Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  By L.A. TIMES  |  Last updated 9/29/13
Lane Kiffin was never the long-term coaching solution for USC football. Let's repeat that with the emphasis on "never." He was an 11th-hour poker play in 2010 by former Athletic Director Mike Garrett, a desperate move to short-term save a program from the NCAA sanctions that were handed down under Garrett's arrogant watch. Garrett fooled us all by hiring a coach under NCAA investigation at Tennessee to a school going on NCAA probation. How brilliantly sinister! No body thought Garret had the gall. Never mind that Kiffin lacked the credentials or the pedigree, he was at least a not-too-distant member of Pete Carroll's old glory guard. Kiffin was a stopgap brought in to save Garrett and, more important, a recruiting class. One scouting service touted in Kiffin's USC media guide bio: "To the recruits and parents we've talked to, USC hired Vince Lombardi." Garrett's career was not salvageable, but Kiffin was substitute-teacher qualified to hold together the center of a program. The weak premise was holding right up until the start of the second-half kickoff against Arizona State on Saturday night. But no USC coach, no matter how unfair the circumstances, could survive giving up 62 points to a mid-level Pac-12 Conference team in Tempe. Even current Athletic Director Pat Haden, who had put his own reputation on the line in his unwavering support for Kiffin, had to relent. It was handled surreptitiously in typical, current-day fashion a statement posted in the dead of night. In the end, and everyone must know this, Kiffin had been set up to fail by Garrett first and then the loss of scholarships that would ultimately bleed the program dry. The NCAA doesn't rip you of 30 bodies over three years because it wants you to win the Pac-12 title. The collapse that was inevitable ended up gushing out like a dam break, as USC's training staff kept hauling Trojans players off the field at Sun Devil Stadium. I always thought Kiffin was a suitable answer to an impossible situation. No coach was going succeed with what the NCAA had given the school. At least Kiffin was energetic and worked hard. His job would be to hold the fort through the sanctions until a bigger name would become interested in one of the nation's top-tier programs. Why would someone good want to come in go through what Kiffin went through? It doesn't look good on the legacy rsum. The smart ones know how to play it. Alabama was hit with similar NCAA sanctions in the early 2000s that were aimed at setting the program back a few years. And they did. In Tuscaloosa, poor Mike Shula got the job of getting booed during the down years. Nick Saban was smart enough to know Alabama was going to be Alabama again someday. He became the head coach just as the scholarships were starting to be restored. Saban would need only one hardship year, in 2007, when he lost to Louisiana-Monroe at home and ended up 7-6. No one booed him. Saban has never won fewer than 10 games a season since, earns more than 5 million a year and has led Alabama to three national titles. A statue of him stands not far from Bryant-Denny Stadium. USC is Alabama in 2004. Lane Kiffin is Mike Shula, a.k.a. "The Caretaker Coach." Even Shula fooled them for one year, going 10-2 in 2005. Kiffin's USC team had the same record in 2011. In a few years, we'll look back and say Kiffin did about as well as you could expect for someone who really should not have been USC's coach. Kiffin recruited well enough to save the classes that included great players like Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Despite crippling sanctions, Kiffin somewhat incredibly produced a program that was ranked No. 1 in the preseason of 2012. This was all preposterous, of course. Reality took hold and knocked the Trojans all the way to 7-6 and a Sun Bowl loss. It is still shocking that Haden, the coach's biggest defender, would fire Kiffin in the dead of night less than six hours after a game. That is something you would expect Garrett would do in a heartbeat, but not the likable Rhodes Scholar from La Puente Bishop Amat High. It would take an extraordinary set of circumstances for Haden act so suddenly brazen and cow to the longtime wishes of his fan base. But all those circumstances unfolded in one of the ugliest second halves in the history of Trojans football. Losing to Washington State by a field goal was one thing. Getting stomped on by Arizona State, a team that hasn't won a Rose Bowl since 1987 was unworkable. The irony is that Kiffin's inept offense, the trigger for so much booster anger, amassed 542 yards and 41 points against Arizona State. Kiffin's "Denny's menu" play card actually produced some "grand-slam" scrambles. It was his defense, ranked No. 4 nationally, that did him in. Ah, but enough of this first-draft Shakespearean rewrite. Since the very beginning, in our heart of hearts, everyone knew Kiffin never really stood a chance. --Chris Dufresne
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