Lane Kiffin: Why He Might Not Be Such a Bad Coach (If You Subtract All The Bad)
I may get a couple of negative comments, I may get laughed at, I may even be dead wrong, but I have a feeling. Not that tonight's going to be a good night (though I did have an unusually good BLT), but that Lane Kiffin might just be the guy that USC needs. I know, I know, I know. He's obnoxious, he's incredibly boring, he doesn't move his lips, and he kind of looks like the guy that would overhear you talking about a Seinfeld rerun and loudly correct you in front of everybody, thus making you a square. But this guy can coach football.
Everybody knows that Kiffin was hired by the Raiders, quickly fired for butting heads with owner Al Davis over Jamarcus Russell (Kiffin wasn't sold, Davis wanted him starting). He was quickly relocated to Tennessee where he loudly predicted a win against national champions Florida, later accusing Urban Meyer of committing recruiting violations. Then, worst of all, he accepted a job at the University of Southern California. A year later. He was famously escorted by police out of Knoxville, landing at Heritage Hall the next day. Not a great way to win the hearts of Americans.
Now let me make a case for the man.
This is a guy who started out at USC, he was a tight ends coach under Pete Carroll, and was promoted to Offensive Coordinator after Norm Chow went the NFL route in 2005. Not long after that, Kiffin got the call as well, this was for a head coaching gig in one of the NFL's most dysfunctional teams. Nobody questioned this, nobody should be expected to turn down an opportunity like this. Hell, Trojan fans were quietly excited. Kiffin had a public image as a vanilla play caller, unable to bring out a Leinart-esque quality in John David Booty (who, lets face it, might as well have been named John Vanilla Booty).
Kiffin's first year in Oakland was uneventful, and they did as well as anybody other than Al Davis expected. They had a rookie QB in Jamarcus Russell that looked to have one of the bigger upsides of all time. Kiffin, as many coaches, both college and pro, felt that Russell would need a couple of years to morph into an NFL QB. He was wisely placed behind a clipboard, where he could learn the offense, preparing to take control of an NFL franchise. However, in the middle of Kiffin's second year, Al Davis had grown tired of waiting for Russell. He wanted him, and he wanted him now. From all accounts, Kiffin wasn't going to relinquish control of the actual squad to an out-of-date (and mind?) owner who lives in the delusional world where the Raiders are still relevant to anybody outside of Oakland. Soon, Kiffin was out. Many of Kiffin's detractors will take this experience and use it against Kiffin, looking for some wood to burn, but can they fairly? How many coaches have coached the Raiders since they're Super Bowl appearance years ago? How many of them have succeeded? How many of them have had more experience prior than Kiffin did? Kiffin gets the benefit of the doubt here, and only Al Davis and his fellow deludes would disagree.
Then, of course there is Tennessee. I have to admit, this would be a pretty tough year to defend. He did pretty much everything wrong. He claims that he went in talking trash to put the Volunteers on the map to prominent recruits, and perhaps he did so, but I'm sure all of us probably wonder why he couldn't do so a little bit more subtly? Or maybe by winning and making a name for himself throughout a couple of seasons? Though, he has been very quiet since his return to USC, so he may be telling the truth. But you only get so many points for being honest, Lane. Outside of his mouth though, he was doing pretty good. He went 7-6 in one year, turning a bust named Johnathan Crompton (whose name was only recognizable to recruiting aficionados just coming out of a coma that started in the year 2005) into an NFL draft pick. So there it is, amidst all the blabbering he did, he managed to show why he keeps getting hired. He did show his potential, it was simply overridden by negative headlines brought upon himself.
Now, he's back home at USC. His "dream job", his magnum opus, if you will. He has acquired a team, equipped with talent and history. He also acquired a team, equipped with sanctions. Many sanctions. But has he come out, stating that other coaches turn blind eyes to players taking under-the-table gifts and money? No. Has he complained about the sanctions? For the most part, no, though he has subtly expressed his displeasure with the rule that has allowed juniors and seniors to transfer without sitting, calling it a "free agency" in college football. But for the most part, he has done what any good coach would do. He has dealt with it, kept quiet, and gone to work. And the most glaring thing he has accomplished? He has kept the majority of his talent put. He has his team buying into a bowl-less couple of seasons, believing that pride is what football is all about anyways.
Last week, Lane Kiffin showed off everything that has made him the most interesting and hated coach in College Football. At half-time, after allowing Hawaii to drive down the field, hitting a field goal to pull the game within 7, he was asked what they had figured out about USC. His response? That they had figured out "NOTHING. They figured out that we hit the guy late..." ah, so much wood for burning, so much wood. It was typical, I laughed out loud, rewound it to make sure I had heard him correctly, and laughed again. But he also showed off something else, the USC offense. Led by Matt Barkley, the offense looked, in a word, good. The play calling was outstanding, and the Trojans could not be stopped. Though it was Hawaii, anybody that knows football knows that Lane Kiffin called a good game. The defense may have been, in a word, bad, but Lane Kiffin's offense looked, let's call it Leinart-esque.
I know I might get negative comments, laughed at, maybe even banned from certain spots in Tennessee and Oakland, but I have a feeling. This guy can coach football.
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