It’s Indisputable Now: USC Needs To Fire Lane Kiffin

(Flickr/Neon Tommy)

We were fooled. We were deluded. And we are very, very burned. 

At the start of the season, sportswriters like CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel and Grantland’s Michael Weinreb and Robert Mays began declaring that Lane Kiffin had changed. Gone was the fool that butted heads with Al Davis. Gone was the petulant manchild that razed Tennessee football to the ground, infuriated the rest of the SEC, and generated an attempt by Vols fans to get a sewage treatment plant in Knoxville named after him. 

Oh, yes, this was a Lane Kiffin fully realized! This Lane Kiffin has no time for such petty antics. This Lane Kiffin got a sanctioned team to ten wins in 2011! This Lane Kiffin has a preseason No. 1 team!  This is a brand new Lane Kiffin that acknowledges his past foolishness!  “I was an idiot,” he admitted to Doyel.

And we all believed it. We proudly wore our shirts with the coach’s visage and the words “Lane F***in’ Kiffin, Bro” on it.  White USC visors became fashionable. USC students began the “Bane Kiffin” meme, making jokes comparing Kiffin to Bane from ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’ We had been made believers. We were sold on this coach and this team.

Good mother of crap, we were stupid. The South gave us fair warning, and we failed to heed it. We let ourselves be fooled by the biggest con man in football history. It’s Ponzi in a white visor instead of a boater hat.

It started well. Marqise Lee scored on the very first play of the season en route to a 49-10 win against Hawaii. And yeah, Kiffin got into a spat with the media a few weeks later. He said he wouldn’t vote USC No. 1 in the preseason poll and then he did. But that’s just the media hounding him. And he was right to give up his vote in the poll. Coaches’ polls are dumb, anyway. The sports information directors fill out the ballots for most of the coaches, after all.

Then came the loss to Stanford. Penalty flag after penalty flag. The O-line was a giant red matador’s muleta without center Khaled Holmes to guard it because of his injury. Matt Barkley finished his career 0-4 against the Farm. 

After that game, Kiffin walked off from a post-practice interview when someone asked a question about an injury. Once again, USC was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Even when Matt Barkley and Robert Woods set school and conference offensive records against Colorado, the spotlight wasn’t on them. It was once again on Kiffin, who couldn’t resist switching the jersey number of his third string quarterback to perform a tricksy little 2-point conversion attempt on the worst team in the PAC-12.

But beyond the controversies, Kiffin proved that he is just flat out not a good coach. He stubbornly refuses to put down his laminated play sheet and sticks to idiotic play calling. He calls run plays on 3rd and 17 against Washington. He has absolutely no sense of time management and his offense looks completely confused when going no-huddle. He is pointlessly conservative when he needs to be aggressive, and when it is time to let it ride, he tries to be a cute little super-genius with trick plays that get bungled up easily. He calls for screen passes constantly, to the point that opponents can easily identify them in the film room and render them completely worthless. Arizona State even took one back for a pick six. One way or another, USC has found a way to repeatedly beat itself, and the blame for that goes primarily to the Visor.

Then there is his father, Monte Kiffin, who has officially engineered the worst defense in USC football history, and arguably the worst in all of college football. Over 2,100 yards of offense and 161 points were allowed in USC’s last four defeats this season, with 62 of those points coming from Oregon. That’s the most points allowed in a single game in USC history. Again, the stubborn, backwards decision-making that runs in the Kiffin family led to the team holding on to a defensive scheme that absolutely does not work. USC’s secondary does not have the mobility or ball awareness needed to perform Monte’s Tampa 2 defense. It’s the same story on every third and long play. All the opposing offense needs to do is throw the ball down the middle, over the linebackers and between the safeties. Put a receiver in that spot, and he will catch the ball with a good two-yard cushion of open field between him and the safety that’s supposed to cover him. 

By the time the Trojans entered November, everyone’s patience had finally run out. USC lost to both UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season for the first time since 1995. Not even Paul Hackett, the abysmal head coach from 1998-2000, did such a thing. USC is now the worst preseason No. 1 since the 1964 Ole Miss Rebels. And just a reminder, Kiffin contributed to that ranking. Remember, he VOTED USC No. 1. 

And that is before we get to the ball deflation controversy, in which a student manager was fired for making USC’s footballs easier to catch by letting air out of them.  Very few people believe the athletic department when they say that the manager worked alone and that Kiffin knew nothing about it. And honestly, can you blame them? Why shouldn’t a coach that has proven completely incapable of doing his job without controversy be suspected of such underhanded schemes?

