Lane Kiffin Fired – Who Will Hire Him Next?

The Miley Cyrus of college football will be back too soon.


To the surprise of no one, the University of Southern California has fired head football coach Lane Kiffin after yet another embarrassing loss. The real question is why he keeps getting hired to begin with.  ESPN radio host Paul Finebaum has dubbed him the “Miley Cyrus of college football.”

 ”How did he land the Raiders job? At Tennessee? And particularly the one at SC? People think it’s because of his father, Monte, the great defensive wizard. In some respects, Lane Kiffin is the Miley Cyrus of college football. He has very little talent, but we simply can’t take our eyes off him.”

Yet, are only 38 years of age—well before most coaches get their first crack at a head coaching gig—he’s just been fired from his third. He was handed the keys to the NFL’s Oakland Raiders in 2007, at only 31, after only two years as an offensive coordinator at the college level. That’s simply unheard of.  After compiling a 4-12 record, he was fired by then-owner Al Davis in one of the most bizarre press conferences of all time.

Months later, he was hired as head coach of the University of Tennessee Volunteers, a storied program with a national title in recent memory. He coached them to a 7-6 record, embarrassing himself and the school constantly along the way with idiotic remarks and recruiting violations, before inexplicably being hired as the head coach of the Trojans, one of the top five all-time programs in the college game.

Now, even as an SEC fan, I don’t get the animus that Tennessee fans have against Kiffin for leaving. No, the Vols aren’t anyone’s stepping stone program. But USC is indeed a more prestigious gig—I’d rank them in an elite with Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan, and Texas—and he is a California guy who made his name as a rising star at USC.

Even with some minor NCAA sanctions limiting scholarships, Kiffin managed to recruit a lot of talent. But it didn’t materialize in wins: he went 28-15 in three and a half seasons. By USC standards, that’s embarrassing.

The thing is, as humiliated as Kiffin is at this juncture, he’s sure to be given another high profile job soon. This is a profession where Wade Phillips got five chances to be an NFL head coach on the basis that, hey, he’s been an NFL head coach before!  The mere fact that Kiffin coached the Raiders, Vols, and Trojans will be used as evidence that he must be a great coach. The fact that he was dreadful at it will be a mere footnote.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I’d rank [USC] in an elite with … Notre Dame, Michigan, and Texas

    The doctors must be relieved you finally woke up from that 10 year coma.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Honestly, Kiffin should never have been give the job at USC to begin with. I would think that someone like Steve Sarkisian at Washington would be interested, as might Jon Gruden.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    Lane Kiffin is a better coach when his father is his defensive coordinator. Without Monte Lane is just not very good.

    Also, Tennessee has fired the coach that replaced Kiffin and and the Raiders has has three head coaches since Kiffin.

    The real question is why would anyone want to be the USC head coach because following Lane Kiffin does not lead to long term employment.

  4. Tyrell says:

    I fail to see why so many people knock this guy.

  5. al-Ameda says:


    The real question is why would anyone want to be the USC head coach because following Lane Kiffin does not lead to long term employment.

    Actually, following Lane Kiffin is a perfect set-up for success. The next coach could hardly do worse. It won’t be long before the NCAA sanction period is over, plus USC will always be able to recruit elite athletes there. Anew competent coach will have that program back on track in no less that a year.

  6. Neil Hudelson says:


    Well, did you read the post?

  7. superdestroyer says:


    USC only became elite program again when Pete Carroll was the head coach. Before that there was a long dry spell. USC may have great alumni but most people in California are not really college football fans and there are other schools for talents players for Southern California to go to these days.

  8. Franklin says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I hate ND and knew they would lose big last year, but you might have noticed them in the championship game?

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon @superdestroyer: What Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas and USC have in common is that they’ve had consistent periods of greatness over a span of decades. Sure, they all have dry spells. Texas is currently in one of them and Michigan and Notre Dame have just come out of them (and Alabama has endured several). They’ll all won multiple (mythical) national championships over many different stretches of time.

  10. @Franklin:

    I hate ND and knew they would lose big last year, but you might have noticed them in the championship game?

