The hiring of Lane Kiffin in January 2010 elicited some interesting responses throughout the college football world.
Many USC fans were divided with this hire.
The shock and suddenness of Pete Caroll's departure (so close to national signing day) left USC scrambling. Who could they get? Could that person fill the shoes of one of the most successful coaches in all of college football? Could that person be the steady hand needed, once the NCAA published their ruling, to guide the program through some difficult days.
But most important...could that coach win!!
Some thought the Kiffin hire was what USC needed in continuing the tradition of winning that we grew accustomed to. Kiffin certainly knew the tradition as he lived it first hand. Others thought the hire was a risk...especially with Kiffin's NCAA issues at UT (regardless of how minor we think they are) and how the NCAA might want to "punish" USC further. Others also thought that Kiffin really wasn't qualified to take over such a prestigious program even as the program navigates through the sanctions.
Even though Kiffin had some head coaching experience, there were some that thought that the Kiffin hire was basically on the job training.
USC is not a training program for new and/or less experienced head coaches.
The bigger question is obvious...does Lane Kiffin even get considered for the USC job without Ed Orgeron and Monte Kiffin in tow?
I doubt it, but they are a team, so you have to go all in.
Saving the 2010 recruiting class was big and positive first step. But Kiffin and Orgeron are known for their recruting dominance. Kiffin followed the 2010 class up in 2011 with another solid recruiting class, even in the face of the sanctions that the NCAA placed upon USC.
But on the field is where the validation of the Kiffin hire would take place.
With a less than stellar defense, USC had some bad losses last year. They were further hindered by some shoddy clock work at Stanford. You couldn't really put that on Kiffin. He works the offense and he certainly doesn't control the clock.
But on offense Kiffin had some questionable games.
Notre Dame comes to mind. With Matt Barkley out because of injury, Mitch Mustain got the call. But Kiffin kept the leash tight and Mustain didn't have a good game. Why Kiffin never put Allen Bradford into that game is still perplexing to many of us.
Kiffin was dealt a band hand in terms of USC was facing with regards to the NCAA when he took the job. He also had a bit of bare cupboard on defense...but on offense, his specialty, he had a truckload of talent. There were times on offense where he seemed to be playing things cautious. Maybe too cautious.
There is no question that Kiffin has changed the culture of the program.
Things are not as "loose" as they were before. Part of that is NCAA generated, but a lot of it is Kiffin's personality...he doesn't like to show you much. Player accountability is also much more visible...for issues both on and off the field.
As we head into Lane Kiffin's second season as USC's head coach, we expect marked improvement. He has the talent, he has the coaching staff and for the most part these are his players...will they buy into his message?
Kiffin won't get the benefit of the doubt this year, so he has to do better than what we saw last year.
How the team performs in Kiffin's second year as USC's head coach will provide a better answer to the question that is the title of this post.