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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Kiffin's rise comes despite mediocre record and bad reputation

The person at the forefront of my first column may be the most hated sports figure of the new decade: Lane Kiffin.

If you have watched ESPN any time within the past week or so, you should know that Kiffin recently bolted from his job as the Tennessee head football coach—after only one year—to take the same position at USC. This has caused a lot of controversy in the college football world not only because of how unethical Kiffin appears to be after preaching loyalty and promising to restore the Tennessee program to its former glory, but that he is also consistently able to obtain prominent head coaching jobs while having an absolutely atrocious track record as one.

Let's start from the beginning of Kiffin's coaching career at USC. After joining the staff in 2001 as a tight ends coach, he quickly moved up to wide receivers coach in 2002 and eventually was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2005 under head coach Pete Carroll. During his years as offensive coordinator, Kiffin helped guide the Trojans to an impressive 23-3 record. It can be debated as to how much credit Kiffin should receive for those wins considering that in his first year as offensive coordinator, he had arguably the most talented offense in college football history with the likes of Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, LenDale White and Dwayne Jarrett, all of whom were future pros.

After Kiffin's notable stint at USC, the NFL came knocking. Al Davis, always the understated genius, decided to hire him and, at the ripe age of 31, Kiffin became the youngest head coach in the modern-NFL era.

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Davis has a history of hiring young coaches, such as John Madden or Mike Shanahan, so this choice was actually somewhat logical considering the circumstances. Following an inaugural 4-12 season in 2007, Kiffin's Raiders started off the 2008 season 1-3, which prompted Davis to fire his young protégé after only 20 games and a cumulative 5-15 record.

Of course, Kiffin shouldn't receive all the blame considering he had to work with less talent than your average junior varsity football team, but a .250 winning percentage during your first season and a quarter doesn't exactly pad a head coaching resume.

With his debacle at Oakland being headline news, it would seem like a program with a history as prestigious as Tennessee's would not pursue Kiffin. Wrong. For some reason, Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton decided to court Kiffin, introducing him as the Volunteers' football head coach prior to the 2009 season to much fanfare and many expectations.

Fast forward to this past season, one in which the Volunteers stumbled to a middling 7-6 record. Although he didn't exactly produce the results that were expected, Kiffin did do one major thing for the Tennessee program: thrust it back into the national spotlight. Not many people, including myself, had heard so much as a whisper about the Volunteers' program since their incredible 1998 season in which they completed a perfect 13-0 season en route to its sixth national championship. That all changed when Kiffin became head coach.

Many people will remember his much-hyped arrival in Knoxville only a short 14 months ago, when he proclaimed that Tennessee would beat Florida and sing Rocky Top ""all night long"" (they didn't).

Not only that, but he started calling out SEC coaches, particularly Florida's Urban Meyer, and taking names—sound bytes the media eats up and loves to write about. Kiffin brought somewhat of a swagger to Tennessee and this, along with his recruiting prowess, was able to draw top recruits from around the country to Knoxville. After bringing in several blue-chip players, it only made sense to Kiffin to abandon those players who he convinced to enroll early while starting anew in sunny Southern California.

I still can't get over the fact that the Trojans decided to hire somebody with such a terrible head coaching background. Hell, Bielema is more qualified as far as I'm concerned and, like ESPN's Pat Forde said, ""Paris Hilton has paid more dues than Lane Kiffin."" Sure, he was the offensive coordinator for the glory years of Bush and Leinart, but his cumulative head coaching record of 12-21 and self-centeredness are negatives that far outweigh any of his positives.

How do you think Lane Kiffin will do at USC? E-mail Jack at jpdoyle2@wisc.edu.

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