January 14, 2010

Thoughts on Lane Kiffin to USC

Had to throw in some thoughts on this Lane Kiffin thing.

7) Even though we don't really how Kiffin will turn out at USC (he could very easily be a complete disaster--more on that below), I have to say that considering they had three days to put it together, I am pretty impressed with what USC has accomplished. I won't say it's a great hire because Kiffin is a wildcard, but a pretty good hire with major upside. Even if Kiffin turns out to be Ron Zook 2.0, at least he is going to recruit like crazy and keep the cupboard stocked if they have to make another hire in 3-5 years.

Put it this way, I think USC made a better move going all in on a guy like Kiffin (even with his downside) than by hiring some Herm Edwards type retread who would go 8-4, 7-5, 9-3, 5-7 with subpar recruiting before getting run out of town. If you hired a guy like that, he'd leave the next coach with a bare cupboard and no momentum. At least Kiffin is going to land you a bunch of top 5 classes in the next few years. If he can't coach them, the next guy will. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me at all if that's what ended up happening. And if it turns out Kiffin can coach and wins big, then you just stole this guy at 34 years old for the next decade.

Kiffin is a pro style guy and 4-3 defense guy, so they are going to have a bunch of continuity in recruiting players that fit a traditional USC team. It's not like they are going to a spread option offense that would leave the next coach with a bunch of bad fits for a typical USC team. USC really doesn't have to go in some wildly different direction with Kiffin, so there's not much at stake here if he doesn't work out in the long run like there is with Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.

Their defense should be strong with Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron running the show. USC has won with their defense the last 3-4 years, and I would be surprised if their defense drops off a ton under Monte and Coach O. In terms of defensive staff, you really can't do any better than Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron. Those two guys have a lot invested in this gig as well, so they are probably going to do everything possible to make this thing work.

Offensively, I would say it's a mixed bag (especially without Norm Chow), but I think people are too quick to think that Kiffin is a complete hack on the offensive side of the ball. I was actually fairly impressed with what he did at Tennessee in his one year there. They were a complete disaster offensively in the previous regime under Phil Fulmer, but Kiffin really started to make some progress there as the season went along. Hardesty and Crompton were considered busts until this year, and Kiffin got good production out of both of them. I mentioned quite a few times as the season went along that I was impressed with what Kiffin was doing at Tennessee this year. All offseason going into this year, I thought Kiffin was going to be a disaster, but I gotta say that I thought he did a nice job this year.

And even with the Oakland Raiders, Kiffin had them running the ball and doing some things offensively by the end of the year. Considering how big of a joke that organization is in terms of personnel and bad management, I felt like they were making some progress under Kiffin and then Al Davis pulls the plug.

6) The question is whether he can win. Even if you think that he has some ability as a coach, he has basically ZERO track record at this point. Yes, he can bring in players and seems to have this posse of assistants willing to follow him wherever he goes (by the way, how weird is it that he calls his dad by his first name?), but he hasn't won any games. First year records are overrated for head coaches as we've seen in the past with Nick Saban and Tressel and Pete Carroll, but those guys all had track records that gave you confidence that first year struggles would quickly turn into success in year two and beyond. You KNEW that Nick Saban was going to win in year two even though they only went 6-6 in the first year. That first year was to break down his team before he built them up for the long haul.

With Kiffin, was he going to improve on that 7-6 record in year two?? I personally think that he would have, but we really have no idea where things were headed. He might have ramped up to 9 wins or he might have flatlined. He has no history as a head coach. Of course, neither did guys like Bob Stoops and Mark Richt, so track record as a head coach is not always important.

5) Here's another angle on Kiffin that I don't understand coming from USC fans. USC people are bemoaning the fact that he's a scumbag like he's going to bring shame to the program by cheating and acting unethically. HELLO?!?! Where have these USC people been for the last decade?? How would that be any different for USC?? USC is probably the biggest renegade program in the country and has been for the last 40 years.

And it's not like they are replacing some model of integrity in Pete Carroll. Carroll was living with a freaking grad student!! Do people really think Pete Carroll was this super ethical guy?? Come on.

For the record, I could care less if schools cheat. It's part of the game, and I'm a "just win, baby" kinda guy. But for USC to act like they replaced a saint with a cheater is hilarious.

4) Anyway, here's where I think this Kiffin thing could go south a little bit:

1) He's not Pete Carroll -- USC seems to be selling this hire like they just hired Pete Carroll, Jr., but the two couldn't be more different in terms of background before taking the USC job. I know Pete Carroll acts like he's 25, but he's 58 years old. It's not like he was some young buck 34 year old when he took over at USC. He already had been an assistant at Ohio State and Arkansas and had been in the NFL a long time and had even been an NFL head coach TWICE before taking the USC job. When you look back, it really shouldn't have been a huge surprise that Carroll was so successful at USC. He showed up at USC in his coaching prime and had the experience and background to create this college/pro hybrid enterprise at USC. He was the perfect fit for USC at that stage of his career.

