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Lane Kiffin, a smart choice
Rich Linde, 16 January 2010

I know...everybody is dumping on Lane Kiffin, newly hired coach at USC. And I know he carries some baggage: his acrimonious parting of the ways with Al Davis, some secondary NCAA violations at Tennessee, and foot-in-the-mouth disease, having called Urban Meyer a cheat -- for which he had to apologize. 

From what I'm reading, I should be overjoyed by Mike Garrett's selection since I'm a Washington fan.

But in the interest of fairness...I'll take the other side.

I've been around the block a time or two, and I've seen this script before, in what could be an ensuing bloodbath played out over at USC unless Kiffin wins every game.

That will be his bogey to meet, as unfair as it is. For his sake, I hope I'm tilting at windmills.

With this ground rule in play, the most important aspect of Kiffin's hiring is that he views the USC job as the best in the country.

Not everybody does.

Mike Garrett was smart to hire him quickly, given the uncertainty of the NCAA sanctions USC faces. More glitzy coaches would have -- for that reason -- nixed Garrett's overtures, and as he wiped their glamorous names from his whiteboard one by one, the cacophony over at the Los Angeles Times, ever increasing in volume with each erasure, was as predictable as Conquest.

Last year, the Husky nation heard that negative drumbeat from the local Cougar rag as Scott Woodward erased his blackboard during the search for his new coach. His eventual hire, Steve Sarkisian, was met with derision by many, even though he was following a coach who had gone zip-for-twelve the year before. I mean, anyone would have been better.

All Sark had to do was win five games this season to quiet his critics.

The prospect of following a legend, Pete Carroll, is another matter. Think Gene Bartow, John Wooden's successor. I remember Bartow at his going-away party blaming the LA Times Sports Viewpoint for turning public opinion against him, even though he had a final-four trip on his two-year-old Bruin résumé, albeit a losing one. (Click on the link above to read my letter appearing in today's Times).

Kiffin is young enough, brash enough, and confident enough not to reflect on such a comparison, and will forge straight ahead regardless of the constant fusillade of negativity sure to accompany any loss his Trojans suffer on the gridiron. Pete Carroll would have beaten them, will be the hue and cry.

Kiffin will need Garrett to ride shotgun for him, though, and for him to fire back at the Lane loathers:  (1) a whole cadre of desperate Bruin alums who now, or will, smell blood; and (2) hungry columnists at the LA Times, such as T. J. Simers and Bill Plaschke, who already sense stories that have legs.

"I'm telling you if I was giving any thought to retirement down the road, no sir, sign me up for as long as possible. I might even learn how to twitter... Only way Garrett could have topped this would have been by hiring Jerry Tarkanian to take over the basketball program or work as compliance officer," Simers writes in his column today.

Simers is counting his hits before they happen.

And then there are the eastern mafia; who are they? Reference my article, "In defense of the Pac-10."

If the USC football program should collapse, it would hurt the whole conference, not only in its perception, but by the decreased revenues the Trojans would be putting in everybody's coffers.

Young Kiffin and Ed Orgeron, a recruiting wizard, give the Trojans a fighting shot at staying afloat if the NCAA should laden them with sanctions. The wily Garrett knew that, and he struck a deal with them while the iron was still hot.

Both Kiffin and Orgeron know the system at USC, Kiffin having worked with the offense for five years under Carroll, and Orgeron for two years as his assistant-head coach. It's not like they are going to convert Matt Barkley into a spread-option quarterback.

Kiffin will need to stay in the fast lane to keep ahead of his critics, who will stop at nothing to derail his express. It's the name of the game, and it will be a gory one. The battle lines have already been drawn.

Richard Linde can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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