Kiffin Needs Offensive Coordinator, Not Pink Slip

Stephen Dunn

If you're looking for another all-out Lane Kiffin bash session, flip to the next story. This piece will focus on how the entire USC coaching program can mold together the best of both worlds this season.

After the Trojans offensive performance Saturday, I don't know how Lane Kiffin can keep his play calling duties. There are so many numbers that stood out not from just Saturday, but from both games this 2013 season. As Calum Hayes duly noted, USC is the ONLY TEAM IN THE COUNTRY THAT HASN'T COMPLETED A PASS OVER 20 YARDS.

With that being said, I don't think Kiffin needs to be fired following the Washington State game. Going back a ways, Kiffin had an average season his first year at 8-5, totally exceeded expectations two years ago with a 10-2 season and totally did not meet expectations with last year's 7-6 showing. All in all balances out to a three-year period of hovering right around expectations given the sanctions at 25-13 record for Lane Kiffin and company.

This year has not met expectations, but USC hasn't reached the point of no return. It's just too early to axe Kiffin and assume a midseason replacement will be better. As Pat Haden told Yahoo Sports Radio earlier this week when asked if Kiffin was on the hot seat this week: "We've played two games. We got a long way to go here and hopefully we're going to play a lot better and beat Boston College this week. That's where our focus is."

But let's go back to talking about the offense.

Sure, I haven't seriously played Madden in the last five or so years (converted to more of a FIFA guy) so I won't pretend I know more about calling plays than Kiffin. At least some of Saturday's result has to be attributed to performance of players, not just preparation of coaches and I'm sure there's an explanation for Tre Madden's heavy carry load or the leash on both of the quarterbacks that I don't understand.

But Nick Saban probably knows as much about play calling as Kiffin. Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Brian Kelly, all those guys probably could argue Xs and Os with Kiffin pretty well. What do those four guys all have in common? Appearances in BCS title games in the last five years and offensive coordinators.

I took a look at the coaching directory for all 25 of the teams ranked by the most recent AP poll. Twenty teams list official offensive coordinators (Stanford officially calls Mike Bloomgren the "Director of Offense" because they're Stanford and it sounds more pretentious, but we'll keep Bloomgren with the rest of the OCs). Four teams, South Carolina, Oklahoma, TCU and Ole Miss, list two co-offensive coordinators.

Only one team in the entire group, 10th ranked Florida State, does not list an offensive or co-offensive coordinator and leaves play calling duties in the hands of the head coach, Jimbo Fisher, and several of Fisher's top assistants actually left him last year because he so stubbornly held onto his play calling powers.

The list would be two teams in the top 25 if the Trojans could have put two touchdowns past the Cougars, but not a single one of the 60 AP pollsters listed USC in the top 25 following the Washington State game. Ironically enough, the Trojans received one vote in the coaches poll, the same one Kiffin does not vote for anymore.

Point is that a head coach calling his own plays is so much the exception and not the rule. It makes perfect sense, the head coach has to worry about all aspects of the game and you're more likely to have a very strong offensive game plan if you have one equally competent football thinker just focusing on that.

There would need to be a really convincing reason why a head coach would keep calling his own plays. Kiffin was very well regarded as one of Pete Carroll's offensive coordinators, but even the offensive masterminds at Oregon like Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich handed over the playbook to the next guy in line when they were promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach.

That being said, identifying the problem for USC is much easier than identifying the solution. The best solution that comes to mind would be Clay Helton. Though he was reportedly promoted to offensive coordinator last February, he is officially listed as a "Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach" on the Trojans' official website.

It's a convoluted system of leadership. Forgetting the nomenclature, Helton doesn't seem to call plays, Kiffin has more responsibility in the offense than he should and Helton could probably handle the change in responsibility midseason.

Giving the responsibility to Helton is not going to be that big of a shock to the system. Because he's been here since the start of Kiffin's head coaching career at USC, Helton knows the system, he knows the players and the players know him. I'm very confident that he can handle the promotion and the results show that Kiffin hasn't been able to game plan offensively well enough with all his other responsibilities.

Changing Kiffin's role in the system won't ruin the chemistry the offense has built up all year. Quite frankly, the offense doesn't have any chemistry and didn't have an official starting quarterback until two days ago when Cody Kessler was officially named the starter over Max Wittek.

I'm usually of the "If Haden thinks it's a good idea, it's probably a good idea" philosophy and Haden hasn't made a move at this point to indicate a change in the coaching hierarchy. But the move shouldn't come from Haden, it should come from Kiffin. As the current head coach for his fourth season, Kiffin knows the specifics about his program better than any athletic administrator, even if that administrator is a former Trojan quarterback himself. But it's totally natural for a competitor like Kiffin to think he can handle everything and make the changes himself.

Acknowledging that Kiffin can't do everything and putting more trust in his staff would renew confidence in the offensive unit as well as help the team come in with a better game plan Saturday. He'll still be involved, but he has to be involved with special teams and the defense on top of that, while Helton can just focus on scouting the Boston College defense.

It's about time the group stopped standing still or even going back and forth between unclear leadership both behind center and on the sideline. Kiffin needs to take responsibility for the offensive struggles, hand off the responsibility to Helton and watch this team start moving forward on the offensive side of the football.

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