Lane Kiffin Is A Perfect Fit For L.A.

Keith SmoothCorrespondent IJanuary 14, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13:  New head coach of the USC Trojans Lane Kiffin speaks to the media during a press conference at Heritage Hall January 13, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

I live in Virginia but I have a crush on the city of Los Angeles. It's massive, it's maddening, and it's home to a multitude of famous people. It has great weather, great women, and if you find yourself at the Viper Room on a Saturday night, there's a 98 percent chance Lindsay Lohan is going to stumble out of the bathroom and vomit in your lap!

Good times! Oh, and make sure you tell TMZ all about your unfortunate encounter with the star of Mean Girls!

I so love this truly weird city that the very first post that I ever wrote for my blog reads like a love letter to the City of Angels (or Hell-Ay, the snarky nickname that E! Gossip Columnist Ted Casablanca loves to call it).

So when I heard the news that "Fast" Lane Kiffin had bolted Knoxville for the sunshine of Hell-Ay, two thoughts immediately hit me.

First thought: "Holy (bleep)! Didn't Tennessee just hire him?"

Second thought: "Makes sense."

Let's address my first thought first:

If you are a fan of the Tennessee Volunteers, you have every right to be ENRAGED! When I saw the video of that mob of angry students, I had empathy. How could I not? Thirteen months ago, Kiffin was introduced as the new coach of the Volunteers, replacing the ousted Philip Fulmer and becoming the youngest head coach in Division I football. 

He was young, cocky, and he seemed to be a breath of fresh air following the stuffiness of the Fulmer regime. Knoxville Nation loved when he traded verbal jabs with the hated Steve Spurrier and the hated Urban Meyer. He came closer than anybody to beating eventual national champion Alabama. And hey, he even named his newborn son Knox!

And now he's gone.

In a domino effect that will be talked about for years to come, long time USC coach Pete Carroll packed his bags on Monday for the Pacific Northwest, making his inevitable return to the NFL by accepting the head coaching job with the Seattle Seahawks. With the most prestigious collegiate coaching job in Southern California up for grabs, USC's Athletic Director Mike Garrett went knocking on the doors of Oregon State coach Mike Riley and NFL coaches Jack Del Rio and Jeff Fisher.

They all said no. Garret's next choice was a shocker.

When a head coach abruptly leaves the natural reaction by the fans is to think that his leaving is an indictment on the school. So naturally, they take it personally. It's just like when your significant other sits you down on the couch and says that she (or he) wants to break up with you.

"Why? What did I do?"

"You did nothing. It's not you. Its me. I just need some time and some space."

She (or he) might be lying. There could very well be someone else, an "undercover lover." Or she (or he) could be telling the complete truth. In the end, it doesn't really matter. You're wounded just the same. And you are always going to assume that, regardless of the reassurances you might have received from your ex (even if they are truthful), you are going to believe you were dumped because your lover fell in love with someone else.

I would imagine that's how Knoxville Nation feels at this moment. "Fast" Lane Kiffin (or "Lame Kitten" as one UT fan described him) was only there for one season before he sat Tennessee down on the proverbial couch.

"You did nothing wrong. It's not you. It's me."

He was always in love with USC, the place where his improbable career began as an assistant for Pete Carroll nine years ago. And you know how they say a man never gets over his first love . . .

If I was Tennessee I would be glad that he's gone. Rather he leaves and owes the school $800,000 then you having to pay him seven and a half million dollars after you fire him sometime down the road. Rather he leaves as a pariah now than stay and turn Knoxville into NCAA Violations-ville. Sure, this sets you back a year because Kiffin's recruiting class is going to bail, but in the long run, you'll be fine.

You're Tennessee! You have the prestige that comes with winning a national title and with playing in the best conference in college football. Every home game in the fall you pack 100,000 fans into your stadium.

In the short term this hurts, but in the long run "Rocky Top" will be just fine.

As for my second thought, I like this hire for USC and not for the reasons you might expect.

Based on his microscopic resume, "Fast" Lane Kiffin is not even remotely qualified. And Mike Garrett is truly risking his career on this bold and audacious hire. Kiffin's career record (as head coach of the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers) is an uninspiring 12-21. He has now left his last two jobs on bad terms.

Al Davis, who now seems sympathetic, famously called him a liar. And in his short time in Knoxville he racked up some minor NCAA infractions. One of those infractions included his use of "recruiting hostesses." According to the father of one prized recruit, one such hostess tried to entice his son by pressing her "rocky tops" against his son's chest.

And then there's that situation where Kiffin was forced to dismiss two of his players, including his prized recruit, for their role in an armed robbery.

But this is why I like him in Hell-Ay:

He's young.

He's brash.

He's charismatic.

And he has a smoking hot wife who seems tailor-made for Tinseltown. I mean seriously, have you SEEN Layla Kiffin?

Here's a totally unpredictable guy going to the single most unpredictable city in the country. Here's a guy who is a star on the rise, going to a city that makes stars out of nobodies.

