Like it or not: No matter the results, it's always about Lane Kiffin and it always will be. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
At first glance, Lane Kiffin calls to mind a first-year head football coach: a near-500 record, an effort to make peace with athletic administrators and an emphasis on the future, you know, better days ahead and all that.
Strangely, such traits have embodied Kiffin in his initial year as the USC headman, despite previous controversial stints with the Tennessee Volunteers and the NFL's Oakland Raiders, where he appeared all too adept at irritating his employers. None of that, however, has been the case during his now-10 month stay at Heritage Hall.
Since arriving in Los Angeles, he's largely been a good little boy scout, kicking deemed malcontents Jordan Campbell and Markeith Ambles off the team, as well as suspending miniature Reggie Bushes. And just for good measure, he's excelled in coachspeak when dealing with the media.
But USC's record presently stands at 7-5, which means all else is irrelevant. Underachieving and disappointing are simply two of the multitude of adjectives used to describe all that has transpired in 2010.
Despite one game remaining on the schedule, the finger pointing has already begun, and as expected, most of the attention has centered on the guy with an expletive for his middle name.
The team: wound too tight. The playcalling: too conservative. The defensive schemes: better served for Sundays. The visor: a better fit on Bob Stoops.
The past three weeks have been marked by a storm of criticism beginning with a Nov. 20 drubbing in Corvallis, Ore. at the hands of Oregon State, which marked the team's fourth loss of the year and fifth straight in the state of Oregon.
In this late season tailspin, Matt Barkley suffered a high-ankle sprain, Ronald Johnson dropped a wide open potential game-winning touchdown pass against Notre Dame and rich kid named Teague Egan became googleable overnight.
But seriously, it's that Lane Kififn fellow. It's his doing, and if things aren't right, you fire the coach. At least, that's what TrojanBoy5 on the message board says.
Oddly enough, such sentiments have been echoed across the blogosphere. Not collectively, but Kiffin doubters have come out of the woodworks, all saying "see, I told you so."
For one reason or the other, Kiffin's been controversial since day one. Love him, hate him or find yourself among the five percent of the populous that remains indifferent, but Kiffin matters and always will.
In a press conference this week, Tennessee basketball coached Bruce Pearl blurted out, "I miss Lane Kiffin."
While the comments were meant to serve as a joke, the remarks, instead, also underscore a certain element of truth. Kiffin attracts attention, negative headlines and cynicism, which would normally be targeted elsewhere.
Instead of bombarding players and coordinators with criticism, most of that falls on Kiffin shoulders.
Is it fair? Hardly. Is it justifiable? Maybe. Does it make sense? Absolutely.
At UT, Kiffin took on the media, Urban Meyer and every Southern male with the exception of Colonel Sanders. He called them out, accused them of various improprieties and made jokes at their expense. It became a circus, which he claimed was his intent, and as a result, he became noteworthy, even notorious, despite a ho-hum 7-6 record.
His first nose dive into the world of college athletics, made him the center of attention. He wasn't the caretaker of Knoxville, but the face of the program. It ceased to be the Tennessee Volunteers, but Kiffin's Vols.
That image has carried over to USC, where the question no longer begs: can USC get past NCAA sanctions and return to the top of the soon-to-be Pac-12, but can Kiffin resuscitate a program that has gone 14-9 in its last 23 games?
In certain respects, there shouldn't be definitive opinions for a guy coaching in just his second year as a college head coach. In his initial season at USC, he's just two games above .500, and in three of the team's five losses, one single play could have reversed the team's fortunates entirely.
Over the past 100 years, only Howard Jones in 1925 and John Robinson in 1976, have posted more than eight wins in their first season at the helm. John McKay and Pete Carroll, who combined for six national championships, went just 4-6 and 6-6 respectively during their inaugural seasons at USC.
My point: judging from years prior, first year stints aren't exactly indicative of anything. Heck, Paul Hackett went 8-5 in his first year, and we all know how that story ended.
But Kiffin's abrasive personality while in Knoxville has made him a target, and for the remainder of his tenure, the blame, the criticism and the snarky remarks from mainstream media twitter accounts are always going to be directed at him.
Maybe even more so than Carroll, Kiffin is USC and vice versa. Amidst sanctions and with support from Pat Haden, he's going to be a mainstay on the Coliseum sidelines for a betterment of the next decade.
Win or lose, however, it'll be because of Lane Kiffin, whether such an assertion has any merit.
Follow Joey on twitter @Joey_Kaufman