Details emerge on why USC fired Lane Kiffin

lane-kiffin-usc-firedFollowing USC’s 62-41 loss to Arizona State, head coach Lane Kiffin was fired after three-plus years at the school. Based on the Trojans’ 0-2 start in Pac-10 play and their collapse last year, few people were surprised about Kiffin’s firing. The 0-2 conference record now makes it very difficult for USC to plan a realistic run at the Pac-10 title with eight games left.

Athletic director Pat Haden fired Kiffin when they returned to Los Angeles from Tempe. The fourth-year coach spent the next 45 minutes trying to convince Haden why he should remain at the helm. But it was to no avail because the AD had already made up his mind on the matter

Today, Haden gave more details on his decision to fire Kiffin. “I haven’t felt particularly good even from the Hawaii game,” he said. “I just felt like we haven’t been the consistent team that we need to be at USC. We’ve played 125 years of some pretty dog-gone good football here at USC.

lane-kiffin-usc-fired-1“We’re just all a piece of the continuum. We’re going to be playing football 125 years from now. I was just a tiny little piece of it, Lane was, Pete Carroll was, and we all add up into this continuum of USC football, and we just realized that our history has been great, and we need to be great again.”

Sources say that Kiffin took the firing very professionally, although he was quite sad over hearing the news. He departs USC with a 28-15 record, and a 35-21 record overall as a college head coach (including Tennessee).

Current USC assistant coach and former Mississippi head coach Ed Orgeron will now serve as the interim replacement. “I want to tell you we’re here as a staff to answer the bell,” Orgeron said. “We’re all accountable for what happened as a staff and as players. Us Trojans know how to do it.”

There’s no official word yet on who will replace Kiffin on a more permanent basis. However, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has emerged as a prime candidate. But if these reports are true, Del Rio certainly isn’t revealing anything. “There isn’t anything to say,” he said after the Broncos blowout win against Philadelphia on Sunday. “It’s all speculation at this point, I’ve got a job to do here, my focus is right there.”

News sources close to Denver claim that Del Rio wouldn’t make any decision on the USC job until after the Broncos’ season is over. Haden wouldn’t comment on Del Rio’s candidacy. He also left the door open for Orgeron by saying, “He’ll be evaluated just like any other candidate.”

lane-kiffin-usc-fired-2Going back to Kiffin, he was unofficially on thin ice after the Trojans finished with a 7-6 record last year. They came into 2012 with very high expectations thanks to a No. 1 preseason ranking. But after losing five out of their last six contests, USC finished unranked. This made them the first top-ranked preseason team to finish outside the top 25 in nearly 50 years.

All three of Kiffin’s head coaching jobs have ended in controversial exits. After excelling as the USC offensive coordinator during a 23-3 two-year run, he landed the Oakland Raiders head coaching job at just 31. Following public feuds with owner Al Daivs, Kiffin was finally canned in 2008, thanks to a 5-15 overall record.

He then landed at Tennessee in 2009 and was already under pressure, due to the fan base’s love for ex-coach Phillip Fulmer. Following a 7-6 record, Kiffin quickly departed Tennessee when he got the Trojans head coaching job. And this very short stint left Volunteers’ fans with a bitter taste in their mouth.

Furthermore, many people questioned Kiffin’s USC hiring, given his previous track record and lack of success at Tennessee. Now, over three years later, skeptics have been proven right when looking at the near-disastrous recent results.

USC Trojans to open 2013 Season with Ongoing QB Battle

usc-trojans-quarterback-starterUSC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin knew that he’d have a quarterback battle on his hands entering this season. But he didn’t quite expect the battle to last until the Trojans’ season opener against Hawaii.

Following a full offseason evaluation, Kiffin said that it was too close to call between Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. In fact, the USC coaching staff won’t even pick the nominal starter is until they arrive in Honolulu. So now both sophomores will receive significant playing time against the Rainbow Warriors.

“That really is how well both guys did,” Kiffin said after his decision. “For us, we look at it as a great thing. We’ve got two guys that we feel great about. We don’t feel like we have to limit our offense with either one of them in there. They’ve both done so well, made so many plays.

max-wittek-football“It didn’t show itself that one guy was above the other guy, so we do it all the time with other positions. We’re not going to be stubborn and name a starter just because we’re supposed to, or that’s what we’ve done for 100 years, or whatever that is. We’ve got to do with all of our decisions what’s best for our team.”

When evaluating the quarterbacks, the general consensus is that Wittek has a stronger arm. Plus he has game experience, having started last season’s final two games when four-year starter Matt Barkley was injured. He finished the 2012 season with 388 passing yards, 3 TD’s, 5 INT’s and a 52.2% completion rate.

As for Kessler, he’s considered more mobile than Wittek and is a very resourceful player when plays break down. Kessler also played better in camp this month, which has pushed USC coaches to a high level of indecisiveness.

Playing two quarterbacks in the opener wasn’t the way that Kiffin wanted to start the 2013-14 college football season. So he set out to pick a starter between Wittek, Kessler and touted freshman Max Browne. The latter was taken out of the mix halfway through August’s camp, which left Kessler and Wittek fighting for the starting job.

