It's fair to say that Lane Kiffin arrived on campus without much notice. After a whirlwind head coaching search that brought us Pete Carroll and the hiring of assistants like Norm Chow and Wayne Moses stealing our attention, Kiffin seemed to slip in the back door of Heritage Hall. How often do you hear about the Tight Ends coach on a team anyway? Well, as we all found out this recruiting season, at USC you can expect to hear his name mentioned quite a bit.
Kiffin, it seems, spent more time traveling across the country and in the homes of national recruits than any of the other Trojans' recent coaching staffs combined. Carroll may have been the one who decided to have the staff step up their recruitment of national prospects, but it was Kiffin who did much of the legwork. The time and effort he put into recruiting this year was impressive to say the least. What's even more striking is the fact that most of his efforts were concentrated in Florida, the state considered by many to be off limits to all but the big three Florida schools. With past USC coaching staffs, it would have been considered a waste of time to go after the national talent the Trojans pursued this year. With Kiffin on board, that train of thought has changed. To see evidence of his work, one need look no further than at Mike Williams out of Tampa Plant (Fla) and Dominique Byrd of Minneapolis (Minn), two Trojan commits who would have never been on the radar screen if it weren't for him.
In Williams, the Trojans get a very big and physical, yet extremely athletic receiver. There weren't necessarily any top-notch local recruits this year who fit that bill and who were also academically qualified. So, whereas in past years the staff might have gone after more of a sleeper or project from within California, Kiffin was able to land one of the top receivers in the country from out of state. And make no mistake, Kiffin was extremely crucial in getting Williams. The big receiver had his list down to USC and Florida late in the process, but he lost faith in the Gator staff when they brought up the possibility of him playing Tight End in the future, something he did not want to do. So he turned his attention to the Trojans and Kiffin, who had become a regular at the Williams household early on in the recruiting process. It was his trust in Kiffin and in his word that Williams would be coming to USC as a wide receiver that ultimately led him to decide on becoming a Trojan.
The recruitment of Byrd was somewhat similar to the Williams situation. Other than Long Beach Poly's Marcedes Lewis, it was a down year for tight ends in Southern California, especially for those who would fit in the Trojans' offense. Rather than settle for a prospect that the staff wasn't high on, they put their confidence in Kiffin and he went into Minnesota and grabbed the #1 rated player in the state away from Notre Dame, Colorado, and Boston College. Byrd's combination of size and tremendous receiving skills is something that was unavailable from the local scene. He should be a perfect fit in the Norm Chow offense.
Kiffin, who last coached for the Jacksonville Jaguars as Defensive Quality Control Assistant and is the son of former Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, played on his familiarity with Florida and went to work early last year in that state. He spent time building relationships with different coaches and programs during the spring, even going as far as attending the annual Tallahassee Lincoln-Tallahassee Godby "Spring Jamboree", a scrimmage between the two schools that marks the end of spring practice. Coaches from the traditional southern powers have been known to frequent these games, but it's a rare sight to see a coach from a program outside of the region, particularly from as far west as California. His effort paid off this year as we saw the Trojans draw interest from some of Florida's very best. He did a great job of identifying those players who had a genuine interest in the Trojans and pursuing them heavily. While the interest eventually waned on the part of many of the national recruits, the fact that Kiffin did reel in Williams and Byrd, and, at the time of this story, possibly St. Petersburg's Mike Ross, shows that USC can recruit successfully on the national level, with the help of Kiffin. The relationships he has built with the top programs in Florida also cannot be underestimated and will certainly help down the line. Expect to hear a lot more from this Tight Ends coach in the future, because while Byrd was one of the few players outside of Florida that he pursued this year, Carroll was so impressed with the job he did that he is thinking of putting Kiffin in charge of all out of state recruiting starting next year.