Now, Trojans fans have had enough. Pat Haden declared after last week’s loss to UCLA that Kiffin would return next year, but that was before USC lost another winnable game to the Irish. With the ball inches away from a touchdown, Kiffin decides to do three run plays right down the middle, with the Irish defense rejecting the Trojans each time. If Kiffin had actually watched the ND-Stanford game in the film room, he would have seen that those plays do not work at the goal line. The Irish have only allowed one rushing TD all season! But Coach Lane trusts his play sheet more than logic.  

Lane Kiffin has turned USC into a joke and a disgrace. It’s more than just losing. It’s more than performing far below expectations. It’s more than just letting the Bruins and Irish take the rivalry trophies the same way the NCAA took the crystal football and the Heisman. It’s the fact that this season was never really about Matt Barkley or Marqise Lee or Silas Redd (who transferred from a school that posted a better 2012 record than USC). It was always about Kiffin and his stupid sideshow. It was about how he and his father thoroughly squandered one of the most talented squads imaginable with terrible coaching, lack of discipline, and bad decisions. There’s a reason why the most viewed USC article on this site is a Taiwanese video mocking the Trojans and their leader.

USC awaits Pat Haden's decision on the future of the Kiffins and USC football (Flickr/Neon Tommy)

USC’s athletic director, Pat Haden is a remarkable man. He is a Rhodes Scholar and a part of USC football’s Golden Age under John McKay. Since replacing the incompetent Mike Garrett in 2010, Haden has opened a state-of-the-art athletic center and will soon open a renovated Heritage Hall and aquatics complex. He has worked with USC’s business and journalism schools to create new classes and degrees in sports business and media. He has patched up relations between USC and the NCAA. Even UCLA fans begrudgingly admit that he is a great man for the job. 

But the alumni won’t be the ones going into that shiny athletic center. The new career opportunities won’t be making headlines. For better or for worse, the football team galvanizes the alumni and creates the image that USC Athletics presents to the nation. And right now, that image looks worse than the portrait of Dorian Gray. Kiffin cannot be allowed to linger around Troy any longer. Haden must fire him.

There are some that say that Kiffin’s recruiting skills will be vital to helping USC survive the sanction period, but that argument no longer holds water. Recruiting four-star players means nothing if the coach doesn’t have what it takes to develop that talent. If I’m a recruit, I would take a good hard look at where Kiffin’s USC stands compared to David Shaw’s Stanford or Jim Mora’s UCLA. Which of those three really looks like the kind of program that will help you fulfill your dreams of NFL success? Sanctions aside, does USC really look like a team that knows how to win? If Kiffin goes 7-5 with this team, how is he supposed to do better with the fifteen new players that will be coming in next year?

We’re done with it, Haden. We are done with having our expectations raised only to get slapped in the face over and over again for three months straight. We are tired of a father and son who get nearly four million dollars to sink USC to new depths of defeat, and though Matt Barkley is too much of a good guy to bury his coach, we don’t want the future Trojans of USC to be tainted by Kiffin the same way Barkley’s legacy here will be muddled by the war between coach and media. Max Wittek showed a great deal of potential despite the two interceptions against the Irish. He can grow into a force to be reckoned with, but it won’t happen with the way things are set up now.    

If Haden keeps Kiffin and his coaching staff as it is right now, then it is clear that he is throwing in the towel on the next two seasons of football and waiting for the sanction period to end. The “transformative donations” from rich former athletes and the steady income from the PAC-12 network deal will help stem the tide financially, even if season ticket holders cancel their deposits in disgust and leave twenty to thirty thousand seats in the Coliseum empty. 

Except for empty platitudes of support and votes of confidence, Haden has not given Trojan fans a single reason to believe that keeping Kiffin will bring about any improvement or will be helpful to the program in the long run – and that’s because there isn’t one. Searching for a new coach in the middle of scholarship restrictions will be a big risk, but hey, it’s going to be an improvement from what we’ve got now. I’m pretty sure that whoever the new coach would be would at least know how to avoid putting his foot in his mouth.

The Visor was sold to us as a reformed coach. He was actually a lethal cocktail of underachievement and bad P.R. We were stupid enough to drink that poisonous Kool-Aid, and now we want the antidote. Do the right thing, Mr. Haden. Fire Lane Kiffin from his dream job and move on. The fans deserve better, and more importantly, the athletes that wear the cardinal and gold deserve better.

Unis

I am a sophomore at the University of Southern California majoring in print journalism and American studies. Aside from CollegeSpun, I also write film and TV reviews for USC Annenberg's news website Neon Tommy and cover the Trojans' non-revenue sports teams on the SB Nation blog Conquest Chronicles