Behind the scenes in USC's coaching search . . .
Jan. 16, 2010 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 15, 2010 at 7:16 p.m.
PHOTOS () —
By Randy Youngman
The Orange County Register
Final thoughts (hopefully) — and the inside scoop — on USC's hiring of Lane Kiffin, now Public Enemy No. 1 in the state of Tennessee:
After first being rejected by Oregon State's Mike Riley, Washington's Steve Sarkisian, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, USC came up with a surprisingly good fifth choice. (The aforementioned technically weren't offered the job, but they were contacted by USC intermediaries to gauge their interest, according to a USC alumnus with knowledge of the process.)
Kiffin was a good hire more because of the assistants he brought with him — notably, his father, Monte, as defensive coordinator, and Ed Orgeron as recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach_because Lane is still unproven as a head coach after brief stints with the Raiders and University of Tennessee.
It would have been a much better hire if UCLA's Norm Chow had returned as offensive coordinator, but it's doubtful Kiffin actually wanted Chow on his staff. It was Athletic Director Mike Garrett who wanted Chow back, an implicit admission that Garrett now wishes Pete Carroll hadn't chased Chow away after the 2004 national championship season.
Don't forget, Chow and Kiffin had a strained relationship in their four years together on Carroll's staff (2001-04) and were seen arguing during the team's 2004 Orange Bowl practices in Florida. It was after that season that Carroll told Chow he was taking play-calling duties away from him to make Kiffin and Sarkisian co-offensive coordinators, essentially chasing Chow to the Tennessee Titans as offensive coordinator.
It's clear USC badly wanted Chow on the new staff because its offer reached the $1.5 million-a-year-range during negotiations, according to the alumnus. So money couldn't have been an issue. My guess is Chow realized it would be tough to work for Kiffin, especially knowing Kiffin wanted to call the offensive plays. And it's safe to assume Kiffin wasn't disappointed Chow is staying put.
Interestingly, a few high-powered USC alumni, including former quarterback Pat Haden, billionaire developer Ed Roski and Lakers owner Jerry Buss, were working behind the scenes during the coaching search, making most of the phone calls to potential candidates.
And one of them, according to the alumnus, wrote the check for $800,000 to free Kiffin from his Tennessee contract.
Another influential USC alumnus told me Fisher was his top choice to succeed Chow.
Fisher has been on Garrett's radar for some time, reportedly turning down overtures in 1997 before Paul Hackett was hired and in 2001 before Carroll was hired. (If true, that means Carroll also had been Garrett's fifth choice, not fourth, as widely reported over the years.)
This time, Fisher wasn't tempted, according to Sports Illustrated NFL expert Peter King, because of the "uncertainty at USC" — specifically that university president Steven Sample "is retiring in August and his replacement may want to hire his own AD."
There are influential alumni who still aren't happy with Garrett, so that situation will be worth watching when a new president arrives.
Too bad football season doesn't begin until September.
Parting shots: From Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com columnist and a Tennessee alumnus: "If there were a stock car race between all the frauds, egomaniacs and two-faced weasels I've ever covered, Lane Kiffin would have the pole position all to himself."
And from Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com, on USC hiring Kiffin: "With the NCAA on the doorstep and Troy burning from inside out, it looks like Garrett put out the fire with gasoline."
(c) 2010, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
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