A major surprise today as Lane Kiffin reportedly will be named head coach of USC football. Kiffin is a former USC offensive coordinator who had coached the University of Tennessee this past year.
I'm shocked that USC would hire Kiffin, and I didn't even bother to put him on my list of potential candidates. While USC is a program with great tradition and resources, so is Tennessee. Kiffin seemed firmly entrenched there, being very outspoken in the press about recruiting and his conference rivals, sometimes to his own detriment. Tennessee seemed to brush up against the NCAA rule book several times in Kiffin's lone season there, and his comments have gotten him in trouble.
Kiffin brings with him an impressive group of assistants. His own father, Monte, is an old friend and mentor of Pete Carroll's and is considered one of the best NFL defensive coordinators of all time. He will cost USC a ton of money. Ed Orgeron is a former USC assistant from the Carroll era, who is an excellent recruiter. He failed in his one stint as a head coach at Mississippi, but he's well-respected in Southern California.
Kiffin seems to have lived a charmed life in coaching, when it comes to getting jobs. Using his father's connections, he earned a spot on the USC staff under Carroll, and eventually unseated Norm Chow as offensive coordinator, in a move that upset plenty of people. After just two seasons in that role, he was hired as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. That was a real shocker because it's almost unheard of for a college assistant coach to get a pro head coaching job. Kiffin seemed to win the respect of his players though, and seemed to be making the best of the dysfunctional situation that Al Davis created. Kiffin lasted less than two seasons though after an ugly fallout with Davis that embarrassed the owner and led many to question his sanity.
It seemed like Kiffin had found a home at Tennessee and was set there for the long run. He took over a 5-7 team, and had them go 7-5 in the regular season, eventually losing 37-14 to Virginia Tech in the Chick Fil-A Bowl. He also lost to UCLA at home early in the season. Still Kiffin's team nearly knocked off national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and the team showed gradual improvement throughout the year. Tennessee's recruiting was also going strong.
At USC, Kiffin will come to a program he's familiar with, and he will be in a good position to keep many of the recruits that Pete Carroll had brought on board. He's also the kind of guy who could stay at USC for a long time (he's still just 34!). But he's also a person who has been rather unpredictable over the years, and one could easily see this arrangement turning sour. If Kiffin is to succeed at USC, he will have to show more discipline with his comments than he's shown at Tennessee (although Kiffin claims everything he's said has been calculated).
I'm not sure what to make of a man who would leave a school after just one year while ruffling plenty of feathers in the process. But I do believe that Kiffin is a bright up-and-coming head coach, who can be a success at USC. He brings a great deal of energy and passion to the position, and he provides some kind of continuity in the program after Carroll. Bringing in Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron is an excellent start.
UPDATE: ESPN's Shelley Smith now reports that USC is negotiating with UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow about moving across town. This also comes as a surprise because it was believed that Chow and Kiffin didn't get along when they were on the USC staff together. There were reports that Chow resented the increased responsibilities that Carroll gave Kiffin, and it was a factor in him leaving for the NFL. Nonetheless, Chow has a home in Los Angeles, and he hasn't always gotten along with Rick Neuheisel either. His hiring would be a major coup for USC if it happened.