Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lane Kiffin is an enigma

There are two ways to look at Lane Kiffin:

1. He's an obnoxious loudmouth who has no track record of success as a head coach.
2. He's a very good offensive strategist and a phenomenal recruiter who knows how to sell his program to both players and elite assistants.

Both of these things are true, which is why he's probably one of the most controversial figures in college football. If you asked 100 fans, "Is he a good coach or is he just an annoying coach," you'd probably get about a 50-50 split. It all depends how you look at it.

ESPN's Pat Forde takes the anti-Kiffin angle:

At this rate, Lane Kiffin is an 8-5 season at USC away from a $50 million contract to coach Peyton Manning and the Colts.

Seriously, why not? Why wouldn't he just keep rising up the coaching ranks on the basis of nothing much at all? If a 31-year-old with no head-coaching experience can get the Oakland Raiders job, and a guy who got fired from that job after losing 15 of 20 games can get the Tennessee job, and a guy who went 7-6 in a reckless first season in Knoxville can get the USC job … is there any rung of the sport to which Kiffin cannot climb?

These are entirely valid points, because there's really nothing in Kiffin's past that demonstrates that he'll be a good head coach or a good school representative (I'll get to that momentarily). But here's the question I've been asking myself: Does it matter if Kiffin is a good head coach?

That probably seems ridiculous; of course it matters ... right? Consider the following:
  • Every player at USC was part of a top-10 recruiting class.
  • Lane Kiffin can recruit like nobody's business, and getting elite players to come to Los Angeles isn't exactly rocket science.
  • USC will have arguably the best offensive AND defensive coordinator in the country as well as a slew of other well-respected assistants.
What can Kiffin possibly do to screw that up? If you're regularly bringing in five-star talent and you have two of the best strategists in the sport at your side, will your game-management decisions really be that important? Maybe against Ohio State and Oregon, but not against most of the Pac-10. What I'm saying is that even if Kiffin is an average or poor in-game coach, it'll be hard NOT to win nine or 10 games a year at USC. If he's a bad coach, maybe it'll be eight. If he's a good coach, it'll probably be 10.

USC is obviously counting on the latter and hoping that the elephant in the room -- Kiffin's unending string of off-the-field controversies -- stays tucked away in the corner. His penchant for petty recruiting violations at Tennessee was somewhat of a running joke, but when USC gets stripped of a bunch of wins and scholarships (probably) for lack of institutional control, that stuff won't seem very funny to the administration.

If he's smart enough to keep his mouth shut and go about his business -- or, more importantly, let his assistants go about their business -- the transition/recovery should be relatively painless for USC. If he continues to act like an idiot because his ego is out of control and we find out that there's a reason he has a career record of 12-21, his tenure (and that of athletic director Mike Garrett) will end quickly in an inferno of criticism.

A gun-to-my-head prediction: USC of the near future will be about halfway in between the 2002-08 juggernaut versions and the 2009 blah version that finished fifth in the Pac-10, meaning nine or 10 wins per year and fairly regular Rose Bowl appearances. Kiffin will probably make an ass out of himself at some point, but as long as he wins a few BCS games, nobody will care. College football isn't a seven-days-a-week religion in Los Angeles like it is in SEC country. In summary, it won't be a disaster.

I haven't even mentioned Tennessee in all this, but it's OK; they seem to be taking things well.


http://www.ehow.com/members/stevemar2-articles.html said...

The reaction by Tennessee fans is shocking, but I don't know why anyone would want to become a football head coach at a school that is facing severe NCAA sanctions. USC may be in a good area for recruiting, but I bet few players would go there knowing that the program would be weakened by the penalties the NCAA imposes.

Shorts said...

USC will certainly be penalized, but the sanctions won't severely hurt them. Alabama was still on probation THIS YEAR for severe violations committed earlier this decade -- with the right coach and the right players in place, having to vacate wins from five years ago and losing a few scholarships won't be a real hindrance.