With Kiffin, he's learned football under Pete Carroll and his dad and that's it. He's been in the coaching business for 10 years essentially. Meanwhile, Carroll had been coaching for 25 years before he took over at SC. There's really no comparison between the two.

2) He's got a little Matt Doherty in him -- Not in the sense that he is a serial job jumper, but more in the sense that he seems willing to step all over anyone and burn bridges to get what he wants. That can get you to a really good spot (just like Doherty landed at UNC), but can you be successful when you get to that level?? Seems like the UT players didn't trust him and weren't 100% bought in to what he was selling them. And he has no doubt burned a ton of bridges with families and high school coaches by running from the UT job to SC.

Isn't all this stuff going to come back to haunt him?? And if he starts out slowly at SC and the pressure builds, is he going to turn on his players and start throwing people under the bus?? I could absolutely see this happening. He hasn't really been at a job long enough to have any established track record with his players or the media, and now he's at probably the most high profile job in the country with an intense Los Angeles media breathing down his neck at all times.

Just feels very Matt Doherty-ish to me. I will admit that I was impressed with what Doherty accomplished in his one year at ND. He came in, built up a ton of enthusiasm (I was on campus at the time and the enthusiasm was real), he recruited like crazy, and he had a good season with some huge upset wins. On the surface, Doherty revived ND basketball and made it matter on campus again. Below the surface, there was turmoil. Players revolted and felt like he threw them under the bus after every loss. If he had stayed 2-3 more years at ND, he would have crashed and burned.

Instead, he got out after one year and crashed at burned at UNC. Doesn't that feel eerily similar to this Lane Kiffin thing??? Kiffin built up some momentum in his one year at Tennessee, but it feels sort of like a Ponzi scheme. He's selling all this hype to recruits and talking trash and pumping guys up with phony song and dance stuff, but what would have happened if he goes into year two and starts losing again and players lose trust in him and the team falls apart?? Couldn't that have easily happened??

I think Kiffin is a pretty good coach and has a lot of upside, but these high-rising stars who haven't done enough on their way up often end up crashing and burning. It's not like an Urban Meyer situation. Urban rose through the ranks quickly too, but he won BIG at the places he went.

3) The cocky, "I'm the man, let me tell you why" attitude -- You know who he reminds me a little bit of?? Ryan Leaf. When I see him speak, that's who he reminds me of at times. Just an extremely immature guy with no self-control. He's got that same defensive "I'm not dumb, I swear!" attitude at all times, and he feels the need to brag about his "accomplishments" every time he opens his mouth.

Kiffin has a serious complex. He acted like they should be building a statue of him on the Tennessee campus (only one arrest!) uring his USC press conference. I think he did a nice job, but there's no need to wear out your back from patting yourself when you spent one year there and half of your big second recruiting class bailed as soon as you left. He left UT in a bad spot.

That type of attitude can be appealing at the start, but what happens if he goes 7-5 in his first year and loses to ND and UCLA?? He's going to face major questions about his competence. Can he handle all that or will he completely fold?? He's never faced the type of adversity that he will face at SC.

3) I think an interesting scenario with Kiffin is going to be if he does win, is he going to leave for another job? Is the USC job truly his dream job like he claims?? I think the conventional wisdom about Kiffin now is that he's a serial job jumper and that will probably stick with him for awhile. Much like what people say about Nick Saban now (which really seems like a bogus charge against Saban since every career move he's made is understandable--MSU to LSU to the NFL--and then back to Bama when he didn't like the NFL.)

Kiffin may decide that he's going to the NFL in 5-10 years if he wins at USC. That's where his dad spent most of his time, and maybe he feels like the top of the coaching profession is in the League. But maybe he really considers USC the pinnacle and his so-called "dream job." When you hear all these stories about Kiffin dressing up the Tennessee football facilities with all this Reggie Bush stuff, you get the feeling that he never really left that USC world. For Kiffin, maybe he has reached the top in his eyes.

2) One final thought. Ya know what's great about this whole Kiffin thing?? ESPN and everyone in the mainstream media is KILLING Kiffin and USC over this. Just destroying them!! People haven't been this angry about anything college football-related since Tyrone Willingham got fired. The mainstream media types feel like Kiffin is a cheater who betrayed his players at Tennessee. Now that this reputation is out there for Kiffin, he'll never be able to get out from under it. It's like what we had with Weis. Once the media decided they didn't like Weis for being arrogant, he was done. Everyone was openly rooting against him.

The media is rooting for Kiffin to fail. They've made up their minds that he's a bad guy and an antagonist, and they're going to pounce on everything he says and does from here on out. That's bad mojo for a program.

