Pola Lawsuit Couldn't Have Come At A Worse Time For USC
Of all the times for Lane Kiffin to make an improper coaching hire, this had to be the worst.
The sting of the NCAA sanctions was just beginning to wear off. Reggie Bush and Mike Garrett had finally been nudged out of the picture. And a new era of athletics was dawning under the direction of athletic director Pat Haden. Everything was going relatively well.
Then the Kennedy Pola bomb dropped.
If you haven't heard the details yet, Pola was hired on Saturday to be USC's running backs coach and offensive coordinator. In order to do so, he left his job as running backs coach for the Tennessee Titans. That in and of itself isn't enough to create a controversy, but three factors made this more than a typical hire: 1) Pola left the Titans a week before training camp, putting them in the lurch in terms of finding a replacement; 2) the man he replaced on the Titans was Earnest Byner, a popular figure who oversaw Chris Johnson's 2,000-yard season; and 3) Kiffin reportedly did not ask for the Titans' permission to discuss the position with Pola.
That last part may not seem like much of an issue--teams hire coaches away from teams all the time--but it is in this case.
A clause in Pola's contract with the Titans said any team that wanted to talk to him about a job had to get written permission first. Kiffin apparently ignored the rule, offered Pola the job without asking the Titans first, and left Jeff Fisher and Co. in his dust. Now Tennessee Football Inc., the company that owns the Titans, is suing him and the university for "malicious intent."
At surface level the lawsuit seems stupid. Malicious intent? What's that? The name of a Harrison Ford movie? Besides, the Titans don't want Pola back any more than the Trojans want to give him back. All is fair in love and college football, right?
In most cases, yes. But in this case, no.
In this case, a professional team's pride has been hurt and its coach has been made to look like a fool. Fisher hired Pola in February, dumping the well-regarded Byner in order to so. Now, just six months later, Pola leaves? And, worse yet, leaves right before training camp. Imagine how that makes Fisher look. Like a horse's ass, right?
No professional coach wants to look like a horse's ass, especially not one who has 136 career wins under his belt and a mustache that makes even Tom Selleck blush with envy.
On top of that, no NFL team wants to establish the precedent of having its coaches hired away by college teams. Image is everything and all that. Hence, the lawsuit.
Under normal circumstances, this would simply go down as a learning lesson for Kiffin. He was hasty. He acted negligently. He won't do it again.
But these aren't normal circumstances. The waves at USC are rocky. Due to the recent sanctions, the team is being closely monitored. The program has many detractors waiting to signal the downfall of its once-powerful standing.
Given the scrutiny, Kiffin should have been more careful.
Urgency be damned. He should have read the fine print and gone through the proper channels.
Kiffin's brash nature is part of what makes him a successful coach. Without it, I doubt he would be where he is today. But in this case his impetuousness hurt the Trojans more than it helped.
If he's not more careful, he may find himself in the wake of Haden's S.S. Propriety in the not-so-distant future.
To reach editor Patrick Crawley, click here.