Lane Kiffin left mattresses burning in Knoxville and now he’s being sprayed in the fire lane.
Apparently every fire lane in Los Angeles runs the risk of getting a “Kiffin” since Southern Cal’s 10-7 home loss to Washington State on Saturday.
Yes, it appears Tennessee has done a better job replacing Derek Dooley than Southern Cal did filling the headset of Pete Carroll.
Granted, UT’s Butch Jones era appears certain to be blemished Saturday. His Volunteers (2-0) are in the crosshairs for the next episode of Duck Dynasty, and the oddsmakers don’t expect a close shave. Oregon is a 28-point favorite for Tennessee’s visit.
But Jones has Tennessee hustling and trending upward, and who knows, maybe the Ducks will be flat for the 12:30 p.m. (local time) kickoff and the Vols can leave town with a moral victory.
As for morale at Southern Cal, it hasn’t been lower since Carroll moved to Seattle, allowing Kiffin to leave Rocky Top in the midnight hour for a pot of gold after leading Tennessee to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in 2009.
Kiffin’s Trojans offense was booed by USC fans during the home loss to Mike Leach’s Cougars on Saturday. The colorful Leach’s conquest left everyone this side of Craig James wanting to say, “Aargh.”
As for Kiffin, you almost expect to hear the Trojans marching band exchange Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” on the set list in favor of “Go Your Own Way.” (The ghost of Al Davis would likely request “Little Lies.”)
Now, Kiffin is not a complete fraud of a college football coach, which his UT successor, Dooley, often seemed to be. Radio commentator/former Vols kicker Fuad Reveiz refers to Dooley as Doo-fus.
Kiffin got Jonathan Crompton to the NFL, and Kiffin’s marginally talented injury-riddled Vols hammered talented Georgia (45-19) and South Carolina (31-13) and lost 12-10 in Tuscaloosa.
And that’s why Southern Cal threw a pile of money at him while scrambling to replace Carroll at an inopportune time on the football calendar.
But Kiffin’s talk/results ratio is something akin to the careers of many of the Vols he did and did not recruit. Alshon Jeffery is not pumping gas, and Nu’Keese Richardson has emptied many tanks in a career that’s gone from Knoxville to Hampton, Va., to Coffeyville, Kansas and Pikeville, Ky.
Kiffin’s seat was hot before the loss to Leach and the pedestrian win against Hawaii that preceded it. The Trojans were preseason No. 1 last year, but finished 7-6 after scoring seven points in the Sun Bowl against a Georgia Tech defense that gave up more than 40 points to North Carolina (50), Middle Tennessee (49), Georgia (42), Clemson (47), Miami (42) and BYU (41). Again, Middle Tennessee 49, USC 7.
And Kiffin has never seemed like a good fit for stately USC athletic director Pat Haden. A Rhodes Scholar, Haden talked for a living as an NFL analyst and was considerably more understated than his current coach.
Will Haden jump onto the ever-burgeoning pile?
Potential recruits are tweeting about hoping Kiffin gets canned. Standout USC receiver Marqise Lee has tweeted into some turbulence with Kiffin, too.
Even Keith Olbermann joined in on his excellent new ESPN2 show after seeing Kiffin’s interview with a USC staffer. Olbermann named Kiffin one of the World’s Worst Persons in the Sports World on Tuesday for “staging another — how do you put this? — another fake news conference with just him and some poor schlub from the ’SC athletic department asking questions.”
To be fair, hopefully it wasn’t being passed off as a press conference. Actually, there was some meat in the conversation. Kiffin was asked if being booed by USC fans impacted Trojans players.
“Well, sure it did,” Kiffin said. “But, you know, I understand it. Our fans are very passionate. They expect us to play great. We expect ourselves to play great and coach great. And we were not doing that. So I have no problem with that.”
Kiffin said he’s changing quarterbacks after the hapless showing, and he appeared optimistic he could still rally the student body right back in his corner.
“As bad as it felt, you know, there’s some good things in there,” he said. “We were just totally inept in the passing game — as bad as it can possibly be. We ran the ball effectively and we played lights-out defense.”
Maybe Kiffin will right the ship rocked by the Pirate.
But it sure looks like he’s destined to sink at a time when the Vol Navy has a skipper generating a wave of optimism that hasn’t been seen since — well, Kiffin’s arrival.
Trey Williams is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.