With Kiffin canned, to whom does USC turn?

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Shortly after Arizona State had put the finishing touches on an yet another embarrassing loss for the storied USC football program, the questions surrounding the future of head coach Lane Kiffin once again surfaced. Less than three hours later, at 4:28 a.m. PT, the athletic department posted the following on its Twitter account:

“Breaking news: Lane Kiffin has been relieved of his duties as USC’s head football coach per AD Pat Haden.”

And with that, the Kiffin Era in Los Angeles came to a (merciful) end in an LAX parking lot.

Despite extremely punitive NCAA sanctions slapped on the program… despite very steadfast support from his athletic director… the physical act of canning the 38-year-old Kiffin was the easy part.  Beginning in 2012 and after being picked by many as the No. 1 team in the country heading into the new season, the admittedly undermanned Trojans have stumbled and tripped their way to a 10-8 record, including a 5-6 mark in Pac-12 play.  Oregon and Stanford have far surpassed USC in the Pac-12 football pecking order; perhaps more importantly, hated cross-town rival UCLA has done the same.

No, the hard part will be just who Pat Haden hires to replace the man hired by his predecessor.  Haden was tabbed by his alma mater in August of 2010 to replace Mike Garrett, and this will easily be the biggest hire the former Rhodes Scholar makes and will leave the most lasting impact on his résumé.

The good news for Haden specifically and the Trojan fan base in general is that USC still has a helluva lot to offer any potential Kiffin replacement.  From sparkling new facilities to well-heeled boosters to a fertile recruiting base to lasting brand name, USC remains one of the top jobs at the FBS level.

With just a couple of hours to digest the stunning (but yet not-so-stunning) news, here’s a quick-hit look at just whose name will be mentioned — realistically or not — as Kiffin’s replacement, knowing full well that the actual permanent successor likely won’t come from this initial pool of possibilities.

CHRIS PETERSEN
Regardless of how big of a pipe dream this may be, anyone and everyone knows full well that USC officials will back the Brinks truck up to the Broncos head coach’s door and dare him not to answer.  Prior to Kiffin’s hiring, Petersen was reportedly contacted by USC about their opening and rejected the overtures.  In December of 2011, Petersen reportedly rejected UCLA — for a second time — when they offered him $4 million annually at a time he was making just over $1.5 with the Broncos.  Petersen has had myriad opportunities to leave Boise, and has yet to take the financial bait.  Don’t expect him to do it this time, either.  Probably.

JACK DEL RIO
The former USC All-American’s name is already being bandied about as perhaps the top candidate to replace Kiffin.  Currently the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, Del Rio was also mentioned as a possibility to replace Pete Carroll.  Del Rio has never been a coach — head, assistant or otherwise — at the collegiate level and it would be stunning if the Trojans went in this direction.  Speaking of which…

JEFF FISHER
Another former USC All-American, Fisher’s name, as expected, surfaced (again) earlier this month even before Kiffin was officially booted in an LAX parking lot.  Like Del Rio, Fisher has never been a coach at the collegiate level.  Would Fisher give up a head coaching job in the NFL to return home and rescue his college program?  Don’t look for USC to even give him an opportunity to make such a choice despite a segment of the fan base that would love to see it happen.

JAMES FRANKLIN
Four names in, and this might be the most realistic and viable option.  While Franklin has very few ties to the West Coast — one year at Washington State (1998) and one at Idaho State (1999) — he’s one of the best young head coaches in the game and turned Vanderbilt into a competitive football program in the best football conference in the country, no small feat that won’t go unnoticed by those at this level looking for a new coach.  Franklin is one of the top recruiters in the game, and has done well on that battlefield in the SEC; one could imagine what he would do on the fertile California recruiting grounds with “less-intense” competition plus his ties in that arena to the South.

STEVE SARKISIAN
Sarkisian is just 30-25 in his four-plus years at Washington, but he has the Huskies undefeated and ranked (at the moment) No. 16 in the country.  He was a USC assistant for seven of the eight years prior to his hiring by UW and grew up in Torrance, Calif., less than an hour’s drive to Los Angeles.  It would be beyond surprising if Haden didn’t at least reach out to Sarkisian let alone not make a full-blown effort to land him.

GREG ROMAN
Roman was the offensive coordinator at Stanford for two seasons before following Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers.  He has previously been linked to openings at Cal and Penn State.  With the success Harbaugh had in the Pac-12, and with Roman playing a role in it, this could be a direction in which Haden turns.  Keep an eye on this name.

KIRBY SMART
As far as coordinators, it wouldn’t take long to call roll on those more respected than Alabama’s defensive (co-) boss.  He’s had numerous opportunities to leave Nick Saban’s side the past couple of years but has remained in Tuscaloosa as the situation simply wasn’t right.  Smart’s entire coaching career has been east of the Mississippi; would the bright lights of LA scare him off if the Trojans came knocking?

CHAD MORRIS
If Haden is looking to go outside the box, you wouldn’t get much further out than this.  Not only has the Clemson offensive coordinator never been a head coach at the collegiate level, he didn’t take his first college job until 2010 at the age of 42 after a highly successful run as a high school coach in Texas.  Despite that lack of experience, Morris is one of the brightest and most respected offensive minds in college football — Urban Meyer tried to lure him to Ohio State upon his hiring — and has turned the Tigers’ offense into one of the nation’s best.  With college football leaning more and more toward up-tempo offense, especially in the Pac-12, kicking the tires on Morris might make sense on some level.

