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Posted: Wednesday January 13, 2010 12:17AM; Updated: Wednesday January 13, 2010 10:21AM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Lane Kiffin brings circus to USC; how long will this act last?

Story Highlights

Lane Kiffin left Tennessee after one year to succeed Pete Carroll at USC

Kiffin made Vols a little better in one season, but he also broke rules

USC was looking for a Carroll clone and they got one with his former disciple

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Lane-Monte-Kiffin.jpg
Lane Kiffin (left) will be bringing his father, defensive coordinator Monte, along with Ed Orgeron with him to USC.
Gary Bogdon/SI

Lane Kiffin created quite the stir during his 14 months as an SEC coach. He jabbed with rival coaches, angered the commissioner, criticized the refs, broke a few NCAA rules ... then caused a student riot upon his departure.

All that for seven wins.

Kiffin is ditching Tennessee after just one season to replace his mentor, Pete Carroll, back at USC. If you're a Vols fan, you have every right to be mortified.

Trojans fans, too.

In an age of mercenary coaches like Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino, Kiffin's sudden about-face is hardly unique. The difference is, those guys had actually accomplished something.

Kiffin marched into Knoxville armed with big talk and bigger plans to stockpile the nation's top recruits, take down Florida and turn Tennessee back into a national power. He did none of those things, yet somehow he's managed to land an even cushier job.

Not even Don Draper could sell such a phony bill of goods.

At the ripe old age of 34, Kiffin is already on to his third major head coaching job despite having yet to achieve anything of note at any of his previous stops. His biggest calling card is that he's part of a package. Act now and you'll also receive his far more renowned father (Monte Kiffin) and an ace recruiter (Ed Orgeron).

Presumably that's a big part of the appeal for USC athletic director Mike Garrett, who wasted little time filling the chair vacated by Carroll. When word leaked Monday that Garrett was pursuing Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, the only plausible explanation was that he was trying to find a Carroll clone.

Now we know that to definitely be true, because Kiffin is like a Carroll Mini-Me. He spent six years studying at the altar of the Trojans' wildly successful coach, rising from receivers coach to offensive coordinator. Carroll was so enamored with the younger Kiffin (whose father was Carroll's mentor once upon a time) he pushed out the revered Norm Chow to make way for his ascension. Orgeron, Carroll's recruiting coordinator at the time, developed such a hearty respect for the youngster that he went to work for him at Tennessee.

And remember, not so long ago, Raiders owner Al Davis was so enamored he made the kid a 31-year-old NFL head coach. Less than two years later, upon firing Kiffin, Davis famously called the coach a "flat-out liar." Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton is presumably thinking the same thing right now.

Fortunately for the embattled Garrett, he probably won't be around long enough to see how this latest marriage ends. (Though at his current rate, maybe Kiffin will beat Garrett out the door.)

Once you look past the unseemly nature of Kiffin's move back West, there are plenty of reasons for USC fans to like his hire. First and foremost, it should assure a degree of continuity in Heritage Hall. Though now four years removed from the school, his style should be plenty familiar to the current band of Trojans. The Tennessee practice I attended last August was structured almost exactly like one of Carroll's "Competition Tuesdays" -- lots of live hitting, lots of running between fields. Kiffin probably has an excellent chance of keeping USC's incoming recruiting class intact.

He also appears to be assembling another all-star staff. Orgeron returns to the town where he helped procure some of the sport's most loaded recruiting classes in recent memory. Monte Kiffin -- whose Tennessee defense performed admirably against SEC powers Florida (23 points) and Alabama (12) before fading down the stretch -- will have no shortage of raw athletes at his disposal. And in perhaps the biggest surprise of all, Chow is reportedly heading back across town to reprise the role he played on Carroll's 2003 and '04 national title teams and possibly groom another quarterback protégé, Matt Barkley.

You know the coaching world has gone mad when a coach defects from UCLA to USC and barely generates a blip on the controversy meter.

As for Kiffin, there have been a few small signs he might know what he's doing. Tennessee improved by two wins in his first and only season, which included routs of Georgia (45-19) and South Carolina (31-13). He performed a somewhat miraculous resurrection of quarterback Jonathan Crompton. And he left on the verge of signing a second straight top 10 recruiting class.

In his first USC stint, Kiffin proved to be an excellent talent evaluator and called plays (along with current Washington coach Steve Sarkisian) for the 2005 Matt Leinart-Reggie Bush offense that averaged 580 yards and 49 points per game.

Presumably, Garrett is counting on Kiffin (and Chow, and Orgeron) to recreate the magic of those dominant mid-decade Trojans. He'll certainly have the resources to do it. But back in the land of reality, Kiffin is 7-6 as a college head coach. He had a tough time sticking to the rules during his stint in Knoxville, and now he's walking into a program already facing potential NCAA sanctions.

Finally, there's the fact that if Kiffin is even remotely successful, he'll probably wind up emulating Carroll in another way -- by returning to the NFL.

So let's take a count of the carnage, shall we?

Back in Knoxville, an athletic director (Hamilton) who stuck his neck out for Kiffin and kept it there through his various outbursts and violations, is stuck looking for a new coach for the second time in two seasons. (For now, the Vols have an interim coach, Kippy Brown, who's been on the job less than a month.) A group of freshmen from around the country (including eight mid-semester enrollees who were scheduled to begin class Wednesday) are stuck at a faraway school they never would have attended if not for Kiffin's sales job. And thousands of fans that maintained their support throughout an otherwise mediocre season were shown their thanks in a 60-second goodbye speech.

"We're leaving here 14 months later a lot better team than we were 14 months ago," Kiffin said with a straight face.

No wonder The Rock on Tennessee's campus was coated with obscenities on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, a group of impressionable 17- and 18-year-old recruits who committed to USC -- their young lives already rocked by Carroll's abrupt departure -- are now being asked to pledge their services to a stranger who seems incapable of keeping his word. He'll sell them on his acclaimed set of assistants -- but what are the chances Orgeron (fourth job in four seasons) or Chow (third job in four seasons) will still be there come their junior years?

Recently retired Kentucky coach Rich Brooks wrote this on Twitter late Tuesday: "How crazy is this profession! I have seen it all now!"

Welcome to college football in 2010. You got out at just the right time, coach.

STAPLES: Decision impacting USC, Tennessee recruiting classes

AP: Kiffin leaves Tennessee after one season to return to USC

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