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Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin at the NFL - 2007 Annual Meetings - AFC Coach Breakfast at Arizona Biltmore, on March 27, 2007. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Lane Kiffin is brash. In his first press conference at Tennessee he talked about beating top ranked Florida. Not much later he -- wrongly, it turned out -- tried to call out Florida coach Urban Meyer on a recruiting violation at a press conference. Tennessee fans lapped it up.
USC likes brash. And right now they have the guy who could be another Pete Carroll. A guy who makes the program fun. A guy who can inspire young players. A guy who has put together a great staff (and apparently is still trying to reach an agreement with Norm Chow, although Chow’s agent has said there has been no formal contact). Lane Kiffin in his first press conference is going to say things that USC fans want to hear.
But Mike Garrett has taken some big risks with this pick. It could pay off handsomely, or it could backfire into an ugly mess.
The first risk is that Kiffin has never proved to be a great head coach. The Raiders’ Al Davis plucked him from being the offensive coordinator at USC to take over his NFL franchise, then after one ugly 4-12 season tried to force him to resign. Davis eventually fired Kiffin, who left with a 5-15 record.
Then Kiffin went to Tennessee, where he got people to buy in with hope despite taking over a 5-6 team. The Volunteers were better — they finished 7-6 and made it to a bowl (where they lost big to Virginia Tech). Kiffin also lost to UCLA last season, at home. They were far from great.
But the bigger risk USC is taking is off the field. This is a program already at the end of a five-year NCAA investigation into improper benefits Reggie Bush may have received — with possible sanctions announced in the next two months — and they hired a guy who was on the NCAA’s radar at Tennessee.
Kiffin had the NCAA looking into six minor violations, the most famous of those being using football “hostesses” — pretty coeds — to talk to recruits off campus. He gave up the name of a recruit on twitter and planned a press conference at one point before a recruit had signed. While all these violations are minor, like speeding tickets when your rack up six close together suddenly you draw a lot more attention. The NCAA is watching Lane Kiffin.
USC, rather than trying to say a sheepish “we’re sorry” to the NCAA with the Bush investigation, just thumbed their nose at them.
It’s a risk. One that may be popular with players and fans today, but those same fans will turn if Kiffin can’t produce wins on the field or gets the school in trouble with the NCAA.
It was a brash move by USC. And USC fans like brash. At least they do today.