By Tim Peterson
My first thought when USC announced the hiring of Lane Kiffin last week was why didn’t Matt Koffler get the job? But after coming to my senses and realizing that Koffler would never leave Rosemead for the Trojans my second thought was why did they hire this guy?
Kiffin had a 5-15 record as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders and was only 7-6 in one year as a college coach with the Tennessee Volunteers. He made more enemies than friends at both stops and certainly at the age of 34 was too young and inexperienced to lead a top program like USC.
USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett was obviously looking at the success Kiffin had previously as an assistant with the Trojans under Pete Carroll. When he served as an offensive coordinator along with current University of Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian, USC produced three Heisman Trophy winners, and two National Championships in an incredible run.
But it appeared Garrett rushed into the decision. With signing day only a few weeks away Garrett needed a coach and he needed one now. Mike Riley wasn’t available after a signing an extension with Oregon State. Former Trojan Jack Del Rio decided to stay with the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL and other big name coaches like Jon Gruden and Steve Mariucci weren’t interested.
So Garrett turned to Kiffin. Wasn’t this a desperate move by a desperate AD? Garrett said he had observed Kiffin when he was at USC and was convinced that he would one day be a successful head coach. But it appeared that Kiffin was hired because he was the only one that would take the job.
But when you think about it Kiffin is familiar with the system. He will still run the same pro style offense that the Trojans have run for years. He’s more familiar with the Trojans playbook than any other current coach except maybe Sarkisian. And most importantly he’s familiar with the local high school talent.
What made Carroll so successful was his ability to recruit. He always seemed to be one step ahead of the other coaches and usually landed the prize player. Sure he was good with the Xs and Os but most college coaches are. But good recruiting is the road to success and Carroll traveled it well.
Kiffin is familiar with that process. He learned from Carroll. He learned what works and what doesn’t. He learned how to sell the university. In college if you don’t have the players you don’t have much. Good coaching can only get you so far. It’s the talent that gets you over the top.
Kiffin not only learned from Carroll he was part of the process. He has already sat in a lot of living rooms speaking to parents and players about USC. Most of the top high school players in Southern California already know Kiffin. Quarterback Matt Barkley was thrilled that Kiffin was hired.
With Kiffin there, the Trojans will look the same. Except Kiffin will be the one jumping up and down on the sidelines after a touchdown instead of Carroll.
After Carroll announced he was leaving for Seattle, USC was worried about losing recruits. But since Kiffin was hired, Kyle Prater, the top receiver and number 3 overall high school player in the country, reaffirmed his commitment to enroll at USC. Jesse Scroggins, a quarterback prospect from Lakewood High, confirmed his pledge to USC.
Also the chances of landing offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson from St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Today’s Offensive Player of the Year, have improved since Kiffin took the job.
With Ed Orgeron, recruiting extraordinaire, joining Kiffin’s staff, recruiting won’t drop off at all.
So yes, Lane Kiffin is young and brash and no his win-loss record isn’t spotless. A lot of USC fans weren’t happy with the hire. But doesn’t that sound strangely familiar? Isn’t that what people were saying about a guy named Carroll nine years ago?
That’s my principle.
Tim can be reached at email@example.com.