Yeah, USC lost on Saturday, and yeah, the Trojans are 6-2 after being ranked No. 1 in the preseason, and yeah, they play the great threshing machine from Oregon this week, but that’s OK, Southern California is a laid-back place …
“It’s getting sickening to watch this team play because of Lane Kiffin,” says Marwan from Riverside, calling into the “Mason and Ireland Show” on KSPN radio.
“It’s like watching the Oakland Raiders, but with SC uniforms,” says Jay from Sherman Oaks.
And here’s D.J. from Garden Grove: “I like Lane, but if he’s going to hold onto Dad, let ‘em both go.”
Lane Kiffin seems molded by destiny to be the football coach at USC. He’s Cali-blond and handsome – Jon Gruden without the crazy eyes. He ran the Trojans offense in the Matt Leinart/Reggie Bush years. His abovementioned dad, Monte, coached the Tampa Bay defense to a Super Bowl win, and now coaches the USC defense for his son.
Lane Kiffin is the perfect USC coach. Except for two things.
Nobody really likes him.
And his career record in the NFL and college football is 36-30.
That 30th loss stung. USC got beat by Arizona on Saturday despite leading 28-13 late in the third quarter, and despite wideout Marqise Lee’s Pac-12 record 345 receiving yards. The Trojans had 13 penalties, five turnovers and two iffy coaching calls. On a fourth-and-two in the fourth quarter, they ran a reverse to Lee that got stuffed. And at the end, USC threw a deep incompletion that burned so much clock, the Trojans had to go straight to a Hail Mary instead of working their way toward a tying field goal.
So this week it’s Oregon, and let’s stop here for a brief comparison. USC lost to Arizona 39-36. Oregon beat Arizona 49-0.
Before the season started, USC fans were expecting this Oregon game to be for a slot in the national title game – part of an epic double feature on the same night as Alabama-LSU. USC was ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll. But the perfect season died in a loss to Stanford in September. Any hope at a championship dissolved in Arizona. Now USC is looking at a possible third loss on Saturday, and maybe a fourth to unbeaten Notre Dame in three weeks.
Somewhere in Knoxville, a Tennessee fan giggles.
Kiffin showed up at Tennessee three years ago and elbowed his way into the front of the SEC’s mindspace. His time in Knoxville reminds me of what my high-school geometry teacher used to say: It’s one thing to be wrong, but it’s another to be LOUD and wrong. Kiffin said Florida coach Urban Meyer cheated to get a recruit. It turned out Meyer didn’t cheat, and Kiffin had to apologize. He told another recruit, Alshon Jeffery, that he’d be pumping gas for the rest of his life if he went to South Carolina. Jeffery did go to South Carolina, and he’s now a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears.
Kiffin went 7-6 at Tennessee in 2009, but had fans all stirred up about the victories to come. Then, two weeks after the season, he took the USC job. Tennessee fans were not pleased. In Knoxville, they like to name things for UT football heroes – there’s a street near the stadium called Peyton Manning Pass. In that spirit, a Knoxville lawyer filed paperwork to put Kiffin’s name on a sewage treatment plant.
Somewhere in Oakland, Al Davis laughed.
Davis hired Kiffin as head coach of the Raiders in 2007, making him the youngest coach (31) of the NFL’s modern era. Davis was 77 at the time. You know how May-December romances tend to go. The Raiders went 4-12 first year, Davis tried to get Kiffin to quit, Kiffin refused, and Davis fired him after a 1-3 start in 2008. This led to one of the great press conferences in human history, when Davis broke out an overhead projector and read the letter he wrote to Kiffin documenting their problems.
Kiffin came out of that relatively undamaged for two reasons. One, Davis insisted on taking JaMarcus Russell with the first pick in the 2007 draft, and Russell turned into one of the biggest busts in NFL history. And two, nobody liked Al Davis either. (Davis died last year at 82.)
Let’s set the analysis mode to “gentle.” In Oakland, Kiffin worked for a terrible owner who made a horrendous draft pick. At Tennessee, he had started a turnaround when his dream job called. At USC, he’s dealing with probation from the Pete Carroll years. Because of the probation, this year’s Trojans have a 75-scholarship limit instead of the normal 85. Lack of depth shows in the second half, where USC faded in both its losses.
OK, now change the setting to “harsh.” Lane Kiffin is one of those Internet startups that seems to be worth a lot of money, but never seems to make any money. He’s got a good look and a good name, but that’s it. He’s lost twice this year with a team that includes QB Matt Barkley, WRs Lee and Robert Woods, and RB Silas Redd. A team with that much talent should never lose twice in a season, much less three or four times.
Plus (staying in “harsh” mode here), he’s still kind of a jerk. USA TODAY busted him this year for saying he wouldn’t vote the Trojans No. 1 in the coaches’ poll, when he already had. He tried to ban a reporter from covering the team after the reporter wrote about a player’s injury. Two weeks ago against Colorado, a player swapped jerseys to confuse the defense on a two-point try. This was in a game USC won 50-6.
The Trojans do lead the nation in one category: most penalties. Kiffin put together a tape of the team’s major penalties to show at practice this week. AP college football writer Ralph D. Russo joked that the tape was “longer than ‘Malcolm X.’”
“It’s no time to sit around and whine,” Kiffin said this week, talking about his team, but maybe also to all those fans ripping him on the radio. “I think very easily we could be 8-0.”
A lot of football teams, and football fans, say things like that. The ones who actually get there tend to have great coaches. Lane Kiffin is 36-30 with Oregon coming. Gentle or harsh, his record speaks.