Why hiring Lane Kiffin makes sense

Lane Kiffin? Did you say LANE KIFFIN is going to be the new USC football coach? C'mon, you have to be kidding. The young guy who was an assistant at USC for six years before going on for look-sees with the Oakland Raiders and the University of Tennessee is going to be the new Howard Jones-John McKay-John Robinson-Pete Carroll at your beloved Troy?

Well, I won't take long to give you my reaction, which is: USC athletic director Mike Garrett, take a bow for a brilliantly gutsy decision, one that only a wily old tailback would make.

Please understand, Garrett could have taken the easy way out. He could have gone hard after Oregon State's Mike Riley, a heck of a coach and one of the world's nicest guys, or Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, a former USC linebacking All-American and possessor of a commendable record in the National Football League. And, had Garrett pushed hard enough, he probably could have persuaded either to come to USC. As it developed, neither Riley nor Del Rio was offered the USC job.

You see, Garrett knew he needed something more than a Riley or a Del Rio to compensate for the loss of the highly succsssful Carroll. He needed to land a haymaker. He needed to make a selection that would grab the attention of the football world, most importantly, high school recruits, some of whom were previously committed to USC but were wavering in the aftermath of Carroll's surprising departure for sunny Seattle.

With Kiffin, Garrett also gets the new coach's father, Monte, an acclaimed defensive coordinator who left the NFL to be with his son at Tennessee, and Ed Orgeron, a former USC assistant head coach, defensive line boss and recruiting coordinator. Orgeron was head coach at Mississippi for three years before spending a season with the New Orleans Saints and the 2009 campaign with Kiffin at Tennessee. There has been a highly visible lack of discipline on the USC football team since Orgeron left the school after the 2004 national championship season. Ed will become chief butt-kicker for the new coach.

There also is a possibility that Norm Chow, who gained notoriety as offensive coordinator for four seasons under Carroll, might depart UCLA and join Kiffin at Troy. There's also a chance that former USC offensive line coach Tim Davis, currently headed for an assistant's post at Minnesota, might be induced into returning to the Trojans.

Not only would this group give USC a coaching staff unmatched anywhere in college football, it would be a recruiting thunderclap.

But with or without Chow or Davis, the Trojans are in a position to continue their mastery of the Pacific-10 Conference and continue their success on the national scene.

Yes, Kiffin has been a controversial figure, going back to his days at USC. Carroll was moving Kiffin into a position that challenged Chow's control of the offense, and Chow resigned after the 2004 season to take a position with the NFL's Tennessee Titans, departing with the impression that he was unhappy with Carroll's decision. But Kiffin shouldn't have been blamed for Carroll's move. The head coach made it, not Kiffin. And someone besides Carroll apparently saw Kiffin's potential, given the fact that the Raiders hired him as a head coach at 31, youngest of the modern NFL era, and Tennessee brought him in at 33.

I've been priviliged to be around the USC football scene as a sportswriter since 1966 and all those who have evaluated Kiffin favorably have probably seen what I've seen -- someone in the mold of a John McKay.

A little arrogant and huffy at times? Perhaps. So was McKay. And arrogance, or a strut, if you prefer, is a hallmark of successful coaches and championship teams. To name a few, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Bear Bryant and Lou Holtz, all possessed it. The current Pac-10 hotshot, Jim Harbaugh, has it in abundance.

As for what some on the national scene perceived as gaffes by Kiffin in his Southeastern Conference debut season, well, those of us who know Kiffin well believe those remarks and actions were calculated.. Yes, calculated to draw attention to a Tennessee program that had fallen into disrepair and was desperately in need of fresh juice. Kiffin gave the Vols what they needed and recruited some outstanding players for the future, including Bryce Brown, the nation's No. 1 prep tailback in the recruiting class of 2009. He also challenged the SEC's powerhouse teams, Alabama and Florida, before bowing to them this past season.

McKay was 36 when he took command of the Trojans after the 1959 season. He had a couple of rough seasons before a combination of newcomers and veterans went undefeated and captured a national championship in 1962.

Maybe I'm just a crazy old man, but I expect no less from Lane Kiffin.

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