This is a good thing for ND in my eyes. USC has become like the Yankees now. The Evil Empire. This takes some of the heat off ND for a change. People might even be pulling for ND to beat them next year. That can't hurt in Kelly's first year. Kelly has embraced the media since the day he was hired at ND, and I think those relationships that he built will pay off down the road.

The other contrast between Kelly and Kiffin that stands out to me is that Kelly is all about THE TEAM. Everything in his approach in recruiting and conditioning and winning is about the team, the team, the team. Kiffin is all about flash and hype and substance and sizzle. You never hear him talking about winning. He talks about recruiting and himself and everything but the team. You can recruit all you want, but at the end of the day, it comes down to winning. Kelly should really emphasize that distinction on the recruiting trail.

And Kelly can make a legitimate argument that you'll get better coaching at ND. With Pete Carroll, it's not like we could make the argument of "come to Notre Dame because you're going to get better coaching" than Pete Carroll, who is one of the best college coaches of all time. But now, Kelly can make that argument of "You want to play for Lane Kiffin?? A guy who is barely out of the womb as a coach who is just a figurehead at USC and will probably collapse as soon as his staff implodes??" Kelly has a track record of winning that he can sell to players. Kiffin has a Ty Willingham type record.

Kelly can also play the loyalty card. I think Kelly truly is at his dream job at ND. This is the pinnacle for Kelly. He's not going to the NFL someday. He's a college coach. With Kiffin, we have no idea what his plans are. If he has success, he might run off to the Chargers or something. Kelly should be telling every top recruit that Kiffin is either going to flame out in three years or head to the League if he does have success.

It's certainly going to be fascinating. I was initially very impressed with the hire and felt that the USC machine would keep on rolling along. Now, I'm a little more cautious as I hear more about Kiffin and contemplate this hire. I think he has a lot better chance of succeeding than a lot of pundits seem to think, but I'm just smelling a lot of Matt Doherty parallels and that's a bad sign if you're USC. I wouldn't be shocked by him succeeding or failing.

Can't wait to see how USC looks in their first few games. If they come out of the gate really slow, it is going to be really interesting out there.

1) Final Thought on Tennessee and Kiffin -- Of all the damaging things that Kiffin did to Tennessee by bouncing after one year, I think the most damaging thing he did is to the Tennessee brand. Kiffin basically marginalized the Tennessee job with this move and viewed Tennessee as a steppingstone job. I mean, this is Tennessee!! This is the SEC!! I always thought of Tennessee as a marquee, destination type job. You got Neyland Stadium and Rocky Top and Peyton Manning and great fans and all kinds of tradition. Tennessee has won a title in the last 15 years. You can win the SEC at a place like Tennessee. It's not the Florida job in terms of in-state talent, but Tennessee is a big time program that has done major things in college football long before Lane Kiffin got there.

And yet Kiffin has basically turned Tennessee into Kentucky South in terms of perception with this move. The stories are coming out about how he ran the program at Tennessee, and it sounds like just treated the place like it couldn't hold a candle to USC. He didn't embrace the UT traditions, he put up USC posters everywhere, and basically treated Tennessee like it was this mid-major program that needed his cache to give them some much needed prestige. He went 7-6 there. It's not like he won the SEC or something. He acted like he was the greatest thing ever to happen to UT football and that they should be thanking him for giving them such a great one year run. It's not like he was Brian Kelly going 12-0 at a place like UC. Tennessee football is far bigger than Lane Kiffin, but Kiffin presented himself as above that program.

Tennessee's brand is tarnished. They really need to make a big hire here to restore the brand name of Tennessee football. You don't want that perception of Tennessee as a steppingstone to linger at all.


Anonymous said...

Great post Doug,

I agree with everything you're saying. Part of me thinks well, it won't be that hard to succeed at USC and Kiffin will probably recruit 80-95% as good as Carroll. That is scary for Irish fans.

But there is sooo much other stuff that could go wrong with this guy. And you didn't even mention the sanctions that may be coming. I really can't see Kiffin going a long time without some form of rules violation. And you're right the media is just waiting to eat him alive.

It wouldn't surprise me if he does really well at USC (not Carroll well) and he moved on to the NFL in 3 years.

The one thing that concerns me next year, is how easy USC's schedule is. I still think when its all said and done, USC will be the Pac-10 favorite in the preseason or after a few games:

@ Hawaii, vs. Virginia, @ Minnesota, @ Wazzu, vs. Washington, @ Stanford, vs. Cal, vs Oregon, vs. Arizona St, @ Arizona, @ Oregon State, vs. ND, @ UCLA

You can go right ahead and pencil them in for 4-0 heading into October. That sucks, because its going to give Kiffin a lot of momentum and confidence. He's got Cal, Oregon and ND at home too. Honestly, he could go 11-2 or 12-1 with this schedule.

Anonymous said...

Great comments on Kiffin. Is this heaven-sent for ND? Possibly. We'll never get another shot at PC, but so it goes.

One thing I will make bold enough to predict. USC's days of dominating ND are over.