Kiffin to coach USC after 1 Vols season

Updated: January 13, 2010, 9:02 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Tennessee's Lane Kiffin has been named the next head coach at Southern California, athletic director Mike Garrett announced on Tuesday.

Kiffin replaces Pete Carroll, who jumped to the NFL as coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

"This was not an easy decision," he said Tuesday night, reading a brief statement on Tennessee's campus. "This is something that happens very quick. We've been here 14 months, and the support has been unbelievable here. I really believe the only place I would have left here to go was ... Southern California."

The hiring was first reported by ESPN.com.

"We are really excited to welcome Lane Kiffin back to USC," Garrett said in a statement. "I was able to watch him closely when he was an assistant with us and what I saw was a bright, creative young coach who I thought would make an excellent head coach here if the opportunity ever arose. I'm confident he and his staff will keep USC football performing at the high level that we expect."

Kiffin, the former Oakland Raiders coach, led the Volunteers for only one season.

Kiffin has been on the move of late. He was 7-6 in his one season at Tennessee and 5-15 in one-plus seasons with the Raiders before being fired in September 2008.

He was a member of the USC coaching staff from 2001 to '06, first as wide receivers coach and then as offensive coordinator under Carroll.

Kiffin's contract calls for him to pay a $800,000 buyout for leaving Tennessee after only one season.

"Those payments shall be made in monthly installments over a 36-month period," the contract reads. It was not immediately clear if USC would pay any of that sum.

Tennessee will now make a run at Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to replace Kiffin, a source close to the situation told ESPN.com's Chris Low late Tuesday. Texas has said that Muschamp will succeed Mack Brown as Longhorns head coach, but no timetable has been set for that transition. The source says that Muschamp is Tennessee's No. 1 target.

Meanwhile, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski that several members of Tennessee's Board of Trustees have contacted former Vols coach Phil Fulmer about the possibility of becoming either athletic director or even football coach, but not both. The same source says Fulmer was receptive to those inquiries.

Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton indicated on Wednesday that Fullmer is not a candidate, and the Board of Trustees issued a statement saying that approaching candidates is the responsibility of the AD.

For now, Tennessee wide receivers coach Kippy Brown, who joined Kiffin's staff less than four weeks ago, will be named interim coach. He had been given the opportunity to follow Kiffin to USC as well, sources told Low.

Meanwhile, sources close to the school told ESPN's Shelley Smith on Tuesday night that a deal is being worked on in hopes of bringing longtime offensive coordinator Norm Chow back to USC in the same capacity.

Chow's agent, Don Yee, said Wednesday afternoon there was contact initiated by a USC representative who expressed serious interest in Chow. Yee said the conversation was brief but both sides agreed to talk again in the near future. Yee was adamant there was no prior contact or negotiations with himself, Chow or with Carter Chow, an attorney with Yee's agency who is the son of the UCLA offensive coordinator.

The current UCLA offensive coordinator held that position with USC from 2001-04. He was also the coordinator at Brigham Young from 1973-99, at NC State in 2000 and with the Tennessee Titans from 2005-07.

Kiffin will bring his father and defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, and assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron to Southern California with him.

Orgeron was with the Trojans for seven seasons before becoming the head coach at Mississippi and then an assistant with the New Orleans Saints.

Lane and Monte Kiffin and Orgeron will hold a news conference on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET in the Heritage Hall Varsity Lounge at USC.

Some USC players were excited about the hiring of Kiffin.

"It's great news," starting quarterback Matt Barkley told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Steve Mason. "I remember meeting Kiff way back on the recruiting trail when I was a freshman in high school. I liked him when I met him. I like that he knows how to live and breathe the Trojan way."

Barkley, who was tapped by Carroll to start as a true freshman and helped lead the team to a 9-4 record and a victory in the Emerald Bowl on Dec. 26, also expressed relief that there will be stability in terms of offensive system.

"It's comforting to know that not a lot is going to change," Barkley said. "Kiff will have his own way of doing things, but I'm glad the offense isn't going to be a whole lot different."

Running back Marc Tyler is also on board.

"This is really good," he told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "Lane is great. He's got a lot of energy. I talked to him and coach [Steve] Sarkisian all the time when I was coming in. This is really good."

When told Orgeron was coming with Kiffin, he said, "Wow, Really? That's awesome too."

Garrett had been quiet about the hiring process until dropping this bombshell.

"Lane brings a lot to the table," Garrett said. "He has a coaching background both in the pros and in the best collegiate conferences. He has a great command of the X's and O's. He is familiar with the Trojan landscape and will be a great representative of our university. He keeps the game fun. And, very importantly, he has proven to be one of the finest recruiters anywhere."

