Why USC Was Left No Choice But To Take Kiffin

Knowing NCAA sanctions are likely looming for USC and that Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron were prominent members of the Trojans staff during the time some of those possible violations occurred, to outsiders it must look insane that USC hired Kiffin as head coach yesterday.

Ed Orgeron Lane Kiffin

(Orgeron was already on board as Kiffin caught last plane out)

But in the context of the coaching search USC completed before hiring Kiffin, the Trojans had no choice but to hire a guy almost universally despised not only in Knoxville, but inside USC’s Heritage Hall.

To clarify the hire, understand that USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett was only tangentially involved in the process. The primary movers in getting the deal done were search committee members Ed Roski, Pat Haden and Lakers Owner Jerry Buss.

Jerry Buss Ed Roski Pat Haden

(USC Coach Search Committee: Buss, Roski, Haden)

Roski and Haden are also members of the USC Board of Trustees, with Roski the Chair. Roski is also the guy fronting L.A.’s bid to bring the NFL back. Buss is a prominent USC booster. I only last night found out that the Lakers Owner was involved in the coaching hire.

I’ve been told that before USC finally took Kiffin (that’s right, “took”), it had serious discussions with Jon Gruden about the job. USC though maintained that if Gruden was to take the job, he would have to take on Orgeron run recruiting and Norm Chow to lead the offense. Gruden balked, and that’s when Kiffin was contacted yesterday while he attended the AFCA convention in Orlando.
The irony of the Kiffin package deal is that he’s never gotten along with Orgeron and Chow. Especially Chow, who thought that Kiffin tried to undermine him with Pete Carroll when both were on the USC staff. Carroll and Chow were also at odds up until they buried the hatchet last year, which should ease the tension between Kiffin and the offensive guru.

Once Kiffin confirmed to USC that his father Monte was along for the ride and that he’d be willing to work with Chow and Orgeron, the deal was sealed. As for Chow’s current status, the aforementioned search committee heavy hitters are working feverishly as we speak to get Norm to cross the street. I expect it to happen to soon, despite UCLA’s frantic denials. (Those denials were mainly designed to tweak early, somewhat speculative ESPN reports)

So why did USC settle on Kiffin? Why didn’t they keep looking? Three reasons.

1) Kiffin is likely to make a long term committment to the program. Forget contracts, I’m talking about actually wanting to stay for a significant period of time and not just use the gig to jump to the NFL or another job.

2) Kiffin and Orgeron are ace recruiters and will save the part of the USC class that is worth saving. Not to mention cherry pick the class they’d procured for the Vols.

3) Kiffin is willing to endure the sanctions that he knows are coming, partly because he was on staff when those possible violations occurred.

None of the coaches reported as being considered by USC, Mike Riley, Jack Del Rio, Jeff Fisher, Steve Mariucci, Steve Sarkisian and Chris Petersen, fulfill the criteria as much as Kiffin and his staff do.

Of course, you can make a case that all of those candidates are better individual coaches than Kiffin, but USC is thinking that’s where Chow and Monte Kiffin come in. (Though like many of you, I’m still pretty skeptical.)

Positives aside, USC has to be worried about how bringing Kiffin, Chow and Orgeron back will sit with NCAA investigators. All three were present when possible NCAA violations occurred. The hires could certainly be taken as USC thumbing its nose at the NCAA, as the governing body mulls sanctions for the football program in the next 60 days.

Obviously that was a gamble USC was prepared to take. Maybe that’s why master poker player Jerry Buss is in the room.

Besides Orgeron, Chow and Monte, I’ve heard that Todd McNair, Pat Ruel and Brennan Carroll could all be retained by Lane from Carroll’s staff.

McNair is not joining Carroll in Seattle, and while there’s reportedly a chance Ruel could join Carroll with the Seahawks, I heard he’d prefer to stay at USC. Brennan Carroll is Pete’s son and a good recruiter with a rep as a hard worker. With the Kiffins running the show, I’d say it’s a lock he’ll be retained.

One outsider I’ve heard for USC’s staff today is Clemson’s wide receivers coach Jeff Scott. (UPDATE: Scott announced to media he’s now staying at Clemson.)

As for Mike Garrett as athletic director. As I’ve reported numerous times, I expect Garrett to be nudged out the door in August, when school president Steven Sample retires. Garrett, who is 65, will also “retire” at that time if he isn’t replaced before then.

Haden’s name continues to be kicked around for the job, but I think that’s wishful thinking by those inside Heritage Hall. I don’t think he wants the job.

I was like a lot of you when I heard Kiffin was hired as head coach, but after sifting through the wreckage of the USC program, he was probably the best the school could do under the circumstances.

USC could’ve done a lot better with its hire if the program wasn’t staring at sanctions in the very near future. But then Carroll wouldn’t have left.