Is this ex-USC Football HC going to be the next head coach at Auburn?

Evan Desai
Lane Kiffin, USC Football, USC Trojans
Lane Kiffin, USC Football, USC Trojans / Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
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Auburn needs a new head football coach after Bryan Harsin was fired last week, and interestingly, former USC Football Head Coach Lane Kiffin is at the forefront of that speculation. As of November 1st, Kiffin had the second-highest odds per betonline.ag to be the next head coach for the Auburn Tigers, behind only current Liberty Head Coach Hugh Freeze:

This discussion is a complicated one, and a complicated one in really all aspects of the conversation. When it comes to whether Auburn truly would want to hire Kiffin, the answers could potentially be polarizing. Kiffin currently has Ole Miss playing with an 8-1 record, and ranked as the No. 11 team in the country. His first season was a weird pandemic season, but after that has gone 18-4 in these last two years. (All records and rankings in this article are as of when these odds dropped.)

That of course creates a win percentage that equates to 10-11 wins over the course of a full 13-game season (regular season plus bowl game). Clearly, he's done a good job at Ole Miss. It remains to be seen whether he can turn a non-blue blood program into a national contender, however.

He went 10-3 last year, but finished outside the top 10 of the AP Poll, and is of course outside the top 10 of the CFP rankings right now. So while he has been doing an objectively good job these past two years, he has not proven himself to be someone who can elevate a non-elite program to an elite season.

On the other hand, though, Lane Kiffin did have an elite season with USC Football in 2011.

Lane Kiffin went 10-2 for USC Football in 2011, and finished as the No. 6 team in the country. That season even included a signature win over a top four Oregon team on the road. Of course, though, Kiffin only having one elite year out of four at a blue blood is not going to light anyone's eyes up.

SEE MORE: Ranking The Best USC Football Coaches of All-Time

But if he clearly seems to have improved as a head coach since then, doesn't that mean he can win at a high level like he did in 2011, when he goes to a better program than Ole Miss at Auburn? Well, that's complicated. Auburn is a good program. They are not, however, at blue blood status.

Auburn only has two national championships (26 programs have more), and 19 teams have a better all-time winning percentage than their 62.7% winning percentage. Tennessee is around the same caliber of a program as Auburn, and likely better (they are of course certainly better currently). Kiffin went 7-6 in his one season as head coach at Tennessee.

So, Auburn will absolutely keep Kiffin in the conversation, as he has looked good at Ole Miss post-pandemic. However, there still will be doubters of Kiffin if he goes there, as he has never won at an elite level consistently.

Are those doubts valid? Yes, they are, as USC fans remember how Kiffin was touted as a high-ceiling offensive mind and dominant recruiter, yet only had that one great season with the Trojans. It is important, however, to understand context. Kiffin was thrown to the wolves at USC.

The program was left for him in flames, as the NCAA had unjustly hit SC with what is referred to as 'The Death Penalty,' which were of course the sanctions that were placed on the SC program due to Reggie Bush taking money to leave the school. How somebody could be punished for one of their players taking money to LEAVE the school is insane, but it's the unfortunate hand Kiffin was dealt.

Kiffin was not allowed to participate in the postseason, so he had to miss a PAC-12 Championship game. He also had to miss a bowl game every single year for no reason. He also had to deal with recruiting sanctions and stripped scholarships. It took its toll on Kiffin and his recruiting opportunities, particularly in 2012 and 2013. The sanctions led to him only being able to sign 17 players in 2012, and 12 players in 2013.

Despite these sanctions, Kiffin recruited the eighth and 13th classes in America in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Imagine how great of recruiting classes he could have had, if he didn't have to deal with these sanctions.

This isn't being brought up to make excuses for Kiffin. He did not get the job done at USC. It's simply to point out that one can't hold everything negative that happened to him at USC against only him.

There are other factors to bring up too. How incompetent has USC's athletic administration been since dating back to the Kiffin era? SC has just now climbed out of that with Mike Bohn's heroics in these past (almost) 12 months. Kiffin never got to work with an AD like Bohn. Also, he was the head coach at USC from ages 35 to 38.

People grow in nine years' time, and it appears right now that Kiffin has certainly turned it around with his team being ranked in the top 11 nationally in each of these past two years. Top 11 in back-to-back years is nothing to sneeze at when one is the coach at Ole Miss. Kiffin also has two years of experience as an NFL Head Coach with the Raiders. While it didn't go well, it goes to show that Kiffin has experience at very high levels in this game.

The last three head coaches at Auburn before Harsin have either coached in a National Championship there (Gus Malzahn), won a National Championship there (Gene Chizik), or gone 13-0 there (Tommy Tuberville). Now, ask the question that matters. What have any of these coaches done since leaving Auburn? Well, essentially nothing.

Malzahn is ranked in the top 25 right now at UCF (at No. 25), and that's the biggest accomplishment out of those three. Kiffin is currently a better coach than what any of the last four Auburn coaches have been since leaving Auburn, and each of those three coaches had a season where they finished at WORST as the No. 2 team in the country. Kiffin can win there.

Again, he will have his doubters if he's hired, and that's fair. But his ceiling absolutely is high enough to win there. And he fits too--as he's spent the last six years recruiting in the South (three years at Florida Atlantic University and three years at Ole Miss) as a head coach. (Remember that he also was the head coach at Tennessee in 2009.)

He also has been considered to be a great recruiter no matter where he goes, as he is considered to be able to relate to players. So the only decision, if Auburn came calling, is if he wants Auburn. That remains to be seen, as he has of course been building Ole Miss at a nice trajectory, and could simply want to stay there until an elite job opens up and then try to take that job.

For instance, he would likely emerge as a candidate for Alabama if he continues to improve as a coach by the time Nick Saban retires. After all, Kiffin was sensational as an offensive coordinator at Bama (2014-2016). Also, what if he has his eyes on going back to the NFL? Would it be worth it to jump jobs right now if he keeps rebuilding his image?

What if he quickly takes the Auburn job, and all of the sudden an NFL job that would be interested in hiring him ends up having to cross him off the list, when he could have gotten the job if he had waited just a little longer? This is why Kiffin may not want to go to Auburn himself, if it is not the CLEAR better job than what he has at Ole Miss, after he's built Ole Miss into a healthier program (because he has).

Auburn is 15-17 in the last three years. It's not like he's walking into a perfect situation if he goes there. They're 3-5 right now and just fired their head coach after their fifth loss in Week 9. Auburn will at LEAST give Kiffin a look.

dark. Next. Predictions for rest of USC Football season

The question is, if Kiffin truly wants to give Auburn a look. With how bad they've been, it could be a risk for him, and taking a risk after he's made so much progress in rebuilding his reputation may not be the best move.

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