Which Lane Kiffin Is Coaching at USC?
LOS ANGELES -- Will the real Lane Kiffin please stand up?
Is he the abrasive Lane Kiffin who shook things up with his words and actions when he coached Tennessee to a 7-6 record last season?
Or is he the guarded Lane Kiffin who has tried to do everything by the book since he replaced Pete Carroll at the University of Southern California in January?
"The way that I view it is that there's a specific plan for each individual job," Kiffin told FanHouse in an exclusive interview last week.
"With the plan coming in here [at USC], I didn't think that we needed to go out and gain attention. We didn't need to get the [Trojans'] logo out and drum up media attention for our players because that has already happened here.
"This has been a place that prior to last season had played in seven straight BCS games. So for most of these kids -- since they've been in fourth grade -- they've watched SC play in some big-time games and they understand why the program is known all across the country. I just did not feel that we needed to go out and grab attention like we did at Tennessee."
Making calculated moves is nothing new for Kiffin. That's how he's advanced from unknown USC assistant, to head coach of the NFL Oakland Raiders, to Tennessee head coach, to the Trojans' new leader all within a span of 10 years. And he just turned 35 on May 9th.
"One thing about Lane is that he's really matured," said USC defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron, who worked with Kiffin as an assistant under Carroll for four seasons and again at Tennessee last year. "He's really confident being the head coach at USC. I think that he's made all of the right moves since he's been here. He's done a great job."
Being a successful head coach has been a career goal for Kiffin ever since he gave up his senior season as a backup quarterback at Fresno State following the 1996 season. That's when he decided to follow his father, Monte, into coaching.
Kiffin spent his first two years as a Fresno State student assistant under Pat Hill, where he worked with then-Bulldogs assistant Jeff Tedford coaching quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs.
Kiffin then split the next two seasons between Colorado State and the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL, where he worked as an offensive line assistant and defensive quality control coach respectively.
Not the type of early coaching background that you'd expect from a coach whose critics claim had everything handed to him.
"Lane brings a lot to the table," USC athletic director Mike Garrett said when he hired Kiffin four months ago. "He has a coaching background both in the pros and in the best collegiate conferences. He has a great command of the X's and O's."
It's no secret that Kiffin's career took off once he joined Carroll at USC in 2001. For four years, he climbed the Trojans' coaching ranks, working with tight ends and wide receivers before being promoted to passing game coordinator in 2004.
But in 2005, Kiffin was involved in his first coaching controversy when rumors had him playing a big role behind Norm Chow's decision to leave USC to take an NFL assistant position with the Tennessee Titans.
That negative perception only grew when Carroll gave Chow's job as offensive coordinator to Kiffin and also put him in charge of recruiting. It turned out to be a move that paid off for both Carroll and Kiffin.
With Kiffin calling plays, USC's offense soared. The Trojans established school records by averaging 49.1 points and 579 yards per game in 2005, and the next season, USC led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency and averaged 30.5 points and 391 yards per game.
Those numbers were good enough to help Kiffin catch the attention of Raiders, who made him the NFL's youngest head coach at 31 on January 23, 2007.
Kiffin's time in Oakland did not last long nor did it end on good terms. After putting together a 5-15 record, Kiffin was fired four games into his second season and Oakland owner Al Davis did not make things better when he called Kiffin "a flat-out liar" and that he was guilty of "bringing disgrace to the organization."
And then Kiffin was hired by Tennessee.
At first, the relationship seemed like a perfect fit. By not being afraid to speak his mind, Kiffin fired up everyone in the SEC, even Volunteer fans. He promised a win over Florida and accused Gators coach Urban Meyer of NCAA recruiting violations. Then Kiffin was reprimanded for breaking a few minor rules.
"At Tennessee, he had to go out on the limb a little bit and challenge other the coaches and all that," said Orgeron, who spent three seasons as head coach at Mississippi from 2005-2007. "All he was doing was getting our name around. That's all that was.
"But damn right. I did the same thing [at Mississippi]. In the SEC, when you're the new guy, they want you to come in and just be timid. But you can't do that. You have go in there and bring it."
On the field, Kiffin had mixed success. Although four of Tennessee's six defeats were by 10 or fewer points, including a two-point road loss at eventual-national champion Alabama, the Volunteers failed to play up to Kiffin's hype and even suffered a home loss to USC's rival, UCLA.