The 34-year-old Kiffin is one of Carroll's top disciples from his nine-year tenure at USC. Kiffin, a former Fresno State quarterback, worked his way up to offensive coordinator in 2005 while also showing impressive recruiting skills.

For two seasons, he shared responsibility for the Trojans' offense with fellow longtime Carroll assistant Sarkisian, who left USC to take over at Washington after the 2008 season.

Although Kiffin's forceful personality didn't make him a beloved figure among players or administrators, he was a key part of the Trojans' best years under Carroll, coordinating their passing game and providing instruction to quarterbacks Matt Leinart and John David Booty.

Kiffin then became Al Davis' unusual choice to take over the Raiders as a 31-year-old coach with almost no NFL experience. He made it through just 20 games before an ugly public firing in which Davis called Kiffin a liar who brought "disgrace" on the Raiders.

Kiffin was the youngest head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season, but he also brought an unwelcome spotlight on the Vols with several minor NCAA violations.

"I know that I can walk out of here and say this, that we've been here for 14 months and there's not one day I didn't give everything I had to the Tennessee football program," Kiffin said. "We're leaving here 14 months later a lot better team than we were 14 months ago."

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Joe Robbins/Getty Images After only one season at Tennessee Lane Kiffin is headed to Southern California.

Knoxville fire officials and university police were on campus after Kiffin's announcement as students burned mattresses and gathered around the athletic department building in hopes of blocking Kiffin from leaving campus. It was not clear if Kiffin was still on campus at the time.

"I think the students have had kind of a violent reaction to that, and a lot of them are disheartened, upset and feel betrayed that less than a year in that he would be leaving and taking off," Knoxville Fire Department spokesman D.J. Corcoran said.

"The Rock," a giant boulder on campus where students often paint "Happy Birthday" messages, had obscenities directed toward Kiffin. Students tried to enter the room where Kiffin read his statement, holding a sign that read "Go home traitor. It's time," mimicking a campaign the university used to promote Kiffin when he was hired. But the students were turned back before Kiffin talked.

Kiffin certainly didn't sound ready to leave after Tennessee's season ended with a loss to Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, saying the Vols were "just getting started" -- but the Trojans didn't have a vacancy then.

Kiffin told his players about his abrupt departure moments before reading his statement.

"I want to thank coach Kiffin for his work with our program this past year," Hamilton said. "We have already begun a search for the new head football coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, and we'll complete this process as quickly as possible to put the right person in place to lead our great football program forward in the months and years ahead."

During Kiffin's tenure the Volunteers reported six minor NCAA violations ranging from mock news conferences for prospects to mentioning recruits by name on the radio and on his Twitter and Facebook accounts. Three freshman players were charged in an attempted robbery near campus, and the university recently confirmed that the NCAA is looking into the activities of members of the university's Orange Pride student ambassador program as possible recruiting violations.

Kiffin returns to USC with the school facing a years-long NCAA investigation over events during his tenure as an assistant, including Reggie Bush's final years at the school.

Kiffin was suggested as a candidate immediately after Carroll's departure became official Sunday, but many Trojans thought he wouldn't be willing or able to leave Tennessee after just one year. Several coaches with USC ties said they weren't interested in the job, including NFL coaches Jeff Fisher and Jack Del Rio and Oregon State coach Mike Riley.

Monte Kiffin will lend his defensive acumen to a school that annually fielded an impressive defense under Carroll, while Orgeron is likely to return to his role as the Trojans' best recruiter who helped stack Carroll's early USC teams with a dizzying array of topflight talent.

"Ed did a marvelous job during his previous time at USC, and we all know that Monte is a defensive guru," Garrett said. "I know Lane will fill out his staff with other outstanding assistants like them, ones who Trojan players and fans will really like."

When asked for a comment on Kiffin leaving rival Tennessee for USC, Florida coach Urban Meyer told ESPN.com Tuesday night, "No."

A Florida university undercover police officer, accompanying Meyer at the Florida-Kentucky game, said the coach would have no further comment on the matter.

Meyer was accompanied by his wife, Shelley, and watched the first half of the game in the tunnel area just off the court at the O'Connell Center floor. For most of the first half, Meyer was talking to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who also attended the game.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley summed up a nation when he simply said: "Surprised. I'm just surprised."

Chris Low covers the SEC for ESPN.com. Gene Wojciechowski is an ESPN.com senior national columnist. Information from ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

MORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL HEADLINES