I don’t know how he does it.
What Lane Kiffin has accomplished as a head coach is simply astounding – aside from everything his teams do on the field, that is.
No prior head-coaching experience? No problem. He landed the Raiders job.
A 5-15 record in Oakland and a public lambasting by owner Al Davis in a press conference announcing his firing? Not an issue. He landed the Tennessee gig.
A 7-6 record in one whole season in Knoxville and a shellacking at the hands of Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and he gets to go coach at USC? Say what?
Seriously, am I missing something? What is going on here? If he wins the Pac-10 next season, does he get to coach the Cowboys?
Somehow, Kiffin has ridden his bruised and battered résumé all the way to Pete Carroll’s recently vacated throne, leaving Tennessee’s current players, recruits and administration in the dust. All of this comes only 14 months after Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton was generous – and naïve – enough to give the downtrodden coach another chance after his disastrous stint in the NFL.
So now, the million-dollar question: How?
Honestly, I have no idea. The interview in which Lane Kiffin convinced the Trojans that he and his 12-21 record as a head coach was the next-best option after Jack Del Rio ought to be marketed as an instructional video for used car salesmen everywhere.
But it’s not just the on-field stuff that makes Kiffin unappealing. You would think that a school like USC, which is mired in athletic scandals related to Reggie Bush, O.J. Mayo and Joe McKnight, would want a coach who has a track record of playing nice in the NCAA’s sandbox. Instead, they chose Kiffin.
In his short tenure at Tennessee, Kiffin not only wrongly accused fellow SEC coach and nationwide fan-favorite Urban Meyer of cheating, but he also racked up several secondary violations of his own. Makes you wonder what the NCAA Committee on Infractions will make of Kiffin’s hiring when it meets with USC officials about allegations of wrongdoing in both the football and men’s basketball programs next month.
But enough about the Trojans. Let’s not forget about the mess that Kiffin leaves behind in Knoxville, a place that did nothing but favors for the least proven big-name coach in the history of college football.
The same issues that plagued USC after Pete Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks’ open position will now afflict Tennessee, which is left scrambling for its own replacement in fear of suffering a recruiting nightmare with national signing day just three weeks away. Kiffin will further cripple the Volunteers in their efforts to secure a strong class by bringing his father and defensive coordinator, Monte, recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron and several others with him to USC.
ore than the future of the program is in limbo, however. What about the players who gave everything they had to Kiffin in two-a-days last preseason and fought to win every week for a coach they thought would be there when senior year rolled around? They have been betrayed, and there is little they can do about it. Kiffin can run off to USC and coach next season, but even if a current Tennessee Volunteer wanted to transfer, he would have to sit out one year by the NCAA’s rules.
It’s unfair, but that’s college football.
What is also unfair is the criticism that Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton is sure to receive for hiring the fickle Kiffin in the first place. The athletic department is dealing with the arrests and subsequent suspension and dismissal of student-athletes on both the football and men’s basketball teams, and now that Kiffin has abandoned ship, many will try to run Hamilton out of Knoxville. It will probably happen, but in fairness to him, how was Hamilton supposed to know 14 months ago that Pete Carroll would go to the NFL and that USC would seek Lane Kiffin, of all coaches, as his replacement?
Of course, USC has its reasons for hiring Kiffin. He did serve as an assistant and offensive coordinator at the school under Pete Carroll earlier in the decade before his train wreck with the Raiders, and during his time as recruiting coordinator, he wooed many of the most elite high school players in the country to play for the Trojans. And if that’s not good enough, Lil’ Wayne even used his name in a rap song.
The verse goes a little something like this: “Smoke weed, talk s— like Lane Kiffin.”
Now, in the spotlight of Southern California, we’ll get to see whether Lane can actually back it up.
Connor Gregoire is a freshman in the College. FOR LOVE OF THE GAME appears every other Friday in HOYA SPORTS.”