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Thursday, August 11, 2011
Kiffin year two: How long does the honeymoon last?

By Ted Miller

There are two types of "new" coaches. First, there are new-new coaches, those who are entering their first season with no track record at their present destination, which allows fans to invest in them their wildest hopes and dreams.

Then their are second-year coaches, who have a single season under their belts, a small and typically unrevealing sample size that allows everyone to make premature judgments about said coach's ultimate prospects.

Lane Kiffin
As a head coach Lane Kiffin has gone 5-15 with the Oakland Raiders, 7-6 with the University of Tennessee and 8-5 at USC last fall.
Not many coaches go to a Rose Bowl their first year as head coach, as Oregon's Chip Kelly did. And sometimes fast starts are deceiving about what's ahead, see Arizona State going 10-3 in Dennis Erickson's first season. And did many folks think Iowa's Kirk Ferentz would be around for 13 seasons after he went 1-10 in 1999?

So we have the only second-year coach in the Pac-12: USC's Lane Kiffin.

While Kiffin's name might inspire more than a few folks to immediately spit, particularly those in a certain part of the country where spitting is less frowned upon, that's more about his abrupt departure from Tennessee and his sometimes cocky statements and behavior while he was there -- a side of himself, by the way, he hasn't shown much of of inside Heritage Hall.

As a coach, we only know he went 5-15 with the Oakland Raiders, 7-6 in one season at Tennessee and 8-5 at USC last fall.

What did we learn about Kiffin last season? Well, he's clearly a good recruiter, see another touted class that should help the Trojans better weather harsh NCAA sanctions.

Also, at 4-0 and then 7-3, it seemed as though he'd done a good job of keeping his team focused, even though it didn't have the postseason as a possible reward.

Then the Trojans got blistered at Oregon State and lost at home to a middling Notre Dame team. Sure, quarterback Matt Barkley got hurt in Corvallis, and even then the Trojans would have beaten the Irish if Ronald Johnson hadn't dropped a sure touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. Still, "scoreboard," you know?

A loss to UCLA to end the season would have cast a dark shadow over Kiffin's first season, but the Trojans prevailed and then they rolled in recruiting. The momentum at present seems relatively positive.

So what can we say about Kiffin after a year?

It appears he's matured since his brief, bombastic tenure in Knoxville. It seemed like he did a good job working with Barkley, helping him mature as a QB, though the true test of the relationships will be this season, likely Barkley's last before heading to the NFL.

In fact, you could say that his dad, legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, should be more on the hot seat in 2011. The Trojans defense let leads slip away in the fourth quarter and gave up way too many big plays in 2010.

Further complicating an evaluation of Kiffin are the NCAA sanctions, particularly 30-scholarship reduction over the next three years that could be crippling, even for a program of USC's stature.

It would be fair to say that USC, which has the talent to win nine or 10 games this season, needs to live up to reasonable expectations this fall before the real pain sets in for Kiffin to place himself in good standing with athletic director Pat Haden and the Trojans fan base.

If he wins 10 games and the first South Division title, it would be enough of a vindication of his coaching ability that he could survive an inevitable step back over the next three to five years.

But if the Trojans take another step toward mediocrity, it's likely that the honeymoon would abruptly end and he'd find his coaching stool fairly toasty heading into 2012.