CFB: Kiffin promises clean program in return to USC
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES — The football fans crowding around Heritage Hall burned no mattresses and shouted no threats while Lane Kiffin was in the building. Southern California’s players and officials spoke with respect about this well-traveled young coach’s ability and character.
What a difference L.A. makes.
Kiffin formally took his dream job at USC on Wednesday night less than 24 hours after a fantastically messy resignation at Tennessee in which he read a hurried final statement while an angry mob of fans gathered outside.
Radiating composed California cool even after a cross-country flight and a fight through freeway traffic into downtown, Kiffin vowed to bury his past ethical questions and do a squeaky-clean job in his third major head coaching position in less than three years — this one as the face of a wildly successful program in the nation’s second-largest media market.
“I was thinking about myself and the staff we could bring here, and it became extremely apparent to me that it’s a perfect fit,” Kiffin said.
Kiffin left the Volunteers after one 7-6 season to return to the school where he spent six seasons as an assistant coach, saying he couldn’t pass up the chance to claim the job he had identified as the nation’s best when he joined Pete Carroll’s staff in 2001 as a 25-year-old tight ends coach.
“This is a place that was very special to me for a long time,” the 34-year-old Kiffin said to a packed room while his daughter, Pressley, lounged on a chair next to him. “It became obvious to me that this was the best place in America ... and this is the No. 1 job in America.”
Kiffin, the Oakland Raiders’ coach for 20 tumultuous games before taking over at Tennessee in late 2008, said Trojans fans shouldn’t expect to see the same pot-stirring coach who fired up Tennessee fans with a slew of reckless declarations to reporters and recruits, most notably accusing Florida’s Urban Meyer of cheating in recruiting. Such brash behavior isn’t the USC way, he claimed.
“We don’t need to go out and create energy about our program,” Kiffin said. “We don’t need to go out and grab attention, because we have it. ... Our No. 1 thing here is to develop the student-athletes and coach football. We don’t need to do anything else.”
Kiffin brought along his father, defensive guru Monte Kiffin, and returned with defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, the vaunted recruiter who helped build the Trojans into a college football behemoth during Carroll’s tenure. Both also were part of the Tennessee staff that committed several secondary NCAA violations during its 14 months in Knoxville.
Kiffin is now over a program laboring under a yearslong NCAA investigation that’s expected to be resolved in the coming months. Kiffin said he’ll “have a dedication to run an extremely clean, disciplined program,” adding his missteps in Tennessee will help his staff stay straight in Los Angeles.
“We need to have complete attention on making sure that we are running this program with great discipline, and that we are in compliance with all the rules,” Kiffin said. “And I don’t know that I could have done that 14 months ago ... as well as I could now because of being down there, (under) the microscope down there in the SEC and on Tennessee.”
Yet Kiffin and Orgeron immediately faced questions about Orgeron’s contact with Tennessee recruits in the 24 hours since their hiring at USC — contact that wouldn’t constitute an NCAA violation, but struck some Volunteers as overly aggressive.
Orgeron acknowledged speaking to several members of the Volunteers’ 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.
Embattled USC athletic director Mike Garrett said he identified Kiffin as a potential future leader of the program when he first joined Carroll’s staff in 2001. 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.”
Garrett also acknowledged the Trojans are interested in rehiring UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who created the Trojans’ standout early offenses before Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian replaced him in 2005. Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said Wednesday night he believes Chow will stay with UCLA.
Carroll left to become coach of the Seattle Seahawks earlier this week after winning 97 games and two national titles in nine seasons, and 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 on making sure the Trojans’ recruiting class remains solid, and they plan to 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 Heismans. “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.”