Oldtimer's Take: Coaching Transition

Lane Kiffin is a disciple of Pete Carroll, just as John Robinson was of John McKay and John Madden of the Raiders. And like Robinson, Kiffin begins with a very strong nucleus of players at USC. He has a similar system and philosophy to Carroll's and a staff that can both coach and recruit.

From McKay to Robinson and from Carroll to Kiffin

I've seen 11 USC head coaches in my lifetime. My grandfather saw all the coaching transitions from 1900 to John Robinson. My dad's memories of coaching changes at USC began with Gus Henderson stepping aside for Howard Jones in 1925.

The transition from Henderson to Jones was very successful. Howard Jones was a big name in college football at the time USC hired him. He played at Yale from 1905-1907 and Yale won three national championships. He coached the Yale team in 1909 and won a NC. Jones won 8 NCs in his career as a player and coach. He was a successful coach at Syracuse, Yale, Ohio State, and Iowa before coming to USC after one year at Duke.

Jones was undefeated at Iowa in 1921 and 1922 and won 20 straight games. In 1921 he defeated Knute Rockne and ND 10-7. Jones' wife, who later divorced him, didn't like Iowa City. So Jones asked Iowa for a contract that would allow him to live and coach in Iowa City only during the football season. They refused. So after one year at Duke he came to USC in 1925. Howard Jones was a single parent during his years at USC.

Besides Henderson and Jones, Larry Smith is the only other name coach USC has hired. Smith was at Tulane and Arizona before he came to USC. He had one good year at Tulane in '79 and was then hired by Arizona. He beat USC in 1981 13-10 at the coliseum when USC was ranked No.1. After a quick 27-8-1 start in his first three years at USC, and three Rose Bowls, the program faded. When Smith said, "logos and names don't mean anything" his career at USC ended after the 1992 season.

Notre Dame hired a big name coach this year in Brian Kelly. He has a great track record wherever he has coached and a resume that's stronger than Lou Holtz' was when he came to ND. Ara Parseghian was also very successful before he came to ND. USC has chosen to go with Lane Kiffin who does not have much of a track record as a head coach.

When John McKay was hired before the 1960 season he was a little known assistant coach at USC. He had no head coaching experience. USC had two losing seasons in 1960 and 1961, but he had hired a good staff and his recruiting classes had been strong so he was given one more year to prove himself. USC went 11-0 in 1962 and won a national championship. McKay was on his way to winning three more national championships.

McKay didn't encourage conversation. He did a lot of planning and gave attention to details. He was an expert at charting offenses and defenses. He knew what a team had to do to beat another team. McKay had a great staff of Dave Levy, Jim Stangeland and Craig Fertig for the offense and Marv Goux, Dick Coury, Phil Krueger and Rod Humeruik for the defense.

Dave Levy, who played at LBCC and UCLA, was the head coach at Long Beach Poly and Jim Stangeland the head coach at Long Beach City College. Along with Marv Goux they were great recruiters and winners. Dave Levy won two CIF championships at Poly in '58-59 and Stangeland coached probably the best junior college football teams ever at LBCC in the early 60's. McKay coached through his assistants.

USC didn't meet much as a team under John McKay. They would meet on Sunday and go over the game films and then not meet again until Friday. The team practiced during the week and the players studied film with their coaches, but players didn't spend much time with McKay. McKay said, "I don't talk to the team very much. They do what I expect or all hell will break loose." McKay won because he had better players and he used them brilliantly.

John Robinson was an Oregon grad like McKay and coached at USC in the early 70's but had went to the Oakland Raiders before USC called him to be their head coach in '76. He had no head coaching experience, and I was surprised by his hire. I thought Dave Levy would be the head coach. Levy had turned down a job with McKay at Tampa and seemed to be the best man for the job.

I think USC wanted someone personable after 15 years with McKay, and a good PR man, and Robinson fit the bill. Robinson continued what McKay was doing. McKay left the cupboard full for Robinson in '76 and USC went 11-1 after losing 4 games in '75.

McKay went to the new NFL Tampa Bay Bucs and went 0-14. He said he didn't have any good players, and he couldn't get any. Carroll may find things that way at Seattle. You can't go out and recruit 25 good players in the NFL like you can in college football.

Kiffin is still an unknown despite being a head coach at Oakland and Tennessee.

But he is a disciple of Pete Carroll, just as Robinson was of McKay and John Madden of the Raiders. And like Robinson, Kiffin begins with a very strong nucleus of players at USC. He has a similar system and philosophy to Carroll's and a staff that can both coach and recruit.

So far the transition from Carroll to Kiffin has gone smoothly.


Lane Kiffin hopes to continue the great success that Pete Carroll had at USC.


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