After stepping into the eye of the storm that is USC Trojan football this past summer, head coach Lane Kiffin has found little reprieve on the field.
Funny how that works.
Amidst the NCAA Infractions Committee dropping the hammer on Tommy Trojan, new athletic director Pat Haden left Kiffin, hired by previous lame-duck AD Mike Garrett, with one option.
Put up AND shut up.
The no-nonsense Haden has Kiffin and the rest of his alma mater on a short leash now that the football team is firmly under sanction, following years of investigations concerning Heisman "forfeiteer" Reggie Bush, and will likely be scrutinized quite heavily by the NCAA for seasons to come.
As such, don't expect to see the 35-year-old "wunderkind" coach mouthing off in LA like he did while in Knoxville, where he engaged in public pot-stirring with Urban Meyer's Florida Gators and picked up some secondary recruiting violations in his spare time.
While fans and talking heads alike can spend their days debating whether or not Kiffin should have been hired at all, after a brief 5-15 stint with the Oakland Raiders and an even more succinct 7-6 stay at Tennessee, the fact of the matter is, he's USC's coach and the folks downtown are paying him a hefty sum for his services.
And the sum is, indeed, quite hefty.
Monte's boy isn't earning what his predecessor, Pete Carroll, was before he left, but it'd be tough for Kiffin to argue with the $4 million he's currently earning.
The question remains: Does Kiffin deserve such an exorbitant salary at this stage of his career?
The answer: a resounding NO!
Consider the company Kiffin is currently keeping.
Lane's salary of just over $4 million makes him the third-highest-paid college football coach in America, behind only Texas' Mack Brown (at $5.1 million) and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops (at $5 million).
Since leaving Chapel Hill for Austin, Brown has amassed 130 wins, including four BCS Bowl appearances and a win against USC in the 2005 BCS title game at the Rose Bowl (Vince Young, anyone?). Additionally, Brown has never won fewer than nine games in any season with the Longhorns.
Stoops has had plenty of success on the other side of the Red River Rivalry—collecting 119 wins, seven BCS Bowl spots, and a national title in 12 seasons in Norman, Oklahoma.
Then comes Kiffin, with a season-and-a-half in the NFL and a season at Tennessee.
Kiffin finds himself in a virtual tie with his one-year rival, Urban Meyer. Now in his sixth season in Gainesville, Meyer has three BCS Bowl wins, two of which came in National Championship games. And that's not including the success he had at Utah, where he led the Utes to an undefeated season and a Fiesta Bowl win in 2004.
Just behind Meyer is Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban, with his $3.9 million price tag to along with four BCS bowls and two national championships between his time with LSU and the Crimson Tide, including the 2010 title.
Saban's successor at LSU, Les Miles, has a title of his own—2008 against Ohio State—and a $3.75 million salary to go with it.
Speaking of the Buckeyes, Ohio State's Jim Tressel comes in a smidge behind Miles at $3.72 million, with seven BCS Bowl Games and the 2002 National Championship coming to Columbus during his nine-year tenure.
Get the picture?
Kiffin may be in the same tax bracket as these giants of the college gridiron, but he'd be lucky to bus tables in their clubhouse when it comes to career accomplishments and coaching acumen.
That's not to say that Lane won't live up to his pay grade eventually. If he survives the next few years and finds himself still in charge once 'SC is off probation, he'll have the keys to one of college football's Ferrari's and a full tank of scholarships to dole out.
However, it's a big "IF," and one that may get bigger and bigger as the weeks and months roll along. Sure, a 2-0 start to his tenure looks good on paper, but closer examination reveals a different story.
Kiffin's Trojans struggled defensively at Hawaii and sputtered offensively at home against Virginia. And while subpar performances may net USC victories against non-conference doormats, like in this weekend's matchup with Minnesota (which lost to FCS team South Dakota), Pac-10 play will likely yield an entirely different narrative.
Nevertheless, Kiffin will likely be given the opportunity to stay on, even if the Trojans struggle over the next few years, considering USC's condemning violations didn't occur while he was at the helm (just while he was the offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll).
And while Kiffin will still get paid with the best of them, it'll take more than a couple years on the scene to justify to USC students, alumni, and fans the beaucoup bucks that they're dishing out to him.