Within an hour of Lane Kiffin’s shocking announcement that he’s leaving Tennessee to return to Southern Cal, Scott Wolf of the LA Daily News announced that assistant coach Ed Orgeron was already working in Heritage Hall, likely chasing down Trojan recruits that were waving in the wind. Meanwhile, across the country WATE-TV in Knoxville reports that Oregeron was heard using the phones at UT to call committed recruits, offering them scholarships to USC before the deal to head to Southern Cal was even finished.
And so goes Lane Kiffin’s roller-coaster career. The youngest coach in major college football just got handed the keys to one of the nation’s premiere football programs, with his resume’s main bullet points being:
* Fired after 20 game and being called a “flat-out liar” by Raiders owner Al Davis.
* Committing six NCAA violations while going 7-6 in one season at Tennessee.
* Father is best friends with Pete Carroll.
Word began spreading at the AFCA Convention after Kiffin was seen huddling with his agents after sprinting out of an SEC meeting. A few short hours later, Kiffin’s contract with Southern Cal was complete. His hasty departure was met by widespread outrage in Knoxville, where students burned mattresses and swarmed the athletic department’s building, hoping to block Kiffin’s departure from campus. They also took to “The Rock,” a famed boulder on campus where students paint messages, filling it with disparaging comments and vulgar expletives as a sendoff to their departing coach.
Kiffin will be announced as the new head coach at a press conference tomorrow at Heritage Hall, introduced by athletic director Mike Garrett, along with his father and defensive coordinator, legendary NFL coach Monty Kiffin, and defensive line coach, recruiting dynamo Ed Orgeron. It’s been reported that the trio will be joined by current UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow, which would be the closest replica to the Trojans glory days as possible.
The hiring might be the best tonic to relieve Trojans’ fans worries and to stop the short-term bleeding that came with Pete Carroll’s surprising decision to go to the NFL less than a month before National Signing Day. Predictably, players were ecstatic about the news of Kiffin’s return to Southern Cal.
“It’s great news,” starting quarterback Matt Barkley said. “I remember meeting Kiff way back on the recruiting trail when I was a freshman.”
“This is really good,” running back Mark Tyler said. “I talked to him and Sark all the time when I was coming in. This is really good.”
Recruits will see coaches familiar with the inner-workings of theTrojan dynasty, hand-picked by Carroll as his protege when he came toUSC in 2001. Kiffin’s staff — led by the hard-charging Orgeron — will put a full court press on the fourteen committed recruits, and likely will gun just as hard after many of the top-flight recruits that Tennessee already has committed.
While the short-term might have everybody happy, the Trojans find themselves with a coach long on bluster and short on results. If the goal of hiring a Carroll disciple was the goal, then the search party found what they wanted. But make no mistake, a Beatles cover band isn’t the Beatles.
Kiffin may be good enough to save a recruiting staff, but eventually he’ll have to live up to the standard Pete Carroll set. Even worse, the decision to hire Kiffin is a slap in the face of the NCAA, an organization that finally weaved its way through four-years of roadblocks and wrong-turns on its quest to get to the truth behind USC’s sporting empire. Will the NCAA look at Kiffin’s hiring — the most rogue coach in college football — as a big F you?
We already know that Mike Garrett missed on his first targets — Mike Riley, Jack Del Rio, and probably a few others. The first time that happened, it netted him NFL castoff Pete Carroll and nine years of college football supremacy. Now he’s hoping to re-engineer those results, hoping Carroll’s former assistants will reach the same heights as their former leader.
While the decision might have been the perfect one to weather the current recruiting storm, it’s also spitting in the face of the organization that controls USC’s ability to survive. While the hiring of Kiffin and company might end up winning the Trojans the first Wednesday in February, they might have sealed their fate with the NCAA.