With Kiffin canned, to whom does USC turn?

51 Comments

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.

Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank transfers to Rutgers

Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank is transferring to Rutgers.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Former Wisconsin wide receiver Aron Cruickshank may be leaving the Badgers, but he will remain in the Big Ten. Cruickshank announced he is transferring to Rutgers.

Cruickshank confirmed his transfer to Rutgers with a post on his Instagram account on Saturday afternoon. According to NJ.com, Cruickshank was making an official visit to Rutgers this weekend. The visit must have gone well because he announced his transfer decision on the same day. Cruickshank announced his entry to the transfer portal earlier this month.

This is a nice addition for new (again) Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. If the hiring of Schiano was supposed to entice more talent in and around The Garden State to want to stay close to home to play Big Ten football, then the transfer decision of Cruickshank is an encouraging start for the Scarlet Knights. Cruickshank is a Brooklyn, New York native, and Rutgers does love to attach itself to the New York metropolitan region.

Cruickshank appeared in all 14 games played by Wisconsin in the 2019 season, including all 12 regular-season games, the Big Ten championship game, and the Rose Bowl. Cruickshank was used mostly on special teams with 23 kickoff returns for 674 yards and two touchdowns. Cruickshank had one of his kickoff touchdowns in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. He returned four kickoffs for 194 yards in the game. He also returned one kickoff to the house earlier in the season at Nebraska.

Cruickshank will have to sit out the 2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules. That will leave the former Badgers receiver with two years of eligibility beginning in 2021.

Texas brings Jay Boulware home from Oklahoma

Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jay Boulware is crossing sides in the Red River Rivalry… again. Boulware officially joined the Texas coaching staff on Saturday, the school announced. Boulware will be the special teams and tight ends coach for the Longhorns.

“Jay is a proven, accomplished coach and special teams coordinator who as a former Longhorn and Texas native, has deep roots in our state,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said in a released statement. “He also has extensive experience coaching in the Big 12, having spent a decade in our league, and has worked with teams that have competed at the highest level, including a National Championship team at Auburn in 2010.”

“I’ve been watching this program from afar since the day I left there in the spring of 1997, and I’ve always had it in my mind that I would like to come back someday and help Texas win a National Championship,” Boulware said in his released statement.

Boulware comes to Texas from rival Oklahoma. Boulware coached with the Sooners from 2013 through last season and was a part of multiple Big 12 championship teams and a program that participated in the College Football Playoff each of the past two seasons. Boulware was Oklahoma’s special teams and running backs during the last seven seasons. HE previously coached tight ends at Texas, NIU, Arizona, Utah, and Auburn.

Boulware started his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Longhorns in 2014. He eventually was named tight ends coach and spent three seasons with his alma mater (Boulware played offensive tackle for Texas in 1991 and 1992). His coaching stops have included Northern Illinois, Arizona, Stanford, Utah and Iowa State, where he joined Gene Chizik and followed him to Auburn. In 2013, Boulware was hired by Wisconsin to be a part of a new staff being compiled by Gary Andersen, but he left the Badgers for Oklahoma just months later.

Clemson DT Xavier Kelly announces entry to transfer portal

Clemson redshirt junior Xavier Kelly will leave Clemson as a graduate transfer.
Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Defensive tackle Xavier Kelly will no longer be a part of the Clemson football program. The redshirt junior announced he has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will look for another school to wrap up his collegiate career.

“I have never shied away from hard work or a challenge. My time at Clemson was a challenge that I happily accepted, [and I] worked hard to be the best defensive lineman, teammate and student I could be,” Kelly said in a statement shared on his Twitter account on Saturday afternoon.

“With this being said, I have decided to enter the transfer portal and continue my football career elsewhere. It is an honor to be able to say that I graduated from Clemson. Clemson will always have a special place in my heart.”

Kelly was listed third on the Clemson depth chart for one of the team’s two defensive tackle positions. Kelly appeared as a backup option behind freshman Tyler Davis and redshirt sophomore Jordan Williams. Kelly appeared in 10 games in the 2019 season and recorded a total of six tackles with credit for half of a sack. Kelly did not play in either of Clemson’s game sin the College Football Playoff.

In 2016, Kelly was involved in a moped accident that resulted in stitches. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said at the time Kelly was not wearing a helmet when somebody crashed into his moped.

By entering the transfer portal, Kelly is free to have contact with any other college football program interested in recruiting him. As a graduate transfer, Kelly will be able to use his final year of eligibility in 2020 and will not have to sit out the 2019 season.

Bob Shoop and Brian Jean-Mary join Michigan coaching staff, Jay Harbaugh promoted to special teams coordinator

Brian Jean-Mary and Bob Shoop are the newest members of Michigan's coaching staff.
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
1 Comment

Michigan has officially introduced two new defensive assistants to the staff. Brian Jean-Mary and Bob Shoop were added to the defensive side of the coaching staff on Saturday as Michigan continues to retool its coaching staff this offseason.

According to the release from Michigan on Saturday, Shoop will take on the role of safeties coach for the Wolverines. Jean-Mary will serve as linebackers coach. In addition, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh promoted his son, Jay Harbaugh, to special teams coordinator. Harbaugh will continue to coach the running backs as well.

“I am excited about the addition of Brian and Bob to our defensive coaching staff,” said Harbaugh. “Brian and Bob are well-respected, experienced coaches who represent great fits for the University of Michigan. Both coaches have experience coordinating some of the best defenses in the country, and their development of all-conference and future NFL players throughout their careers will benefit our program and student-athletes. Michigan Football looks forward to having Brian, Bob and their families join the University family.”

Jean-Mary joins the Michigan program after three seasons with former USF head coach Charlie Strong at USF. Jean-Mary has been a longtime assistant under Strong, coaching with Strong at Louisville and Texas prior to USF.

Shoop previously was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. This will mark a return to the Big Ten for Shoop. Shoop previously coached at Penn State under James Franklin. Shoop went to Penn State with Franklin after three seasons at Vanderbilt. Shoop left Penn State for Tennessee after the 2015 season and coached the Vols defense for two seasons for former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. Shoop and Penn State also carried on a bit of a legal squabble over Shoop’s contract and his exit from the Nittany Lions. Shoop took a job at Mississippi State when Joe Moorhead was hired (in the same coaching carousel that saw a coaching change at Tennessee and the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt, a former defensive coordinator himself).