Mike Riley
USC’s offensive coordinator from 1993-96, the 60-year old Riley has spent the past 11 seasons as the head coach at Oregon State.  While it would seem unlikely that a coach of his age would make a move, he did reply “you never know” when the Los Angeles Daily News asked a couple of years ago about a potential return to the Trojans.  That same paper is already listing Riley as a possibility, although that would be hard to see becoming a viable option if for nothing more than the age factor.

KEVIN SUMLIN
I’m not saying USC will reach out to the Texas A&M head coach, but I’m saying they damn well should.  And they’d better do it before the NFL gets its hooks into one of the brightest coaches at the FBS level.  It won’t be easy for anyone to pry Sumlin out of College Station, though, as A&M officials will rightly do anything and everything to blunt even flirtatious overtures let alone full-blown pursuits.  It wouldn’t seem like Sumlin would leave an SEC job to plow new ground out west, but stranger things have happened.

DAVID SHAW
See above.  The Stanford head coach’s name has already been mentioned as longshot possibility, although it seems more likely that he would leave The Farm for the NFL rather than another college job.

JON GRUDEN
In accordance with federal and state regulations, we’re required to include Chucky on any and all lists related to major head-coaching vacancies.  Seeing as his wife was not a cheerleader at USC, though, we highly doubt this one has a torso much less legs.

New contract for Florida-Georgia game finally set for approval by city of Jacksonville

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Crossing a few t’s and dotting a few i’s appear to be all that is left to be done on a new contract for one of the most well-known neutral site rivalry games in the country.

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, a contract has been sent to the city for approval of a new five-year deal in the annual contest between Florida and Georgia. Terms of the agreement were actually agreed to by both schools last year but it is just now making its way to the city for the final signature.

Each side is set to receive as much as $2.75 million in incentives over the next five years for the series, which takes place annually in Jacksonville at the Jaguars’ home field, Everbank Field. The Gators and Bulldogs are expected to get a $125,000 payment once the contract makes its way through the city bureaucracy and a further $250,000 in guaranteed money each year through 2021.

Also interesting to note that both schools are also getting an increase in their travel budget in the form of a nice $10,000 bump over the amount from previous agreements. The city also covers Georgia’s air travel costs up to $350,000 each year per the Business Journal.

The series, colloquially known as the World’s Largest Cocktail Party, takes place annually in Jacksonville between the two SEC East rivals and often decides the division. Florida has won three straight in the rivalry with the next edition set to take place on Saturday, October 28, 2017.

Next up on Jim Harbaugh’s world tour? An overseas football game and South Africa

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Jim Harbaugh and Michigan recently wrapped up most of their activities in Italy over the weekend and it appears the grand world tour will continue in the coming years for the Wolverines.

Next up on the travel docket? Apparently it’s South Africa.

“We’ll get together as a team and decide, but I’d really like to go to Cape Town or Johannesburg,” Harbaugh told MLive.com in Rome. “One of those two.”

A trip to Brazil is reportedly under consideration as well. Given how the current trip has already ruffled some feathers across college athletics though, one wonders if the NCAA will move to prevent such trips before Michigan has a chance to go abroad once again in 2018 though.

Either way, one interesting tidbit Harbaugh mentioned was how neat it would be to play an actual college football game overseas at some point in the future, especially one in Italy. We’ve already seen Cal, Hawaii, Stanford and Rice schedule games in Australia so it’s not exactly out of the realm of possibilities that exporting Harbaugh’s game day tactics across the pond happens in the coming seasons.

Safe to say that Michigan fans better make sure their passports are up to date as a result of this week’s festivities over in Italy because the Wolverines show no signs of slowing down with the globetrotting.

After 2017 NFL Draft, Florida State assistant takes Orange Bowl shot at Michigan

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One of the big winners on the college football front when it came to the 2017 NFL Draft was Michigan. Jim Harbaugh‘s team had a draft-high 11 players taken by NFL teams and several more Wolverines signed as undrafted free agents.

While that’s an large number, it seems not everybody was all that impressed and no we’re not even counting Ohio State fans.

Florida State assistant and former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster is never afraid to mix things up on social media and unleashed this dig at Michigan after the draft on Saturday.

The coach is of course making a not so subtle reference to the Seminoles victory over the Wolverines in the Orange Bowl last season. It’s not a bad shot by any means but a little funny considering how many draft picks FSU regularly produces each year and how much that is a part of their recruiting pitch.

Harbaugh is still in Italy at the moment so perhaps he wasn’t aware of what Brewster sent on Saturday night. As a result, perhaps we should brace for a response from Ann Arbor in the coming days because we all know Big Blue’s coach loves to have the last word.

Former Baylor athletic director denies mishandling sexual assault claim, says he told Art Briles

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Baylor’s sprawling sexual assault scandal is increasingly starting to make its way through the court system and one major trial is already forcing several former school officials to defend themselves in their handling of the matter.

Ex-Bears athletic director Ian McCaw, who now holds the same position at FCS program Liberty, made a court filing in one such case on Friday according to the Associated Press. Not surprisingly, McCaw claimed that he properly handled the case of former player Tevin Elliott, who was convicted in 2014 of raping a woman and is currently behind bars.

McCaw told the court that upon learning of the allegations in one specific case at the time, he told then-head coach Art Briles about the matter and Elliott was subsequently suspended from the football team.

While Elliott was convicted on criminal grounds, former student Jasmin Hernandez has sued Baylor by accusing the university of violating Title IX as a result of keeping Elliott around despite multiple rape claims against him. It is one of several cases set to take place over the coming years in a scandal that led to the departures of McCaw, Briles and school president Ken Starr.