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USC Football - Why It's Time To Give Lane Kiffin A Break

Kate Rooney |
October 25, 2011 | 1:42 p.m. PDT

Senior Sports Editor

Kiffin's Trojans are markedly improved from last year. (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
Kiffin's Trojans are markedly improved from last year. (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
Everybody loves to hate Lane Kiffin.

Whether it’s due to his own reserved nature or the fact that he’s followed up “Sunshine” Pete Carroll, USC head coach Kiffin has been reviled by Trojan fans since before setting foot in the Coliseum.

But the time has finally come to give Kiffin a break.

Not a break in the, “let’s stop holding him accountable for the team,” sense. Rightfully, all coaches of big-time programs have their actions scrutinized and their play calling questioned by fans, media and administration. That will never go away.

Instead, it’s time to admit that Kiffin is a doing a good job leading the Trojans. 

When Kiffin accepted the position—his dream job, by any account—the USC landscape looked quite different. Mike Garrett was the athletic director. The football program was coming off nearly a decade of glory that included two BCS championship appearances, one of them a win. The Trojans were a recruiting powerhouse.

Mere months after Kiffin’s hire was announced, so were the now-notorious sanctions against his new employer. The Kiffin era started with a new athletic director, with the promise of 30 scholarships lost over the ensuing three years, and without bowl eligibility.

Not exactly ideal conditions.

The doubt surrounding Kiffin’s ability to make something of this team and avoid becoming the next SMU was as thick as the smog that hangs over the USC campus.

But thanks to the young coach’s leadership, it appears the Grim Reaper has other programs to worry about (Miami, I hear AllState has great life insurance policies). 

USC appears to be thriving. 

The Trojans sit atop the Pac-12 South standings at 6-1. They’re fresh off a surprise win at Notre Dame, where their defense looked strong for their second week in a row and their offense looked typically explosive. 

More importantly, Kiffin was able to put together an outstanding recruiting class in 2011—the first year the program has been affected by the loss of scholarships. Recruit Marqise Lee is already making a tangible impact on the field, while fellow freshmen George Farmer, Amir Carlisle, Antwaun Woods and others have all shown great promise of things to come.

But enough about the future. 

Under Kiffin’s direction, the Trojans have made improvements that are evident in the present. 

Two of the biggest concerns heading into this season were the defense and the offensive line.

It was clear after the first game this season, when quarterback Matt Barkley completed a school record 34 passes, that the O-Line was on the mend. USC now ranks 15th in passing efficiency, and left tackle Matt Kalil has blocked more kicks than he’s allowed sacks (five blocks; four sacks)—‘SC ranks fifth in the nation in sacks allowed. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball…

After a shaky start to the season, the Trojan defense has come alive in the past two weeks. The defensive mind of his father, Monte, is one of Kiffin’s biggest weapons, and it’s finally starting to show on the field. 

USC stands at 11th nationally against the run, after holding Cal’s Isi Sofele to 52 yards and Notre Dame to 41 total yards on the ground. 

Two young stars were born these past two weeks, freshman DB Dion Bailey with his two interceptions and six tackles against Cal, and sophomore CB Nickell Robey with his shutdown of Michael Floyd and game-sealing interception at Notre Dame. 

The real standout at Notre Dame, however, was Kiffin’s own creative play calling, which has become something of a calling card for the head coach. USC has won all kinds of ways this year—offense, defense, special teams.

His propensity for “going for two” has ruffled Trojan fan feathers, and his decision to fake a field goal on first drive against California left many crying foul. 

Kiffin’s explanation as to why he didn’t call for a real field goal? “Because that’s no fun.” 

His energy, willingness to take risks, and enjoyment of the game may not match the exuberance of say, Carroll, but among his players they have fostered both the desire and ability to win, regardless of the spoils. 

Aren’t those the most important traits in a head coach?

In a season and half, Kiffin has created both a “win now” environment and started a strong foundation for the future, something that looked next to impossible when he took the reins. 

If that’s not worthy of respect, and even a little love, then not much in NCAA football is.

__________________________

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