Lane Kiffin: 8 Reasons the USC Trojans Coach Is in College Football's Top 10

Bill NCorrespondent IAugust 11, 2011

Lane Kiffin: 8 Reasons the USC Trojans Coach Is in College Football's Top 10

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    USC Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin is very young at 36 and will only get better.  He has already been the head coach of the Oakland Raiders (youngest NFL coach in history at 31) and Tennessee Volunteers (youngest Division I active coach at 33).

    There are lots of reasons that Kiffin was selected as the head coach for these three teams, including his dream job of leading the football program of the storied USC Trojans.  The USC job has been rated in the top five of college football.

    However, Kiffin has not been a big winner as a head coach yet. 

    Kiffin was also a controversial head coach at Oakland and Tennessee, and there is no question that Al Davis and SEC fans do not like him.  He had no similar issues in his much longer tenure at USC, either as an assistant or head coach.

    Richard Cirminiello of CollegeFootballNews.com lists Lane Kiffin as No. 4 in a list of 50 of the most interesting college coaching situations going into the 2011 season.

    The USC fans and administration who know him best both respect and support Kiffin and are happy he is their head coach during the very difficult NCAA sanctions period.

    Bleacher Report USC Featured Columnist Rick McMahan wrote “10 Best Lane Kiffin Moments” detailing some of this young coach’s accomplishments.

    There are other good reasons that Lane Kiffin is a top 10 coach. 

    Let’s review them in the following slides.  As always, your constructive comments are welcome.

    P.S. Thomas Neumann of ESPN conducts a very good Q&A with Lane Kiffin that reveals the type of person USC fans have known over almost eight years.

8. Previous Experience

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    Lane Kiffin is the son of longtime NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.  He grew up watching and talking football.

    He was a QB at Fresno State from 1994-1996, assistant coach at Fresno State 1997-1998, OL coach at Colorado State in 1999, assistant coach at Jacksonville Jaguars in 2000, USC WR/offensive coordinator 2001-2006, Oakland Raiders head coach 2007-2008, Tennessee Volunteers head coach 2009 and USC head coach since 2010.

    He has crammed a lot of football experience in his 36 years.  Kiffin has also surrounded himself with coaches who have extensive college and NFL experience, including his father.

    No other college coach has this much experience at his age.

7. Develops NFL Players

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    In 2010, USC had the most players (nine) drafted into the NFL.

    USC's pro-style offense and defense, talented athletes and coaches with a mixture of college and NFL experience all contribute to this accomplishment.

    USC is the No. 1 NFL football factory.  Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff know how to develop NFL players.  That is one of the reasons for their success in recruiting top athletes.

    Many other college coaches care only about winning college games and develop schemes that do not help players reach their NFL goals.  Usually these schemes work for a while until other teams adjust and counteract them.

    Kiffin certainly cares about winning, but his strategy is to recruit the best athletes who seek the NFL and give them the experience to make it happen. 

    This is a good plan for the long term.  It is consistent with the USC track record of playing the better teams. 

    The Trojans are one of three football teams who have never played below the NCAA Division IA level.  USC plays the other two teams (UCLA and Notre Dame) every year.

    P.S. Here is a LA Times article by Sam Farmer about college quarterbacks who are not prepared for the NFL because of the way they play in college. Similar disadvantages apply to many other positions when college coaches use non-NFL style schemes.

6. Handling Sanctions Well

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    Imagine you are 34 and take over as the head coach of a top college football team. 

    Five months later, your football program receives the second-harshest sanctions in college football history, primarily for violations of one football player dealing with outside third parties far away from campus and none of this helped your college. 

    Shortly thereafter, your athletic director is replaced and the largest compliance organization in college sports is created. 

    In spite of all this, expectations for success continue to be high.  You discover that there is not much depth on your football team due to lack of scholarship players caused by smaller recruiting classes and the NCAA “free agent” sanction.

    This would be a good time to lower expectations and blame everything on the sanctions and prior head coach.

    Lane Kiffin has never done this, but he is realistic about the challenges during the next few years.

