Lane Kiffin’s Firing Revisited, a Year Later


One year ago today, in the wee hours of a crisp September morning at LAX, USC athletic director Pat Haden fired Lane Kiffin as the Trojans’ head coach.

With a narrative featuring a mob hit, the firing of Kiffin may have been the iconic moment of the entire 2013 college football season.

And for the Trojans, it was the cutting of fat that galvanized the locker room.

The 2013 Trojans wrote their own story in light of the grisly disposal of the nation’s most polarizing head coach.

After getting boat-raced in Tempe to the tune of a 62-41 loss to Arizona State in Kiffin’s last stand, the Trojans won six straight Pac-12 games, highlighted by an upset win over No. 5 Stanford.

For an extremely proud program –arguably too much for its own good at times– beating the Cardinal was a giant bow on a year that for all intents and purposes should’ve been lost, but was somehow salvaged.

They didn’t win a championship or even a division title, but the 2013 Trojans wrote their own story in light of the grisly disposal of the nation’s most polarizing head coach.

Today, 365 days since the firing and despite hiring a new coach with aspirations of a new direction, the Trojans find themselves in an awfully similar spot. Aside from the thrashing in Tempe, that is.

They’re 3-1 heading into the Arizona State game and three weeks removed from a shocking loss to an inferior opponent.

So we at Reign of Troy have tried to answer the only logical question.

Are the Trojans in a better place?

Alicia de Artola (@PenguinOfTroy):Yes. For one, I’d argue we’re all better off for being privileged to enjoy the topsy-turvy final half of the 2013 season.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Was it ideal? No. But the Trojans were given the opportunity to show their heart and they embraced it, creating some wonderful memories which could not have been possible had Kiffin remained the head coach.

From a more direct stand point, the answer remains yes. Kiffin, for all his faults, was a decent coach, but it became painfully clear that he wasn’t the right coach to take USC forward. Too stubborn (his fault) and too controversial (often not his fault), after the painful Sun Bowl, all the signs pointed to Kiffin’s demise.

Had he survived 2013 with a winning record and made it to 2014, we would still be dealing with a coach on the hot seat. That hot seat would have certainly affected recruiting. Buck Allen, who had been in Kiffin’s doghouse forever, would be buried on the depth chart. And Los Angeles might not have survived the nuclear fallout from something like the Josh Shaw controversy paired with Kiffin’s headliner status.

Michael Castillo (@MichaelCastFS):The Trojans are in a much better place solely because there’s a long-term plan. Or at least we’re being told that there is.

While Sarkisian is routinely compared to Kiffin and called a clone of him, that’s not really the case. Sure there’s a ton of parallels and stylistic similarities, but that’s bound to happen when two guys come from the same coaching tree.

What Sark brings that Kiffin never had, is the willingness to try and adapt. The game of college football is rapidly changing, as seen with the recent progressions on the offensive side of the football.

Sarkisian recognizes that and is actively embracing elements of the modern game and applying it to his pre-existing pro-style offense. For a school like USC, with the talent pool they have access to, that’s exactly what you want to see.

Kiffin, on the other hand, is steadfast in his ways that won titles a decade ago. But it has a shelf-life, and takes a considerable amount of preparation. That’s focus he has the ability to have at Alabama as an offensive coordinator, but not at USC as a head coach.

For that reason, despite the on-paper and eye-test parallels between the Kiffin era and the beginning of the Sark era, the foundation is stronger today than it was a year ago.

Add in more scholarships and the expected renovation of the Coliseum, and Sarkisian has more of a means to be an efficient head coach than Kiffin. That said, now it’s a matter of making it happen, and not just talking.

Josh Webb (@FightOnTwist):I think USC is in a slightly better place than they were a year ago. USC has the talent and pieces in lace to complete a run, but this team still seems to be caught up in stupid penalties and off-the-field issues.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn’t really matter who is coaching the team, fans just want to see discipline and effort out of the team. Right now, USC seems to be more focused as a team and that’s a marked improvement from the Lane Kiffin era, where everything seemed to highlight the fractured locker room.

USC is recruiting well and has won their first two conference games since 2007, so you have to acknowledge the job Sark has done in turning around aspects of the program. I think that he’s on-track to turn this program into a success, but things like Josh Shaw, Boston College, and Anthony Brown have some people wondering if the drama isn’t just part of the USC package.

Sark is doing well and believes in getting better every day. He needs to improve in some areas, but he already knows this, is already working on it, and is already showing improvement. I think that’s a step up from where USC was under Kiffin.

Matthew Moreno (@MMoreno1030):Given the myriad of Lane Kiffin self-inflicted wounds, yes, USC is better off with Steve Sarkisian now at the helm. That being said, it certainly hasn’t been a smooth transition. As it was reported at the time of his hire, several players were upset beloved Ed Orgeron wasn’t hired and give Sarkisian credit for winning over said players.

Seemingly because USC is USC, it’s been an eventful last couple of months. While I believe the university/athletics department errored in their handling of the Josh Shaw situation, Sarkisian ultimately stepped forward and accepted responsibility. Then of course there were the Anthony Brown and Pat Haden coming down to the sidelines (which was overblown) situations.

So, is USC in a better place? Yes. Is that enough? No.

With a more innovative offense than Trojan fans had grown accustomed to seeing and the ability to sign full classes moving forward, the foundation is there for Sarkisian to succeed and return USC to national prominence. However, what the team lacks is an identity and that will derail any efforts to get the program back on track.

It’s also important to take into account what Sarkisian inherited. While Kiffin has certainly received the lion’s share of the blame for everything that went wrong and in a sense deservedly so, he also should be applauded to a certain extent for the manner in which he navigated the scholarship reductions.

The cupboard was much more full when Sarkisian took over as opposed to when Kiffin was hired. Where Sarkisian may have misstepped is in bringing Justin Wilcox with him and not retaining Clancy Pendergast. But, that argument can be shelved for another day.

So, is USC in a better place? Yes. Is that enough? No.

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What say you? Is the team in a better place? We want to hear from your voice. Leave your thoughts below in the comments.