Thursday, January 14, 2010
Lane Kiffin back at USC OOH Wee!
LOS ANGELES -- Lane Kiffin rolled into his dream job at Southern California with a wave of promises and praise Wednesday night, vowing to run a squeaky-clean program even while immediately fending off questions about his staff's first day on the job.
Kiffin radiated California cool despite arriving late at his first news conference due to freeway traffic after his flight from Tennessee, where he abruptly left the Volunteers on Tuesday night after one season.
The longtime USC assistant coach said he couldn't pass up the chance to take the job he had identified as the nation's best a decade earlier, when he joined Pete Carroll's staff for six years as an assistant.
"This is a place that was very special to me for a long time," the 34-year-old Kiffin said in a packed room at Heritage Hall while his daughter, Pressley, lounged on a chair next to him.
While he said that "it was a very special place that we were" at Tennessee, "it became very obvious when we had a chance to come back here, we were coming back home, to the best job in America."
Kiffin, the former Oakland Raiders coach, led the Volunteers for only one season.
Kiffin has been on the move of late. He was 7-6 in his one season at Tennessee and 5-15 in one-plus seasons with the Raiders before being fired in September 2008.
He was a member of the USC coaching staff from 2001 to '06, first as wide receivers coach and then as offensive coordinator under Carroll.
Kiffin brought his father and defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, and assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron to Southern California with him.
Orgeron was with the Trojans for seven seasons before becoming the head coach at Mississippi and then an assistant with the New Orleans Saints.
Sources close to the school told ESPN's Shelley Smith on Tuesday night a deal was being worked on in hopes of bringing longtime offensive coordinator Norm Chow -- now at UCLA -- back to USC. And Trojans athletic director Mike Garrett confirmed the school's interest.
But on Thursday, Chow's agent, Don Yee, told ESPN that Chow would remain at UCLA next season. Yee said there was brief contact with USC, but talks went no further.
Chow was the offensive coordinator at USC from 2001 to 2004. He was also the coordinator at Brigham Young from 1973 to 1999, at NC State in 2000 and with the Tennessee Titans from 2005 to 2007.
Garrett said one of the aspects of hiring Kiffin that intrigued him most was the prospect of also getting Monte Kiffin and Orgeron.
"I said if we get Lane hopefully his dad will come and Orgeron will come and when we started talking it unfolded," he said. "And I said why not bring the whole group back and make a run at it and that became the natural extension of our talks."
While Garrett was enamored by the possible addition of a "dream staff" surrounding Kiffin, he didn't want that to overshadow the fact he believes Kiffin is ready to be the head coach at USC.
"Lane is someone I watched while he was here and he carried himself in such a way, I kept saying that this guy is a leader but he was too young," Garrett said. "I wanted to see if he took a good beating out there. He went to the Raiders and he learned a lot and he want to Tennessee and I watched him a couple times and I said he's starting to get a little composure and substance to him. I watched him this year and they got better. When I talked to him I said, 'By golly he's grown up.' That was pretty exciting."
Kiffin said Carroll helped him develop into head-coaching material, allowing him to be recruiting coordinator and offensive coordinator at USC.
"Coach told me this is in preparation for a day like this," he said.
Kiffin said he knows how to get players to come to USC.
"The relationships that I've been able to develop and that my staff has been able to develop, we'll be able to go anywhere and get the best talent in the country."
In comparing Tennessee to USC, Kiffin said: "To me, it's is a top-10 job. This is the No. 1 job in America."
Kiffin said Trojans fans shouldn't expect to see the same pot-stirring coach who fired up the Tennessee fan base with a slew of rash declarations to reporters and recruits, most notably accusing Florida's Urban Meyer of cheating in recruiting. Kiffin later apologized.
"We don't need to go out and create energy about the program," Kiffin said. "We don't need to grab attention, because we've already got it. Our No. 1 thing here is to develop the student-athletes and coach football. We don't need to do anything else."
Kiffin, however, comes with some baggage, having committed six secondary violations during his 14 months as Tennessee coach. It's a checkered past that should have raised some concern for a program currently being investigated by the NCAA.
"We will run a clean, disciplined program," Kiffin said.
Garrett isn't worried, either.
"We're talking about secondary infractions and secondary infractions aren't major," he said. "Everybody makes secondary violations. We looked at it closely and we got the answers that we wanted."
Despite the ongoing NCAA investigation and the self-imposed sanctions leveled against the men's basketball team last week, Garrett believes the football program will come out of the ordeal unscathed. He said that's one of the main reasons he hasn't imposed any sanctions on the program as of yet.
"We think as we look at the football deal we have some arguments there and we'd like to present those arguments," he said. "I really don't know where the [Reggie Bush investigation] stands because it's a civil suit and we're looking at it as an NCAA matter and that's being addressed by the university."
He said the biggest difference between the Bush case and the O.J. Mayo case is the athletic department had a connection with Rodney Guillory, the Los Angeles-based events promoter who allegedly provided cash and gifts to Mayo while he was at USC.
"We looked at sufficient evidence that there was a sufficient connection between us and Guillory," Garrett said. "So we then imposed sanctions"
Kiffin and Orgeron immediately faced questions about Orgeron's contact with Tennessee recruits in the 24 hours since their hiring at USC. Orgeron acknowledged speaking to several members of the Volunteers' standout recruiting class, but claimed he only gave them information requested by their families and didn't try to poach any Tennessee commitments.
"We will not [recruit Tennessee-committed players], unless a guy would call us and say he's interested in us," said Orgeron, one of the nation's top recruiters during his first stint at USC.
Kiffin replaces his former boss, Carroll, who left to become coach of the Seattle Seahawks earlier this week after winning 97 games and two national titles in nine seasons at USC.
The Trojans are coming off their worst season since Carroll's first in 2001. USC went 9-4, ending a run of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and BCS bowl game appearances.
Kiffin and Orgeron will get to work this weekend to make sure the Trojans' recruiting class remains solid and evaluate the players left behind by Carroll. Three top USC juniors who are headed to the NFL along with Carroll: leading receiver Damian Williams, leading rusher Joe McKnight and defensive lineman Everson Griffen.
"This is an exciting day for all of the players," said quarterback Matt Barkley, who waited for Kiffin's arrival on the balcony at Heritage Hall overlooking USC's trophy cases, which contain seven Heisman Trophies. "We're just glad we got a coach quick, and we're glad it's a competitive guy like Lane. I've known him since I was a freshman in high school. He recruited me."
After a whirlwind coaching search that apparently included feelers to former Trojans Jack Del Rio and Jeff Fisher, as well as former Trojans assistant Mike Riley, Garrett swiftly hired Kiffin.
"I try to catch people right at the part of where they're going to burst out, and I think he's right on the cusp of becoming a great coach," Garrett said. "What do I like about him most? He's been beat up a lot [in Oakland and Tennessee], and I wanted to know, how does he get off the mat? I think we'll do well."
Kiffin is not completely free of Tennessee. His Vols contract calls for him to pay a $800,000 buyout for leaving after only one season.
"Those payments shall be made in monthly installments over a 36-month period," the contract reads. It was not immediately clear if USC would pay any of that sum.
Despite the payment, the threat of sanctions and the angry fans he leaves behind in Tennessee, Kiffin thinks he is in the right place.
"This is my dream job. I'm here today. I'm very fortunate," he said.