    He has made it clear to the players that they can only worry about things they control. 

    Kiffin worked with his coaching staff to redshirt most of the 2010 recruiting class to better position the team for the future scholarship reductions.  This was done even though there was a severe lack of depth in 2010.

    He developed a recruiting strategy to take advantage of the USC NCAA appeal and build depth in the 2011 recruiting class.

    Kiffin has also instilled a team-oriented philosophy with discipline for even the best athletes.  There are many examples of this, but Dillon Baxter in 2010 and Marc Tyler in 2011 stand out. 

    Both of these players are needed by the team, yet their transgressions were addressed swiftly and appropriately.  Baxter has made it clear that he learned those lessons as a freshman and is a better person and player this year.  Tyler appears to be addressing his problem as a senior.

    Kiffin also accepts blame.  He blamed himself for poor play-calling against Oregon in 2010. Another example was the 2010 loss to Notre Dame due to an underprepared team by the entire coaching staff.

    This is a coach who "Fights On" instead of complaining.

5. Respected by Those Who Matter

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    Kiffin is respected by his players and their families, the USC administration (especially Pat Haden and J.K. McKay) and his coaching staff.  Great players and coaches will go where they are loved and cared for, and have the opportunities to succeed. 

    Kiffin is very forthright.  At USC, he has been respectful (treats people with dignity), reliable (faithful and loyal) and relational (listens and helps players develop).

    He could be better at complimenting players, but he is doing much better in 2011.

    His success at recruiting and putting together an outstanding coaching staff could not be done without these qualities.

    There is no question that Kiffin has a bad reputation with SEC fans and much of the media.  However, the people who really know him do not think the same way.  He has had to overcome this reputation and it has not been a problem.

    There is a cloud of NCAA sanctions built on six secondary violations in his 14 months at Tennessee. 

    Nick Saban had 16 secondary violations in the past two years at Alabama.

    Ohio State had a record 375 violations (all sports) between 2000 and early 2009, a head football coach who lied about ineligible players for an entire season, multiple players taking illegal benefits over several years and an athletic director who misled the NCAA about faulty education by his compliance department to get five ineligible players to participate in the Sugar Bowl.

    However, neither Saban nor OSU received a failure-to-monitor allegation like Kiffin from the NCAA.

    Highly respected USC athletic director Pat Haden has repeatedly supported Kiffin.  He has praised his performance dealing with the sanctions and his compliance with NCAA rules.

    USC Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Famer Marcus Allen talked about Kiffin on the Colin Cowherd Show on Aug. 5.  He likes him and expects great things. 

    And so do the USC players, coaches, administration and fans.

4. Young Head Coach Will Only Get Better

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    Lane Kiffin turned 36 in May. 

    He has already been a head coach for the NFL (Oakland Raiders hired him as the youngest NFL coach in history at 31) and two Division I colleges (Tennessee Volunteers made him the youngest active Division I head coach at 33 and the USC Trojans at age 34).

    However, Kiffin has not been a big winner as a head coach yet, after enjoying tremendous success as an assistant coach at USC from 2001-2006. 

    He was 8-5 at USC in 2010 after inheriting a team on the decline from Pete Carroll and the worst NCAA sanctions since SMU.  USC was 9 seconds away from 11-2 (and the help of a Stanford clock operator to take away that victory).

    He never had as many as 60 scholarship players suit up for a game, while suiting up as few as 51.  Lack of depth killed the Trojans in the fourth quarter all season, especially in later games.

    Kiffin improved Tennessee to 7-6 in his one season and increased the offensive output by 60 percent.

    The Oakland Raider job was an anomaly due to Al Davis, and Kiffin was proven correct about JaMarcus Russell after he was drafted first and used at quarterback, and then released on May 6, 2010.  While Kiffin’s 5-15 record was not great, it was better than the 2-14 record the previous year.

    He was paid $2 million per year by Tennessee and USC doubled his salary to $4 million.

    Kiffin’s tenure at USC shows that he is learning as a head coach and will only get better. 

3. Loves USC: Dream Job

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    Kiffin loves USC and his dream job as the head football coach. 

