USC Opts for Charisma, Not Results, With Lane Kiffin
Whereas many expected athletic director Mike Garrett would go for the glitz and glamour factor in considering replacements -- that's why names such as Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci, Jack Del Rio, Mike Riley, Jim Harbaugh and even Jon Gruden were mentioned as potential candidates -- the stunning confirmation that Kiffin was coming back to Los Angeles makes perfect sense.
It's all about charisma. And landing a guy whom Garrett knows would take the job.
With NCAA investigators closing in on sanctions that could cripple an already struggling USC football program for the next three to five seasons, you figure Garrett wasn't eager for a replay of the Carroll hiring backlash he experienced a decade earlier.
USC already has a public relations disaster this season. Carroll bolting to the Seattle Seahawks before the heat began melting his college football empire was going to do nothing to appease a fan base that expects BCS supremacy and star-studded blue-chip rosters each season.
Enter Kiffin, whose boyish charm and infectious enthusiasm made him an appealing experiment as the Oakland Raiders head coach and even more of one as the head coach at Tennessee.
Just as Carroll was an out-of-nowhere science project in 2000 when he was hired at Southern Cal.
It's easy to forget that Carroll, with his seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and two national championships to his credit, emerged as the fourth choice from a pack of better known -- and more preferred – candidates favored by the deep-pocketed Trojans' alumni and donors following the disastrous Paul Hackett era.
Garrett wanted a big-name college winner with some Pac-10 chops to make the donors forget Hackett. He pursued Oregon States' Dennis Erickson and Oregon's Mike Bellotti. Both stuck pat. Garrett then made a run at then-San Diego Chargers coach Mike Riley, who had been a former USC assistant coach. That's another trait of Garrett – hire someone from the USC family.
But Carroll, who had been a decent NFL coach but hadn't worked in the college ranks for some time, fought for the job and ultimately won over Garrett with his enthusiasm.
While the influential donors and alumni initially threatened to yank their annual checks to the USC athletic department over the Carroll hiring, it turned out to be a gamble that paid off handsomely.
Garrett, USC's mystery man who appeared publicly Tuesday to confirm the pending arrival of Kiffin, has to be hoping his new hire's bubbly personality will help demanding SoCal football fans get over the abrupt loss of one of the most effective college football recruiters in the country.
That's what Kiffin sold to Al Davis, and it got the Raiders a 5-15 record in just over one season in Oakland. That's the package (along with defensive coordinator father, Monte) Kiffin shopped to Tennessee, and it got the Volunteers a 7-6 record in one season in Knoxville, along with plenty of bad blood from the rest of the Southeastern Conference.
That's probably the deal Kiffin offered to Garrett -- along with a not-so-gentle reminder that he had been a decent recruiter when he worked under Carroll as a USC offensive assistant from 2001-06.
Then again, what was Garrett going to do? After Steve Sarkisian, Fisher, Del Rio and Riley indicated no interest in the USC job within hours after Carroll's announced departure for the Seattle Seahawks, Garrett found himself back in time. It was 2000, all over again.
He needed a splashy name. A headline maker.
Good or bad, he got one.