The College Football Coaching Carousel is officially open!
I think we all pretty much knew that Lane Kiffin was likely to be looking for a new job at the end of the college football season unless USC played for the Pac 12 championship. But even I thought Kiffin would at least last longer than Breaking Bad.
On Sunday, following USC’s embarrassing 62-41 defeat at Arizona State Saturday night, USC Athletics Director Pat Haden pulled the trigger and terminated the contract of Kiffin, with some reports even suggesting USC left Kiffin at the airport upon arriving home. That, to me, is harsh but I am not certain that is legitimate or not. USC dropped to 3-2 as a result, but 0-2 in Pac 12 play. USC had won games against Hawaii, Boston College and Utah State but had lost games to Washington State and Arizona State, digging an 0-2 hole in Pac 12 play before October. Kiffin’s record at USC was 28-15. Defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron has been named the interim head coach for the remainder of the 2013 season, but it is very likely there will be a new head coach at USC for the 2014 season.
Head coaches take the brunt of the criticism when a program is struggling, and Kiffin was no exception to this rule, but USC’s problems were not entirely Kiffin’s fault. The program was hampered by recruiting sanctions and a postseason ban, hampering what Kiffin would have been able to do from the start. I never got the sense USC was bringing Kiffin in to make the Trojans a top title contender. Instead, I saw Kiffin more as a guy to help keep the program above water as they played through their sanctions. Kiffin was brought in to stabilize recruiting and in his defense he did seem to do just that. According to Rivals.com, USC’s last four recruiting classes ranked 13th (2013), 8th (2012), 4th (2011) and 1st (2010) despite having fewer scholarships to offer through part of that time. Where Kiffin failed was in developing that talent to build a contender. Depth concerns were a result of lacking scholarships and at a time when other Pac 12 programs were rising, USC was struggling to keep up. This season USC’s offense ranks 88th overall, and that sticks out like a sore thumb.
So where does USC go from here?
Later today on Crystal Ball Run I’ll be sharing some more thoughts on this but I will say the same thing I have always said about USC. USC is still a high-profile job and it should not take too long to turn the Trojans around, if the school makes the right hire. A school like USC, like Texas, should be a very attractive option for any number of coaches out there and I expect USC to make some calls to some of the top names and top up-and-coming names. The program demands that kind of effort and consideration, but I will also suggest the right hire may not necessarily be the biggest name hire. And there should not be a rush to make that hire, despite any public pressure to do so. If there is one thing that could be demonstrated by Penn State’s hiring process following the dismissal of Joe Paterno in 2011, it may be that the names that jump to mind today may not be the best candidate for the job. Maybe they are, but Haden should be careful with his hiring here. USC is a great job but it takes a certain level-headed coach to be able to handle the position. USC football brings national attention with it, and despite recent struggles the Trojans remain a spotlight program. If a coach cannot handle that kind of scrutiny, then USC would be best suited hiring someone else.
Boise State head coach Chris Petersen is the popular name of course. It has always been my understanding Petersen genuinely is more interested in staying in Boise, which is so commendable in my book. I remain unconvinced he would consider leaving Boise State. If Petersen does not leave Boise State before 2014, I feel confident he may never leave. I suspect USC will go with a head coach with some ties to the school. Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian stands out to me. Though he did not play football for the Trojans (Sarkisian started his college career playing baseball at USC before transferring to El Camino College before returning to play football and later transferring to BYU), he has built his coaching profile mostly with his time at USC. Sarkisian was a quarterbacks coach for Pete Carroll at USC from 2001-2003 (Carson Palmer, Matt Cassell, Matt Leinart) and again from 2005-2006 (Leinart, John David Booty, Mark Sanchez). His duties expanded to offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008 when the Trojans improved from 35th in scoring to 14th. Think about it. Sarkisian made Mark Sanchez a star.
Sarkisian of course would go on to become a head coach at Washington, replacing Tyrone Willingham. He quickly turned things around in Seattle but stringing together three straight winning seasons the last three years and has the Huskies off to a 4-0 start this fall. Sarkisian may be on the top of my (realistic) list for USC.