LOS ANGELES — When Lane Kiffin didn’t board the team bus early Sunday morning to head back to campus after the team arrived from Arizona on their charter flight, nobody thought it was a big deal.
“Once we got off the plane, the coaches’ cars are already at the airport,” USC wide receiver Marqise Lee said. “[I’ve] never seen [Kiffin] get on the bus. He’d never get on the bus. Once he got off the airplane, he’d just walk to his car. All the coaches do that — besides the one that rides back with us.”
Nothing to see here. Business as usual, right?
Except once the players were heading back to campus, Kiffin and athletic director Pat Haden had about a 45-minute meeting right there at the airport. The result was Kiffin’s termination.
The players received 4 a.m. text messages Sunday morning informing them that there will be change.
That change was unexpected.
“It came as a surprise,” Lee told FOXSportsWest.com. “Even if it was going to come I thought it was going to at least come….at least, end of the season. But midseason?”
At the time, the Pac-12 opening loss to Washington State appeared to be too much to overcome. He lasted three more games, but his third appearance since that dreaded loss proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
There was a 1:54 stretch at the start of the second half that proved to be a head scratcher, much like the end of Kiffin’s tenure.
The lethargic USC offense scored on a three-play drive to take a 21-20 lead. USC’s defense, ranked fourth in the nation entering the game, allowed Arizona State to score on just two plays on their ensuing possession as they regained the lead on a D.J. Foster 74-yard score. USC didn’t score the rest of the quarter while the Sun Devils ran off 28 unanswered on their way to a 62-41 win, leaving many thinking “what just happened?”
That was a continuation of the end for Kiffin.
When the team got back together on campus at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning, they were informed that defensive line coach Ed Orgeron would be the team’s head coach for the rest of the season.
Haden says he wants Orgeron to bring fun and joy back to the game of football. The players appear to be ready to turn the page.
“Obviously Washington State and then Arizona State (is where things went south),” tight end Xavier Grimble said. “SC is just one of those schools you can’t really take losses like that, unfortunately.
“We just got to try to enjoy it, embrace it, and move forward. I still think we got a good team. I’m looking forward to it.”
With the current bye week, the Trojans will have time to get acclimated to life without Kiffin. Their next game is Thursday, Oct. 10 at the Coliseum against Arizona.