Lane Kiffin

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.

Jim Harbaugh fires his Twitter cannon in the direction of Nick Saban and Alabama

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh speaks at a press conference during the NCAA college football team's annual media day in Ann Arbor, Mich. Jim Harbaugh has come up with another way to get in the spotlight. Michigan announced Friday, Feb. 19, 2016,  its spring football game will be at night for the first time on April 1. (AP Photo/Tony Ding, File)
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Earlier today Nick Saban went on a lengthy rant against satellite camps, arguing them as some great evil that his program has nonetheless voluntarily participated in, despite winning four national championships without holding a single one of them.

Toward the end, Saban envoked Jim Harbaugh‘s name, saying:

“I’m not blaming Jim HarbaughI’m not saying anything about it. I’m just saying it’s bad for college football. Jim Harbaugh can do anything he wants to do. I’m not saying anything bad about him, if he thinks that’s what’s best. There needs to be somebody who looks out for what’s best for the game, not what’s best for the Big Ten or not what’s best for the SEC or not what’s best for Jim Harbaugh, but what’s best for the college football. The integrity of the game. The coaches, the players and the people that play it. That’s bigger than all of this. That’s what somebody should do. Now, who is doing that? I don’t know because right now since we have the Power 5, everybody is politicking for what they want for their conference. That’s why I said there needs to be a college football commissioner.”

Saying Harbaugh’s name is the college football equivalent in stepping in a cobra’s nest. One minute you’re walking unabated, the next there are fangs inside your skin and venom in your bloodstream.

To wit, Harbaugh fired this missive after being alerted to Saban’s comments.

It is worth noting Saban had to fire defensive line coach Bo Davis for NCAA recruiting violations.

Far be it for me to speak for Harbaugh, but here’s something else that would be “amazing” — Alabama and Michigan meeting in a College Football Playoff game this winter.

Auburn RB Roc Thomas officially granted release, Jax State bound

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 6: Running back Roc Thomas #9 of the Auburn Tigers runs the ball in for a touchdown as offensive linesman Jordan Diamond #76 of the Auburn Tigers blocks safety Forrest Hightower #12 of the San Jose State Spartans on September 6, 2014 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. Auburn defeated San Jose State 59-13.  (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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Auburn running back Roc Thomas will transfer, head coach Gus Malzahn announced Tuesday.

“Roc Thomas has asked for his release from Auburn and I have granted his request. We wish him nothing but the best moving forward,” Malzahn said in a statement.

Reports bubbled last week the former five-star running back would head to Jacksonville State, and this all but confirms them.

 A rising junior out of Oxford, Ala., Thomas garnered starts against Georgia and Alabama as a true freshman but finished the 2015 season fourth among Tigers running backs with 43 carries for 261 yards and one touchdown. He also caught 11 passes for 200 yards and a score.

Peyton Barber, first on the club with 237 carries a year ago, left for the NFL, but with spring ball now complete it appears Thomas did not like his chances for wrestling carries away from Jovon Robinson or Kerryon Johnson.

Report: Big 12 expansion, TV network on hold for 2016

Bob Bowlsby
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Thirty-five media members are expected to descend upon suburban Dallas this week for the annual gathering of Big 12 presidents and chancellors — more than three times the average number — and not because they’re excited to see whether Baker Mayfield gets another year of eligibility. Expansion is the first word off the lips everywhere from Provo to Storrs with numerous stops in between, but a report Tuesday said all these digital trees slain in devotion to the subject will die in vain.

According to Chip Brown of Horns Digest, the issue has already been decided and the Big 12 will stand pat — both on the membership and television network fronts — for 2016.

Brown writes:

“The bottom line is there is no consensus on any non-Power Five candidates to add, and the league’s primary TV partners – ESPN and Fox – aren’t exactly knocking down doors right now to start a conference network, the sources told HD.”

If the presidents haven’t even broken their proverbial bread yet, how could the issue already be decided? With 10 schools, only three are needed to block any movement, and Texas, TCU and Texas Tech were said to be against expansion heading into the meetings.

It’s also possible this report is a trial balloon of sorts, a shot across the bow at a specific group of people in the meeting room.

The only area change could happen, according to Brown, would be to add a championship game. The conference won the right to hold a title game without expanding during the NCAA Convention in January.

A conference championship game is believed to be worth an extra $2-3 million per year per school in television money.

Nick Saban calls satellite camps “the Wild, Wild West” in lengthy rant

Alabama football coach Nick Saban talks with the media, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/AL.com, Vasha Hunt)
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Nick Saban‘s program will partake in satellite camps this summer.

Nick Saban hates satellite camps.

Alabama and its four national championships have done just fine without satellite camps, so it’s perfectly understandable why its head coach would find no use for them. It’s also understandable on a personal level, as coaches will now spend hundreds of hours more work in preparation of signing the same amount of players.

Saban expanded on those thoughts during the SEC’s spring meetings on Tuesday:

“What’s amazing to me is somebody didn’t stand up and say there’s going to be the unintended consequences of what you all are doing,” Saban said, via SEC Country.

He continued: “Anybody can have a camp now. If they have a prospect, they can have a camp and then you’re expected to go to that camp and then they can use you to promote their camp because Ohio State is coming, Alabama is coming, whoever else is coming. Somebody sponsors a camp, they pay them the money. What do they do with the money? And who makes sure the kid paid to go to the camp? I mean, this is the Wild Wild West at its best. There’s been no specific guidelines relative to how we’re managing and controlling this stuff. It’s happening outside our normal evaluation window, which means we’re taking time away from our players.

“Our players come back to school today. We start working and making sure that our players are doing the right things with our strength and conditioning coaches, our academic people, with the limited number of meetings that we’re allowed to have with them. We’re not going to be there because we’re going to be going someplace else to look at some other guy.”

He continued again: “All you’re doing is allowing all these other people that we spend all of our time at the NCAA saying, you can’t recruit through a third party. You can’t be involved with third-party people and that’s exactly what you’re doing, creating all these third parties that are going to get involved with the prospects and all that. And who gets exposed on that? I go to a camp and I’m talking to some guy I don’t know from Adam’s house cat and he’s representing some kid because he put the camp on, and then I’m in trouble for talking to this guy? And who even knows if the guy paid to go to the camp. Is the NCAA going to do that? I mean, we do that at our camp. We have people responsible. They’re called compliance folks. What kind of compliance people do we have at these camps?”

And he continued again: “I’m not blaming Jim Harbaugh. I’m not saying anything about it. I’m just saying it’s bad for college football. Jim Harbaugh can do anything he wants to do. I’m not saying anything bad about him, if he thinks that’s what’s best. There needs to be somebody who looks out for what’s best for the game, not what’s best for the Big Ten or not what’s best for the SEC or not what’s best for Jim Harbaugh, but what’s best for the college football. The integrity of the game. The coaches, the players and the people that play it. That’s bigger than all of this. That’s what somebody should do. Now, who is doing that? I don’t know because right now since we have the Power 5, everybody is politicking for what they want for their conference. That’s why I said there needs to be a college football commissioner.”

And to think, all that came after Saban didn’t want to talk about satellite camps.