    Yeah, and their embarrassment made it clear it was more due to weak opposition than because of actual merit. And this year they seem to be doing their best to demonstrate that last year was a one time fluke.

    @James Joyner:

    Michigan and Notre Dame have just come out of them

    The last few weeks by both teams seem to suggest you may want to wait a bit before declare the dry spells over.

    And yeah, it’s great they can reminisce about long past golden ages, but by that metric, pretty much any big football school qualifies as elite. If we’re looking at recent performance Alabama is the only school the seems to deserve still being referred to as an elite school. With regards to the others, schools like Oregon and Boise State seem to deserve the title more than Michigan and USC.

  11. Kenny says:

    All true. Except USC’s sanctions were hardly minor. They lost 30 scholarships over three years. They are right now, at the height of their probation.

    They have fewer scholarship players than the rules would allow a team to take on road games.

    Now, I’m sure, there are a few scholarship caliber players that have walked on at USC in the interim, but surely not a full team’s worth. The numbers suggest they have 15-20 fewer scholarship players than programs operating at full steam. Then factor in injuries and thinness can become transparency.

    Also, this punishment has reverberations for a few years. USC could only sign 15 scholarships under probation. Since those punishments went into place in 2010 they are emerging from that period. Recalling that the annual scholarship signing limitation (25 per year) is in effect, the Trojans mathematically won’t have a full roster of 85 scholarship players in the immediate future.

    Kiffin had to go at some point, but he wasn’t in an easy situation, either. (One entirely of USC boosters and Pete Carroll and perhaps the administration’s doing, mind you.)

    Also, they reportedly fired the guy at the airport. Harsh.

  12. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    Isn’t Jack Del Rio topping SC’s shortlist?

  13. Woody says:

    I would like to be the first to congratulate Kiffin (and Jeff Zucker) on his new job as Head of News Programming at CNN.

  14. Steve V says:

    I heard Herm Edwards’ name on local sports radio a couple of weeks ago.

    As a Bruins fan I was hoping they’d hold on to Kiffin longer than this.

  15. superdestroyer says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy:

    Del Rio has never coached at the college level and the big question at the college level is recruiting. As Saban and Meyer have shown, in college, recruiting is probably more important that x and o coaching.

  16. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Texas won a national championship as recently as 2005 and has had several good years since. Notre Dame was in the BCS National Championship Game just last season. Yes, my Crimson Tide beat the snot out of them. But that pretty much means that they’re back.

    @Kenny: I concur that Kiffin faced some obstacles with the sanctions. But the sanctions are minor compared to what the NCAA traditionally levies after similar levels of infractions.

  17. EddieInCA says:

    @James Joyner:

    With all due respect, Dr. Joyner, someone who knows a whole lot more than you disagrees:

    The stories will say that Lane Kiffin had lost a fan base, lost his team and lost too many games by too many points. And the stories will be true — Kiffin’s biscuits had been burning on the coaching hot seat for days, weeks, months.

    But if we’re going to put on our truth helmets, the stories should also say that Kiffin was fired because an athletic director lost his resolve. He was fired because USC alums and boosters, almost prideful in their arrogance, think a roster of 56 scholarship players — oops, make that 55 with the loss of the team’s only true star, wide receiver Marqise Lee — shouldn’t affect the Trojans’ program.

    Pat Haden, the AD who just two months ago said he was “100 percent” supportive of Kiffin, decided he was zero percent behind his coach after Saturday evening’s 62-41 loss at Arizona State. This is the same AD who said he would judge Kiffin not just by wins and losses, but by other factors, including academics, NCAA compliance and the character of his players.

    “And Lane Kiffin gets very high marks in all of those areas,” Haden said at the time.

    What a joke. Of course it was about the wins and losses. It’s always about the wins and losses at USC — and, to be fair, at almost any other major college football program.


    Haden found the negatives. USC lost the home opener to Washington State. It lost big to ASU. The program, in his eyes, had become inert. But you can’t have it both ways. In the same seven-day span, you can’t plead with the NCAA to reduce the severe scholarship sanctions that cripple your program and fire your head coach. That’s hypocrisy. And that’s what Haden did.

