Lane Kiffin, a smart
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
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
Simers is counting his hits before
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,
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
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.