Pat Haden backs Lane Kiffin to fullest
LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans football coach Lane Kiffin is not on the hot seat entering this season.
USC athletic director Pat Haden made that abundantly clear Thursday in an online video the school posted on the eve of Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles.
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"I anticipate the media will ask me if our football coach is on the hot seat this year," Haden said. "Here is my answer and will be my answer whenever I'm asked: He is not. I'm behind Lane Kiffin 100 percent. I have great confidence in him. He's a very hard-working, detail-oriented coach. He's a dynamic playcaller, in my estimation, and he's an exceptional recruiter. He knows USC and he knows what it takes to be successful here."
The nearly five-minute video recorded in USC's football offices is largely devoted to making the case for Kiffin not only keeping his job this season but being USC's coach for the foreseeable future.
"Obviously, it's a positive," Kiffin said about Haden's vote of confidence. "It's not a negative to me from my standpoint as a head coach, but it wasn't a surprise to me, because I deal with Pat on a daily basis, so I have felt Pat's support and Max's support the whole time we've been here."
USC entered 2012 as the preseason No. 1 team in the country but finished 7-6, becoming the first team since Ole Miss in 1964 to start the season as the top team in the Associated Press poll and completely fall out of the rankings by the end of the season. USC lost five of its last six games, including an embarrassing 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
"We all know the second half of last year was disappointing but I firmly believe we will bounce back strong this season," Haden said. "We have a lot of good players. We have made positive additions to our coaching staff as well. I understand that many people judge a coach by the win-loss record, but as the athletic director, I must look not only at that but at a lot of other things that are important to us at USC. There are many factors, including academics, NCAA compliance, community engagement, the character of his players and off-field issues. Lane Kiffin gets very high marks in all of those areas. All of these things, including winning, are important to us."
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Kiffin abruptly left Tennessee after just one season to return to USC, where he had been an assistant coach under Pete Carroll for six years, agreeing to a five-year, $20 million contract in 2010. Six months after taking the job, Kiffin discovered he would be dealing with sanctions during the majority of his contract after the NCAA ruled that USC exhibited a lack of institutional control from 2004 to 2009.
USC was banned from postseason play during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and lost a total of 30 football scholarships over the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons.
"After Lane came here, USC was faced with very dark circumstances, and we're still working through very difficult challenges imposed on us by the NCAA and the loss of 30 scholarships," Haden said. "These sanctions may seem interminable to you, as they do to me, but we still have two more years of them. These sanctions were not handed down to help us win games."
Kiffin weathered the sanctions and postseason ban and was able to lead USC to a 10-2 record and a top-five ranking in the AP poll in 2010, but the wheels fell off last season as the Trojans had their worst season since 2001.
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Not only did they lose to every ranked team they played, but every team USC defeated last season had at least five losses, three had at least nine losses and the combined record of the teams the Trojans beat was 32-51.
"I have felt that they have always looked at the big picture of things and taken the whole time we've been here into account," Kiffin said of Haden and USC president Max Nikias. "They have a better understanding of the numbers, of what happened three years ago with the sanctions, how that impacts us in a bunch of different areas I'm not going into, but I think they understand that a lot better than a fan would or the media would, because they're right in the middle of it."
Haden was inundated with letters, emails and calls from alumni calling for Kiffin's job after the season, but only one Kiffin left the program. Monte Kiffin, Lane's father and USC's defensive coordinator, resigned after the Sun Bowl. He was replaced by Clancy Pendergast, who was defensive coordinator at Cal from 2010 to 2012 and defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals when they advanced to the Super Bowl in 2009.
"Despite drastic scholarship limitations and players transferring out of our program, we still won 25 games under Lane the past three years," Haden said. "Now this next season, we will have just 70 players on scholarship versus the 83 to 85 that all but two of our 13 opponents will have. This is not an excuse but it's a fact that our staff will have to deal with as they prepare for 13 regular-season games. I am confident this team will make a good run at the Pac-12 South Division title."