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Lane Kiffin was never right man to lead USC Trojans


Spend enough time around football coaches and you come to realize there are two basic archetypes. There is the Harold Hill, the outgoing con man from "The Music Man" whose rah-rah spirit covers up his ruthless nature. There is the Michael Corleone, whose tactical cunning is enough to overlook his callousness.

Lane Kiffin was neither, which is why he is no longer the head coach at USC, dismissed early Sunday morning at Los Angeles International Airport after the Trojans' demoralizing 62-41 loss at Arizona State.

Kiffin thought he was a play-calling savant, but his offenses were both too predictable and too complicated. Why line up in the I-formation on third-and-1 when you can run out of the Wildcat and remove even the threat of the pass? Why throw vertically to wide receivers or tight ends when a bubble screen plays right into the opposing defense's hands?

Kiffin was never even remotely likable in his dealing with the press or alumni. He never acknowledged the cause of a problem, instead picking a fight or cracking a joke or coming up with an excuse. The storied history of USC started in 2001, as far as Kiffin was concerned.

In his one moment of fleeting glory -- USC's 11-2 season in 2011 that concluded with wins at Oregon and 50-0 over crosstown UCLA -- Kiffin reigned in those coarsest instincts. He ran the ball and attacked deep. He bit his tongue. He employed a physical, productive practice regiment, injuries and scholarship reductions be damned.

But rather than take those lessons to heart or recognize the extraordinary collection of talent that came together -- an offense featuring quarterback Matt Barkley, left tackle Matt Kalil and wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee -- the success emboldened Kiffin. He backed off in practice, reverting to the approach that backfired in his first season. He became embroiled in insignificant but embarrassing controversies, such as whether or not he voted his team No. 1 in the USA Today Coaches Poll or having multiple players wear the same number.

That left Kiffin with only his standing as an ace recruiter, the man who brought in Woods and Nickell Robey and Lee and Leonard Williams. However, several glaring losses in the run-up to signing day, including the mishandling of committed defensive end Kylie Fitts leading to his enrollment with the Bruins, erased the last argument Kiffin could point to in his favor.

USC fans barely tolerated Kiffin's idiosyncrasies and flaws when he was winning. Apparently, the same went for his players. Woods and Barkley responded to news of his firing on Twitter not with sadness or anger, only with apparent shock at its abrupt timing.

Kiffin was never the charmer, never the coaching genius he thought he was, and never the right man for the job.

Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.



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