    Kiffin had his many flaws, but he also had, through no fault of his own, those many scholarship limits. The cumulative effect of those sanctions (2015 will be the first season USC can have the full complement of 85 scholarship players) severely affected the depth chart. The Trojans have talent, but not enough of it, especially in the difficult Pac-12.

    Don’t believe me? Ask Alabama coach Nick Saban what it was like to deal with NCAA sanctions when he was at Michigan State. They make a difference.

    Of course, USC followers don’t want to hear this. They just wanted Kiffin gone.

    In retrospect, the worst thing Kiffin ever did was go 10-2 in 2011 while under those NCAA penalties. Ranked No. 1 to begin the 2012 season, USC started 6-1 and finished 1-5 — and out of the rankings altogether. It was a spectacular fall and it left Kiffin vulnerable and isolated. Haden stood by Kiffin — and then he didn’t. He reacted to the boosters, to the attendance figures, to the success of crosstown rival UCLA and to a loss in the desert.

    Kiffin was never going to win a national championship this year. But he could have reached a bowl game. He could have won seven, possibly eight games. Given USC’s roster limits and USC’s list of injuries, that would have been a season worth admiring.

  18. Cathy Davis Hall says:

    It was the manner in which he left UT in the middle of the night in the middle of the season that angered everyone. Someone said it best,” like a rock band that trashes their hotel room and sneaks out in the middle of the night and accepts no responsibility.”

  19. MstrB says:

    He got fired in the parking lot at LAX after getting called off the team bus. The buses were sent to campus without him. That is ice cold*.

    *Not as cold as when John Robinson got fired from USC via a message on his answering machine.

  20. superdestroyer says:


    Coaches are hired to be fired. Everyone coach knows that he can be fired. That is why they have buy out provisions in their contracts. What is amazing is how some big time coaches have rather low price buy out provisions while some average coaches have very high buy out provisions.

    What is amazing is that the media is not reporting on Kiffin’s buyout but he does have $4.8 million left on his contract.

  21. JohnMcC says:

    @superdestroyer: And of course Mr Carroll is remembered for that great year of 2004. The one in which the Trojans had to vacate the BSC title, you recall. And Reggie Bush had to return the Heisman.

    Good times….

  22. MstrB says:


    Yes they are hired to be fired, that doesn’t mean you should to it at an airport terminal at 3 am and leave him there. or do it on someone’s answering machine. Yes they are big boys, but at least do it with a little respect.

    As an a follow up, USC loaned Kiffin $500,000 to purchase his house…which is can be due (plus interest) upon quitting or getting fired. So expect to see a new home listing in Manhattan Beach soon.

  23. Tyrell says:

    This is yet another example of the power and money involved in major university sports programs. The NCAA goes along with a lot of this stuff. Education is becoming less important at many of these major universities. It is time for a new collegiate athletic agency.

  24. Jordan says:

    You realize you’re probably the only moron on the face of the planet who thinks USC’s sanctions were minor. I agree that Kiffin deserved to be fired but to say those sanctions were minor is ignorant and should leave you with zero credibility in analyzing college football. 50 scholarship players when most teams have 80? Seriously, who hired you to write articles about football? Or is this a pro bono gig?

  25. Judy says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Lane Kiffin is a nut case and i would never compare USC with Alabama they could not stay with them. Where will Tee Martin end up not Tenn. for sure!

  26. Jon Lazar says:

    Lane is consistently screwing up …. It seems there is a tendency to live that high life at any cost….
    and he has lied and deceived many along the way…. not to mention, NOT succeed at his trade… I have no argument with USC being looked at as a top school and program – AS IT IS.. I am alittle leary of Lane as their choice… I am not sure if I were an AD I would want to even interview the guy…. you have to feel he is already looking for another opportunity once he inked your deal.. I would not trust him now .. Saban was like that for a few years but he has found a place in Alabama…. It sounds as if he will likely not leave that position for anything at this point… Not a hater of Kiffin, I just don’t trust the guy. or like his MO.. JKL