Commentary

USC latest proving ground for Kiffin

Originally Published: January 12, 2010
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

At this rate, Lane Kiffin is an 8-5 season at USC away from a $50 million contract to coach Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Seriously, why not? Why wouldn't he just keep rising up the coaching ranks on the basis of nothing much at all? If a 31-year-old with no head-coaching experience can get the Oakland Raiders job, and a guy who got fired from that job after losing 15 of 20 games can get the Tennessee job, and a guy who went 7-6 in a reckless first season in Knoxville can get the USC job … is there any rung of the sport to which Kiffin cannot climb?

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireLane Kiffin coached the Raiders to a 5-15 record in his short tenure in Oakland.

I mean, what if he actually does something impressive as a coach? Win a conference title and they might just fast-track him into the Hall of Fame.

Paris Hilton has paid more dues than Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin comes across as a guy who was born on third base and acts as if he hit a triple -- but given the way people have thrown good jobs and big money at him, it's hard to blame him for thinking he's the next Knute Rockne.

USC is the latest enabler. Perhaps feeling the flutter of desperation after reportedly being stiff-armed by Mike Riley, Jack Del Rio, Jeff Fisher and Steve Sarkisian, the school had to go to someone it knew would say yes -- especially if that someone has ties to the Pete Carroll glory days.

Kiffin is that guy. His jilting of Tennessee and all the players he and his Orange Pride hostesses sweet-talked into becoming Volunteers is distasteful. The school gave him a big break, and he broke athletic director Mike Hamilton's ankles sprinting out of town in just over a year. Once again, loyalty is for suckers in the realm of college coaching.

That said, Kiffin is taking a better job.

Who wouldn't prefer coaching the flagship school in the Pacific-10 to coaching what is no better than the fourth- or fifth-best program in the murderous SEC? Who wouldn't prefer the recruiting backyard of Southern California to East Tennessee? Who wouldn't prefer the beach to the boonies?

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Kim Klement/US PresswireLane Kiffin coached the Vols to a 7-6 record in his one season at Tennessee.

But just because Kiffin might want the USC job doesn't mean USC is beholden to give it to him. What's to love about Lane?

His career head-coaching record is 12-21.

He's already 0-1 against USC's biggest rival, UCLA.

His signature win was a loss -- a two-point defeat at eventual national champion Alabama. Other than that, the best thing the Volunteers did in 2009 was thumping the worst Georgia team in a decade.

His team was de-pantsed in the Chick-fil-A Bowl by Virginia Tech, and de-pantsed in Oxford by an underachieving Mississippi.

And that's just the on-field stuff. Off the field is where he's really raised doubts, and raised the ire of SEC commissioner Mike Slive. Kiffin has specialized in stupidity.

He knows the periodic table of the elements better than the NCAA rule manual -- that much became obvious after erroneously accusing Florida's Urban Meyer of cheating, and the string of secondary violations the Volunteers committed on his watch. Blithely commenting that he takes NCAA enforcement scrutiny of his program as "a compliment" only reinforced the notion that the guy doesn't get it when it comes to compliance.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Kirby Lee/US PresswireLane Kiffin was a member of Pete Carroll's USC staff from 2001-06.

Which, when it comes to USC, would seemingly be a concern. The school has a date next month with the NCAA Committee on Infractions to answer allegations of violations in both the football and men's basketball programs. Think the committee will be impressed by USC's new commitment to piety by trotting out Lane Kiffin?

So there is a lot to question about this hire, and about the meteoric rise of mediocre Lane Kiffin. But who knows? Maybe this will be where he actually earns his station.

Kiffin is quickly assembling another all-star coaching staff, which was his signature achievement at Tennessee. He's bringing dad Monte as his defensive coordinator and Ed Orgeron as his recruiting coordinator, plus possibly adding former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow to the ensemble.

And Kiffin knows the turf. He was recruiting coordinator there before, when the Trojans were signing a constellation of stars on an annual basis. He should be able to sign plenty of A-list talent.

Plus, it's USC. Even if the program gets slapped by the NCAA -- which might have factored into Carroll's leaving, and rejections from other candidates -- it will not stay down for long.

Actually, it won't stay down for long if Lane Kiffin is the right guy. Maybe this time he'll stay in one place long enough to determine whether he can actually coach.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.