George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The implication here was that history has a way of repeating itself because of the forgetful nature of human beings.
While historians and social scientists might argue over the reasons that humanity repeats patterns of behavior over a longitudinal period, the fact that history repeats itself is often more interesting than the reason why it does so.
It gives us perspective and, as noted historian Mark Gilderhus said, “Things happen for reasons and inquiring minds can grasp them.”
College football is almost unparalleled when it comes to history and tradition. Sports, in general, use the past as a way to frame current greatness. We often explore statistics and past patterns and use them as predictors for future events.
Too often we talk about unrelated, past events in sports as though they are predestined to affect future outcomes. Dr. Gerda Lerner claimed that, “we must enter past worlds with curiosity and respect. When we do this, the rewards are considerable.”
As such, the following evidence can be considered as nothing more than a historical perspective by which we might judge current USC coach Lane Kiffin.
The performance of the Trojans in 2012 has raised significant questions about Kiffin’s tenure at USC. Moreover, it’s called into question whether or not he was the right man for the job.
With USC still facing sanctions for the next two years and the lack of current big name coaching prospects, finding a replacement would be no small undertaking for the University of Southern California.
Of course, this begs the question: Would the replacement do a better job than the current coaching staff?
The biggest argument for Kiffin is that he does a fantastic job recruiting, while the argument against that USC recruits itself. There is no doubt that USC recruits itself, but is that going to be enough to guarantee the success of a replacement coach? Some people feel that it would be, but others feel like Kiffin’s ability to sell young men more than other coaches is a game-changer.
Fortunately, history was kind enough to provide us with an eerily similar situation that happens to be so recent, it would, for all intents and purposes, be considered germane to the current era.
So, with deference to the past and curiosity of the future, let’s explore this not-so-ancient history and allow it to provide some perspective moving forward.
Back in 2001, the University of Alabama was in need of a head coach after firing Mike DuBose following a disappointing season amid high expectations. What Alabama hadn’t counted on was that DuBose was going to leave them with more than just a broken hearted season. The NCAA announced that it would begin investigating the recruiting violations and this investigation led to some unexpected, harsh punishments for Alabama: they were hit with a 2-year bowl ban, a loss of 21 scholarships, and 5 years of probation.
DuBose’s firing and the hiring of his replacement, Dennis Franchione, occurred before the sanctions came down from the NCAA. Franchione had been the head coach of Texas Christian prior to accepting the job at Alabama, and under him, TCU had gone 10-1 in 2001 and had received an invite to the Mobile Alabama Bowl.
Franchione took the coaching job at Alabama after TCU’s regular season, but before their bowl game. Originally, TCU players had voted for Franchione to coach TCU during their bowl, but after some comments made by LaDainian Tomlinson at the Heisman ceremony, TCU AD Eric Hyman reversed course and decided that Gary Patterson, Franchione’s named replacement, would coach the Horned Frogs instead. Nobody was aware of it yet, but this would become the beginning of the end of Franchione’s reputation in college football for quite some time.
Alabama’s decision to hire Franchione away from TCU and Franchione’s apparent worth as a head coach developed into fruition as he successfully turned around the Crimson Tide in his first season. After their 3-8 season in 2000, Franchione guided the 2001 Crimson Tide to a 7-5 record that was capped off by an Independence Bowl win over Iowa State.
Then, the NCAA announced that Alabama would be hit with some of the harshest sanctions seen to date.