successful stint under Pete Carroll at USC, followed by a questionable and unsuccessful promotion to the NFL ranks, followed by a single enigmatic season at Tennessee.

This is the resume that USC considered when they hired Kiffin as their new head coach.

They handed the keys to a college football Ferrari to a kid barely out of driver's ed.

And given Kiffin's propensity for getting into trouble with his mouth and his inattention to recruiting rules, is this the guy you want to bring in while allegations of recruiting violations are hanging over the program already?

Lane Kiffin may be the next best thing in college football, but the point is we just don't know.  He has yet to prove anything. And I think that USC was so desperate to preserve some measure of the Pete Carroll years that they jumped beyond common sense to cling onto part of the past.

Granted, as a younger man I wish the world worked this way.  I wish that when I graduated from college, a litany of companies where there to make me their new CEO.

But I understand why they don't.  Just as good grades don't necessarily translate into on-the-job performance, a short stint under a great coach doesn't necessarily make you a great coach too.

You've got to head out into the world and forge your own path first.

And it wouldn't be out of line to say that Kiffin had already skipped well ahead of the curve when he got the Tennessee job, but to now be rewarded with this?

It's just not responsible.

What Kiffin has going for him is a heck of a support staff, including Monte Kiffin who'll be bringing the Tampa Two to USC, and possibly Norm Chow whose offensive mind is well seasoned and widely recognized.

He's got the USC resources at his disposal, the Hollywood connection, the famous alumni and ex-players to lure recruits, and a well oiled system left in place by the old coach.

But he's also got a PAC-10 that's been catching up, and the possibility of NCAA sanctions to contend with.

Time will tell whether Kiffin's years at USC are successful or not, but there is little doubt about whether he's earned the right to coach there.

In this author's opinion, he has not.



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