But when Kiffin announced that he was leaving Tennessee to return to USC, supporters of the Volunteers were not pleased. Even some of his Tennessee players yelled nasty things at him when he held a team meeting to tell them that he was leaving.
Students burned mattresses along with other items and nearly turned the Tennessee campus into a riot zone. Angry fans painted vulgar comments about Kiffin on rocks around the school and someone even printed the cell number of his wife on a wall.
"With Tennessee, that's a very special place down there with very, very passionate people," Kiffin said. "It's not a place that's used to people leaving for other jobs. The reaction down there, I just think reflects how much they care about football and their school and how passionate they are for their football program. It's a different part of the country than out here, so the reactions are different when people leave."
Did the powerful response surprise Kiffin?
"Yes it did," he said. "I didn't know that it would be as strong as it was. But once again, that just speaks to how big Tennessee football is compared to anything else in the state."
As a result of Kiffin's fast and rocky rise within the coaching world, the number of members within the Lane Kiffin Haters' Club has grown.
For example, Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com wrote: "If there were a stock car race between all the frauds, egomaniacs and two-faced weasels I've ever covered, Lane Kiffin would have the pole position all to himself. Kiffin is a spin doctor without a medical degree. He thinks truth comes in different shades of gray. He demands loyalty, but gives none himself."
And Wojciechowski has been one of Kiffin's more polite critics.
Even former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, whose only connection to Kiffin is that the son of his former college coach Vince Dooley (Derek) replaced Kiffin at Tennessee, has taken aim.
"[Kiffin] is a guy you don't want to trust at all," Walker told USA Today earlier this month. "I think it's sad when you trust your kids with someone like that and they leave."
Pretty harsh words, but they don't seem to bother Kiffin.
"I don't concern myself with it. I just don't," Kiffin said. "People are going to have their opinions. But I will say this: There's a lot of things that go on in decision-making for coaches ... contract structures and support, the ability to get things done within the program, all types of stuff that never makes the paper."
If Kiffin cared, probably the toughest thing for him to understand would be criticism of his decision to accept the Trojans' head coaching position.
"I didn't have anybody that I talked to during or after the process who thought that this was a poor decision to take this job at USC," Kiffin said. "Not from anyone who I know, trust and value."
One reason Kiffin is not bothered by naysayers is that he knows if the Trojans have the same type of success that they had under Carroll, his critics will disappear.
"When we came in, he immediately set a plan that we were going to recruit hard and coach up our football team and that's what we've done," Orgeron said.
Kiffin hasn't exactly stayed out of the news since he returned to USC.
In February, Kiffin raised more than a few eyebrows when he offered a scholarship to a 13-year-old quarterback and that came after he made a hot-print statement about UCLA that upset more than a few supporters of the Bruins.
"We know within the first 10 minutes, whether they're the type of guys that want to play here or there," Kiffin told the Orange County Register when asked about the difference between USC's 2010 recruits and those who signed with the Bruins.
We can tell the difference by "the questions that they ask," by the way the recruits carry themselves and a certain "feeling" he gets about them from having worked the area so long, Kiffin said in the report.
"One of the things I like is not one of these guys asked about a depth chart or who was here or how much can I play or worried about being able to beat people out," Kiffin said. "Those are the guys that we want to come to SC. Everyone was like that, but especially this group."
Kiffin's comments spread like wildfire all around Southern California and added spice to a rivalry that has been dominated by the Trojans, who have won 10 of the past 11 meetings.
But by the time USC began spring practice in March, Kiffin had switched gears. No more attention-gaining statements or moves by Kiffin, who made sure that everyone knew that he was all about business.
So what is it? Which Kiffin should USC fans expect from their new coach? Abrasive Lane or the toned-down version?
"I am much more comfortable being like this," Kiffin said about the business-first approach he has adopted since he took over the Trojans' program. "I even said that when I was at Tennessee that there were things that I did but I didn't like doing. But it was all just part of the plan and it needed to be done."
And what is Kiffin's plan for the Trojans?
"Win" he said with a laugh. Starting on Sept. 4 when USC opens the 2010 season at Hawaii, the real Lane Kiffin will get a chance to get that done.