Now, the most important position on the field is much like the rest of USC’s depth chart – full of spots where multiple players will play. Tailback and fullback are two other notable positions where duel starters have been named.

cody-kesslerKiffin will definitely be hoping that his depth can translate into more victories from the previous season. After a promising 6-1 start for the preseason number one-ranked team, they stumbled the rest of the year, losing five out of their last six contests.

In 2013, the Trojans open with a #24 ranking and a lot less pressure. They don’t play a preseason-ranked team until October 19th, when they travel to South Bend to face #14 Notre Dame. Other difficult ranked opponents include #25 Oregon State (away), #4 Stanford (home) and #21 UCLA (home).

How the quarterback situation plays out will go a long ways towards determining how the USC Trojans handle these opponents, and if they can get to a major bowl game.

Matt Barkley sees Unprecedented Fall in 2013 NFL Draft

matt-barkley-nfl-draftThis year, Barkley will be a Junior and it may be his last year playing for the Trojans before he takes his talents to the NFL. I have watched every game of Barkley since he became a Trojan and I am confident that he will be a top 5 pick whenever he decides to come out.

These were the words NFLMocks used to describe Matt Barkley towards the end of his junior year at USC. The top 5 pick sentiment was something that was shared by many NFL GM’s and scouts back in these days. And Barkley did turn out to be a top 5 pick….of the fourth round.

The disappointed QB’s free fall finally ended on the third day of the 2013 NFL Draft, when the Philadelphia Eagles took him with the first pick of the fourth round. And while plenty of great quarterbacks have been drafted at this point or later, they certainly didn’t have the pedigree of Matt Barkley.

matt-barkley-nfl-draft-1While quarterbacking Santa Ana Mater Dei High School, Barkley gained considerable attention for winning the Gatorade National Player of the Year award in his junior season. As the nation’s number one QB prospect, he would go on to become the first true freshman in USC history to start.

The hype rapidly built long before Barkley even threw an official pass at USC. “I’m going on record now to say … three years Matt Barkley – who will be a true freshman this year – will be the No. 1 pick in the draft. Three years from now,” said ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper.

Things got off to a mediocre start for Barkley in his freshman season as he led the Trojans to a 9-4 record, while throwing for 2,735 yards, 15 TD’s and 14 INT’s. His sophomore year was better statistically as the 6’2″ signal caller tallied 2,791 yards, 26 TD’s and 12 INT’s; however, USC limped to an 8-5 record.

matt-barkley-nfl-draft-2But Barkley’s junior year is when he really exploded after throwing for 3,528 yards, 39 TD’s, just 6 INT’s, and led USC to a 10-2 record. Based on all of this, it’s no wonder why he was the Hesiman Trophy favorite in his senior year. And Barkley’s decision to return was particularly shocking when you consider that he was a projected top 10 pick in the 2012 Draft.

Perhaps the Newport Beach, California native should’ve left because the 2012 season was a disaster for USC, which started as the number one-ranked team in preseason polls. This ranking quickly vanished as they lost to the Stanford Cardinals to open the Pac-10 season. After winning their next four games, the Trojans dropped five out of their last six contests to finish at a dismal 7-6 – quite possibly the worst that a top-ranked preseason team has ever done.

Barkley put up solid numbers with 3,287 yards, 36 TD’s and 15 INT’s during this campaign. However, his 2013 NFL Draft stock plummeted for a variety of reasons and cost him somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 – $15 million.

So what happened between the end of 2011 and 2012? First off, scouts found a lot more flaws in Barkley’s game after he led USC to a 7-6 season – namely average arm strength and dancing feet in the pocket.

He also suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Sun Bowl and prevented him from throwing at the Combine in Indianapolis. This is about the worst thing that could’ve happened to Barkley after USC coach Lane Kiffin convinced him to stay. And when he did work out for scouts at USC’s pro day, his performance was less than inspiring.

matt-barkley-nfl-draft-3Finally, Barkley is now a year older with another season of wear and tear on him. And when an injury causes more tear, this is never something that will improve your draft status.

If there’s any silver lining to this story, it’s that Barkley is taking the draft slide pretty well. He said, “I’m just glad I know where my home is and I can’t wait to hit the playbook.” Barkley also stated, “I stayed positive this whole time, and haven’t looked back. I’m blessed that the Eagles believe in me and are willing to give me a chance. And I’m looking forward from here on out. And no matter where you end, it’s just the beginning of the next chapter, next story of your life.”

The next chapter will see Matt Barkley trying to distinguish himself in a muddled, five-quarterback situation in Philadelphia. Michael Vick is the frontrunner so far; but he certainly isn’t a lock to start after a dismal, injury-plagued 2012 and a new coach in Chip Kelly.

Nick Foles should also get a crack at the starting job after throwing for 1,699 yards, 6 TD’s and 5 INT’s while filling in for Vick. Dennis Dixon is another intriguing candidate here since he quarterbacked Kelly’s Oregon team in 2007 and served as a backup on the Ravens’ 2012 NFL championship team.

It’s difficult to say where Barkley fits into this situation. But no matter if he ends up as the starter or taking practice squad reps, he’ll be making far less money than if he’d came out last year.

The Californian is probably going to sign something in the range of a four-year contract worth $2.5 million with a $500,000 signup bonus. However, this is a far cry from the $15 million or so he would’ve received as a top 10 pick. That said, Barkley will definitely serve as a cautionary tale to top NFL prospects for years to come.