Kiffin shows grace, admits to 'mistakes'
October, 12, 2013
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com
SEATTLE -- Former USC coach Lane Kiffin was gracious and humble when he appeared on "College GameDay" on Saturday morning. Of course, those are two terms that have rarely been used to described Kiffin, even by his supporters.
The cynical sorts will smirk and say Kiffin simply was auditioning for his next job, whatever that might be. After all, it would have been massively self-destructive for him to be bitter and whiny with his first public statements in front of a college football nation that already thinks poorly of him.
It's worth noting that he did a surprisingly good job on camera, even when the tough but mostly predictable questions were over and he helped with a standup feature. He seemed loose and at ease, a side of him he rarely reveals to fans and reporters. So, you might see more of him on TV this fall.
Kiffin emerged from two weeks of silence after his abrupt termination on Sept. 29 after the Trojans were buried 62-41 at Arizona State. This was his moment to step onto a big stage and reintroduce himself and hint at the lessons he had learned and what he might become. You can bet Kiffin's agent, Jimmy Sexton, as well as other trusted advisers -- who might have included his best buddy in coaching, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian -- provided him talking points.
What bases did he need to touch?
- He is to blame for his firing. You will not see him pointing fingers or making excuses. (He said, "Obviously I'm to blame, being the head coach. There are a lot of things I should've done better.")
- He is not bitter toward athletic director Pat Haden or USC. (He called Haden a "great athletic director" and said he "had great passion for USC, for those players, for those coaches.")
- Unquestionably, he made many mistakes as a head coach. (He said, "I think you're always trying to figure yourself out and mistakes that you've made. There are different things I've done that I wouldn't do again that kept following me. That's the price that you pay when you make mistakes early on.")
- He's still young -- 38 years old -- and he will be better because of this experience. (He said, "I've made a bunch of [mistakes], so you learn from those at a young age still and you grow from there and you get stronger in your next job.")
Kiffin didn't reveal any immediate plans, and he clearly wants to keep his options open. A good bet is that he'll land a job as an NFL assistant in 2014, which might allow him to grow and make a future play for a head-coaching job.
Know that Kiffin will get another chance. As noted, he's young. A decade from now, he still won't be considered an "old" coach. Despite the shortcomings his three brief head-coaching stops have revealed, he obviously had some qualities that got him hired in the first place. He's smart, and he works hard. He has a foundation upon which to grow.
His next head-coaching stop probably won't be a place like USC or even Tennessee -- if he indeed wants to get back into college coaching. It probably would be a second-tier place looking to generate buzz with its coaching hire, a place that could benefit from Kiffin's unquestionable skills as a recruiter.
Kiffin admitted that the past two weeks have been tough on him. He said watching USC win over Arizona on Thursday was "like watching someone else raise your kids."
But, after taking an unremitting beating for two weeks from fans and media, Kiffin appeared to gently redirect the narrative and, perhaps, inch it forward in a positive way for himself.
A well-crafted TV appearance won't mean much in the long run. It won't get him another job. But it was all Kiffin could do on this particular weekend, and that he did it well is worth noting.