USC officials asked Lane Kiffin to get off the team bus Sunday morning, then they told him to stay off. It may be the most popular firing in college football history.
What happened on the LAX tarmac has sent waves of snickering and schadenfreude throughout the land. And why not?
Kiffin left a trail of anger and bewilderment everywhere he’s been— anger over his behavior, bewilderment over why he was hired in the first place.
You can fool some of the people all of the time. Based on his resume, Kiffin should have fooled enough to be an assistant coach at a Big Sky school by now. Or maybe he’d be pumping gas in South Carolina — it is what Kiffin once told Alshon Jeffery he’d end up doing if he didn’t sign with Tennessee, after all.
Kiffin undoubtedly had one valuable coaching trait: Luck. However, he mistook his good fortune for actual ability. Kiffin was such a master of "failing up," he was probably the only one surprised at what happened after USC’s charter landed.
It turns out Lucky Lane really was on the hot seat. When AD Pat Haden asked him to get up, Kiffin reportedly told the bus driver to keep the bus running.
He didn’t realize Haden had finally seen enough during the Trojans’ 62-41 loss at Arizona State. It didn’t help that Stanford was putting 55 points on Washington State Saturday night — the same woeful Cougars that USC managed seven points against in the season opener.
Haden could always kid himself into thinking Kiffin would outgrow the shenanigans— deflating footballs, switching player jerseys mid-game, fibbing about injuries or claiming he hadn’t voted USC No. 1 when the incriminating ballot told the truth.
All that was tame compared to the nonsense Kiffin pulled in the SEC. But when USC sunk to Washington State level, it was obvious Kiffin has a bigger problem than his arrested development: He’s simply not a good coach.
Sure, there is some talent beneath the smirk. Kiffin coaxed 11 wins out of a probation-strapped team two years ago, but that supposedly just inflated his ego and made him harder to live with.
Kiffin can’t blame USC’s collapse on the fading NCAA sanctions. Last season ended with the Trojans brawling with themselves at the Sun Bowl. Whatever the issues were, Kiffin hadn’t solved them.
He’d lost the locker room and USC was losing recruits. Tommy Trojan was hopelessly ill. Which leads us back to the original question: What did Kiffin ever to do to deserve John McKay’s old job?
It helped that Mike Garrett was in charge of hiring at the time. Garrett is currently athletic director at Langston University. Enough said.
But why did Tennessee hire Kiffin, making him the youngest FBS coach at the time? It couldn’t have been based on that 5-15 record in Oakland. And why did the Raiders make him the youngest coach in NFL history?
OK, Al Davis was loony — but what did he see in a 31-year-old offensive coordinator from USC who couldn’t design an offense around Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Matt Leinart?
Lucky Lane has always been in the right place at the right time — at least until everything went terribly wrong.
By comparison, his latest exit is dignified. Students aren’t rioting, like they were when Kiffin slinked out of Knoxville. Unlike Davis, Haden isn’t accusing Kiffin of being a “flat-out liar” and “bringing disgrace to the organization.”
Haden can now go out and hire his own guy. There will be no shortage of fine candidates, most of whom will have more than seven collegiate wins on their resumes.
As for Kiffin, he is now the youngest ex-coach of two flagship football enterprises. He could always make a fortune starring in a “How to Impress in Your Job Interview” infomercial.
Given his career arc, he might even parlay this firing into the head job with the Cowboys. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? But it’s more likely prospective employers have caught on to Kiffin’s act.
He was left standing on the tarmac Sunday morning with his bag by his feet. And as the bus pulled away, the truth was evident.