    He was a USC assistant coach from 2001-2006.  Pete Carroll had a special relationship with Monte Kiffin and that is likely the reason that he was hired. 

    USC enjoyed tremendous success during this time and Kiffin was a major contributor.

    This success led him to being hired as an NFL head coach so young. During the process of becoming the Tennessee Volunteers head coach he made it very clear that he would leave if offered the USC head coaching job.

    Of course, that is exactly what happened when Pete Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks head coaching position in the NFL in January 2010.

    The USC head football coach position has been identified as a top-five job.  The Trojans have a storied football program with 11 national championships since 1928, six Heisman Trophy winners and more NFL draftees and Hall of Famers than any other college.

    The USC administration knew Kiffin very well based on his six years as a Trojan assistant coach, and selected him for many of the same reasons detailed in this article.

    Kiffin and his staff are dedicated to getting USC back on the national championship track, and they will get it done sooner than most people expect.

2. Coaching Staff

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    An outstanding head coach must have an outstanding coaching staff.  The primary reason that Pete Carroll’s USC teams fell off in 2008 and 2009 was due to a loss of talented coaches (Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Steve Sarkisian).

    Lane Kiffin has assembled a very experienced coaching staff with both NFL and collegiate experience.  Many are former successful USC coaches.  They are excellent at recruiting, developing players and offensive and defensive schemes.

    Kiffin brought several outstanding coaches with him to USC.  They include Ed Orgeron (defensive/recruiting coordinator and defensive line), Monte Kiffin (assistant head coach and defense, James Cregg (offensive line) and Aaron Ausmus (strength and conditioning).

    Other coaches include John Baxter (associate head coach and special teams coordinator), Joe Barry (linebackers), Ted Gilmore (wide receivers), Kennedy Polamalu (offensive coordinator and running backs), Clay Helton (quarterbacks), Sammy Knight (safeties) and Justin Mesa (tight ends).

1. Recruiting

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    Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff led by recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron have done an outstanding job of recruiting in 2010 and 2011.  In spite of the worst sanctions since SMU, the Trojans enjoyed top-five recruiting classes both years.  

    The primary challenge for 2010 was keeping the top-ranked recruiting class together after Pete Carroll left and the harsh NCAA sanctions were announced in June 2010.  For the most part, this was done except for two signed athletes who were released after the surprising sanctions.

    The 2011 recruiting class focused on positions of greatest need and took full advantage of the USC appeal of NCAA sanctions to sign a class of 31 including eight early enrollees.  One athlete failed to qualify academically and was released and another decided to greyshirt after a season-ending injury.

    This top-four recruiting class has given the Trojans needed depth heading into three years of NCAA reductions to 15 annual and 75 total team scholarships.

    Ed Orgeron was named the 2011 Scout.com/FOXSports.com National Recruiter of the Year and ESPNU/ESPN The Magazine top recruiter in college football.

    The Trojans have a challenging 2012 recruiting class due to the NCAA limits and Kiffin has to be very selective.  However, there are three or four early enrollee slots that could help. 

    Currently there are 10 verbal commitments.  The positions of greatest need are the offensive and defensive lines and USC is positioned to do very well with a strong class in these positions.

    A top college head coach has to be a great recruiter and Kiffin is one of the best.

Conclusion

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    Lane Kiffin is an outstanding recruiter and has the most experience of any college football coach his age.  He was tremendously successful as an assistant coach at USC.

    He needs to demonstrate the ability to win as a head coach.

    The 2011 season is a pivotal point in his head coaching career. USC needs at least a 9-3 season to show improvement.

    While the team is very inexperienced in many positions, there is plenty of talent. However, it will take outstanding coaching to realize the potential of this team.

    A top-10 coach will be able to make this happen.

    USC fans are optimistic about the 2011 season, and expect an even better 2012.

    The next two seasons will show everyone why Lane Kiffin is a top-10 coach. 

    If Kiffin can pull off at least 20 wins in those seasons then perhaps those who believe this ranking is premature will rethink their position.