"Fast" Lane Kiffin and the City of Angels are such a perfect pair that I'm surprised he didn't find this job on

Until the NFL makes its eventual return to Los Angeles, USC will remain the dominant football team. Pete Carroll was revered. Matt Leinart, after leading the Trojans to back-to-back national titles was treated like a movie star. Kiffin can lead them to the promised land too.

Although the possibility does exist that he could completely fall on his face and become an even bigger trainwreck than Tara Reid, I don't think he will.

If Kiffin is the President of Football in Southern California, his Executive Cabinet is impressive: Assistant Coach Ed Orgeron is his Rahm Emanuel. Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow (who may leave UCLA to join them) is one of the brilliant minds in all of football. And of course Kiffin's father is Secretary of Defense (and future Hall of Famer) Monte Kiffin, who is the architect of one of the greatest defensive schemes we have ever seen, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' vaunted Cover Two.

That's a staff with damn-near 100 years of combined experience. Read ESPN Los Angeles columnist Arash Markazi's story that he wrote today . The odds of "Fast" Lane Kiffin falling on his face at USC are slim.

And please, don't use this as an opportunity to rail against the dishonesty of college football and how Kiffin represents everything that is wrong with this sport.

It's a weak argument.

Is college football any more dishonest and unethical than our other major sports? No, of course not. The ugly truth is that college football is nothing more than a reflection of the society we live in. Is Corporate America honest and ethical? Washington? What about Hollywood? Or what about our notorious banking industry on Wall Street which set fire to our economy and in the words of Joni Mitchell, "paved paradise to put up a parking lot."

Why do we romanticize sports and expect it to remain that one last beacon of virtue? It's not. I don't care if we're talking about the BCS or the IOC, steroids in baseball, or John Calipari at Kentucky, low down dirty dogs and their devious deeds are as ubiquitous in the machination of our sports universe as the fans who pay top dollar to fill these sports stadiums.

This is big business and Kiffin made a "business" decision. This has nothing to do with loyalty because loyalty no longer exists in big-time sports.

I was living in Atlanta when that snake Bobby Petrino s-s-slithered out of town. With three games left in the regular season, Petrino bailed on the Falcons because he went behind owner Arthur Blank's back and signed a deal with the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Nick Saban, Brian Kelly, and "Fast" Lane Kiffin all did the same thing. One is just as reprehensible as the other, but we as sports fans don't really care unless it's OUR team that gets shafted.

I'm not trying to absolve any of these guys. But in the words of my mom, "it is what it is." It's just the way the (sports) world turns. And since someone stole Kiffin away, Tennessee will most certainly steal somebody else's coach away. Is it ethically dubious? Perhaps. But so is big business which, at the end of the day, is exactly what sports is in 2010.

I love Peter King to death but yesterday he went on a Twitter rampage . He was so angry at this Kiffin story that I can only imagine that he was sitting at his computer drinking coffee and pounding his keyboard in fury. His point was that Kiffin should have respected his contract. My counterpoint is that Tennessee gave him a buyout clause in his contract. So why be angry that Kiffin exercised his contractual rights to buy himself out?

He also questioned the wisdom of believing a single word that comes out of Kiffin's mouth. My counterpoint to Peter and to all of the parents of these prized recruits, is to NEVER believe everything that comes out of a coach's mouth. They aren't beholden to you, or to the university. Coaches don't tell you the truth, they tell you what's convenient. A head coach should NEVER be the whole reason why a kid chooses one school over the other. The coach should be part of the equation, but not the whole equation.

And now the "Fast" Lane is in Hollywood, a city that is always looking to find the next big thing. Julia Ormond was supposed to be the next Michelle Pfeiffer. Colin Farrell was supposed to be the next Tom Cruise. Orlando Bloom was supposed to be the next Leonardo DiCaprio.

This is the city that gave two spectacularly unqualified movie producers named Jon Peters and Peter Guber the keys to the Sony empire and watched in horror as they set fire to a billion-dollar corporation.

Los Angeles is used to this kind of thing.

I recently watched the excellent George Clooney movie Up In The Air . Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who flies all over the country firing people. He loves his job. He's good at his job. He is a man more comfortable above the ground, then he is on the ground (hence the movie's title). When a pilot asks him where his home is he says, "here." His home is a Delta airline, the same way Kiffin's home is in the back of a U-HAUL truck. At one point in the movie Bingham gives a self-help speech at a Miami hotel. This is what he says:

"The slower we move, the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks."

Will Kiffin be the next Pete Carroll or the next Ben Silverman, the young hotshot producer who ran NBC into the ground? Only time will tell. But this is Los Angeles, home to reality stars, TV stars, movie stars, TV producers, movie producers, agents, production assistants, and studio executives. This is a city where the phrase "swimming with the sharks," is literally a part of everyday life.

Sounds like Kiffin will be right at home.


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