College Football

Storin: Is that the last we see of Lane Kiffin?

storapse@aol.comOctober 3, 2013 

I can only guess what went through the minds of college football coaches from coast to coast last Sunday morning when they woke up to the news that Lane Kiffin had been fired as coach at Southern Cal.

Most coaches do not like to see their brethren dismissed, especially after five games in September and at 3 in the morning.

But Kiffin is a special case. The one-time "Boy Wonder" has managed to make enemies at every stop in his undistinguished career (40-36) as a head coach. It started at Oakland in the National Football League then, Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference and now USC in the Pacific-12.

I admit he had me fooled. I thought he got a raw deal when he was abruptly fired by the late Raiders owner Al Davis after four games in his second season.

Davis, noted for having a quick trigger firing coaches, called Kiffin "a flat out liar" and said he was guilty of "bringing disgrace to the organization."

I thought Davis was wrong. Not about the "liar" accusation (after all most coaches are liars), but rather the unfairness of dumping a coach after only 20 games.

Boy, was I wrong.

Kiffin's next stop was Tennessee, where he got a six-year deal to succeed long-time coach Phillip Fullmer. After one season (7-6), Kiffin jumped ship during the 2010 recruiting season and signed on with Southern Cal, where he had been an assistant coach under Pete Carroll.

Vols fans did not take kindly to this at the time. But I suspect they feel fortunate today.

They should have had a hint at what kind of person Kiffin was before he ever coached a game at Tennessee.

In February of 2009 at a booster breakfast in Knoxville, Kiffin accused Urban Meyer, then coach at Florida, of violating NCAA recruiting rules.

"I'm going to turn Florida in right here in front of you," Kiffin crowed. He then accused Meyer of illegally phoning a player Kiffin was recruiting.

This brought a reprimand from SEC commissioner Mike Slive and a subsequent public apology from Kiffin.

"In my enthusiasm for our recruiting class, I made statements that were made solely to excite those at the breakfast," Kiffin said.

After inviting national scorn, it was on to Southern Cal, Kiffin's self-proclaimed dream job. But he wasn't counting on crippling sanctions that the NCAA handed the Trojans for "lack of institutional control" during the reign of predecessor Carroll.

Before Kiffin coached a game, the NCAA concluded a four-year investigation that centered around Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush accepting financial benefits from two sports agents. The result: USC lost 30 scholarships over three years.

However, with a roster recruited mainly by Carroll, Kiffin went 10-2 in his second season. That led to a misguided preseason No. 1 ranking for the Trojans in 2012.

It turned out to be a tumultuous season from start to finish.

That August, Kiffin became a voting member of the USA Today's Coaches Poll for the first time, but resigned after one vote amidst a controversy over his preseason selection of USC as No. 1.

Kiffin had been caught in another lie when he said: "I would not vote USC No. 1, I can tell you that much."

USA Today, citing a need to protect the integrity of its poll, immediately revealed that Kiffin had indeed voted his team to the top spot. Again he apologized.

It was all downhill for the Trojans from there, as they finished with a 7-6 record and Kiffin became the first coach since 1964 to take the preseason No. 1 team to unranked at the end of the year.

Despite an outcry from USC fans to fire Kiffin last winter, athletics director Pat Haden stuck by his coach. Until last Saturday's 62-41 defeat at Arizona State, when Haden decided it was time to pull the plug.

In time, Southern Cal will recover. For Kiffin, it may be strike three.

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