I am stunned to the core by the news that USC has hired Lane Kiffin to be its head coach.
There are many reasons to feel this way. Most of the them are probably not obvious to those who have read this site for a while.
I’ve long warned the college football world about Kiffin. I did all I could to let athletic directors know what they were getting into when dealing with him. I predicted he would not be long for Knoxville. True to form, he has done that rare thing for a college football coach–a one and done season. Now, Tennessee is left to clean up the chaos he has created. I only wish Tennessee had listened. I am truly sorry for what has transpired there (but look on the bright side, Vol fans, you already got rid of the guy before he did too much damage).
But my criticism of this move by USC doesn’t touch upon the horrible football decision that has been made. It doesn’t touch upon his failings as a head football coach or his lack of qualifications for a prestigious job like USC’s. It doesn’t even touch upon his shoddy interpersonal skills, his numerous closeted skeletons that have yet to emerge or his unjustified rise through the coaching ranks that has been aided and abetted by his father, Monte Kiffin, and his godfather, Pete Carroll, with a speed akin to the efficient workings of a political dynasty named Bush.
No, this is all about the monumentally foolish decision taken by the USC powers-that-be to put their flagship program–with all its tradition and history–at risk.
There sits on the desk of the USC general counsel’s office a letter from the NCAA. In this letter is spelled out the charges that have been made by the NCAA against USC athletics, specifically the football and basketball programs. Believe it or not, my understanding is that the Reggie Bush part of the probe is not as prominent as the media has been touting (keep in mind the letter has come before the pending deposition). However, the letter does contain several allegations of violations that by themselves are not that major, but when added together form a solid case for a lack of institutional control on the part of USC.
USC has responded to these charges with a giant, multi-hundred page rebuttal. In February, another meeting will be held by the NCAA to determine the punishment. Most likely, some sort of probation will come in or around April.
So, with the NCAA on the warpath, USC is about to take a big hit. No one knows the extent of the penalties just yet, but the penalties are coming for sure.
The USC university administration is, as a result, livid at Carroll and his boss, athletic director Mike Garrett, for their lax enforcement of NCAA standards. Surely, then, one would think that with Carroll on his way out, the correct signal to the NCAA would be to hire a coach who has a clean reputation, who would run a tight ship. An act of contrition, perhaps, to show that the message has been received and that the school has taken steps to regain institutional control.
Somehow, someway, Kiffin was able to convince USC that he was that guy. But the reality is that by hiring Kiffin, USC is sticking a fat middle finger in the face of the NCAA, the media and its fellow institutions. With probation pending, it has hired as its coach a man who is a walking, talking, living, breathing NCAA violation. Need we recount the numerous embarassments in which Kiffin has been embroiled during his short tenure in Knoxville? Need we recall that some of the current allegations levied against USC occurred while Kiffin was on Carroll’s original staff? USC might as well have invited a permanent microscope upon itself at a time when it should be battening down the hatches and fixing its issues. Rather than making a clean break from the anything-goes Carroll Era, it has chose to continue it.
For every violation you hear about in college athletics, there are 10 that never make the light of day. Count on this: The NCAA and the media will be on Kiffin like white on rice, waiting to pounce at every misstep. All it takes is one player, agent, booster or runner to spill the beans regarding a past, present or future impropriety, or one coach to tell a reporter about some recruiting trail rumor, and more investigations will ensue. One more major violation could result in even harsher penalties–even the death penalty. Who is to say that there isn’t another shoe waiting to drop? By hiring an all-star staff led by a head man who hasn’t shown he can walk straight–and whose arrogance practically begs for scrutiny– the circus that is USC football’s program is guaranteed to keep going. That’s something no school on probation should welcome. The school is making a breathtaking gamble by hiring Kiffin.
Had the announcement been concurrent with a move to hire more NCAA compliance people–USC has just four on staff to oversee 19 sports (compared with its eight equipment guys and five video staffers, for example)–then maybe we could acknowledge a serious move on its part to instill some discipline in a department that has been under the pall of investigation for the latter half of this decade.
But that didn’t happen. USC did, however, move some other major mountains to get this thing done. Los Angeles Lakers owner and Trojan alum Jerry Buss stepped to the plate and paid for the Kiffin buy out from Tennessee. Public Storage owner Wayne Hughes provided much of the cash for the incredible staff that is coming with Kiffin to Los Angeles. They should’ve kept their money and demanded that USC do the right thing. Instead, they might have helped sew the seeds of their team’s demise.
We haven’t even touched upon the wisdom of this decision from a football standpoint, nor the crassness of Kiffin’s sudden abandonment of Tennesseee. On the surface, the staff being assembled at USC is remarkable. But it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Would the Beatles have been the Beatles again if they reunited in 1977? Getting the various egos involved to mesh together will be a challenge and it doesn’t seem like a task that the prickly Kiffin is up to. Without a doubt, the recruiting classes will be sick and maybe unprecedented, but let’s not forget that the 2007 USC team was perhaps the most talented of the BCS era (as it pertains to NFL talent) but found a way to lose to a 41-point underdog in Stanford. Talent doesn’t guarantee titles and, anyway, what does it matter if the titles are vacated years later?
Maybe the hiring of Lane Kiffin as USC head coach will indeed be a triumph of hope over experience. Maybe he will run a clean program, having learned his lesson in his time at Tennessee. Maybe the overwhelming recruiting classes preparing to arrive at USC won’t invite jealous recriminations by conference or national rivals. Maybe the media will buy hook, line and sinker, that Kiffin has decided to fly straight and that the Trojans are doing everything by the book.
Or, maybe not. In that case, USC will have hell to pay for perhaps the worst head coaching hire since Gerry Faust catapulted from Cincinnati’s Moeller High to the University of Notre Dame.
Oh, by the way, the L.A. Daily News reported that a source said “He (Kiffin) will do everything that Pete (Carroll) did and continue all the traditions and practice the same way.”
And therein lies the problem.