Thrill of Victory

Lane Kiffin, Southern Cal getting what each deserves

It’s been a long last week for Tennessee Volunteer fans. There’s been the 41-18 loss to Vanderbilt, and now, the firing of coach Derek Dooley. But if that wasn’t bad enough, there was one more piece of bad news from the NCAA thrown in as well last week.

That bad news was that the NCAA has extended UT’s football probation by two years. The penalties in themselves weren’t the worst sanctions that the NCAA handed down (read this for more on the sanctions); more than anything, it was just pouring salt in a wound opened by former Vol coach Lane Kiffin, whose actions just before leaving for Southern Cal got the Vols on probation in the first place.

How hated is Kiffin? On a night when 41,000 Vanderbilt and Tennessee fans gathered together at Vandy’s Dudley Field in what was probably as much a display of vitriol for the opponent as it was a display of affection for their own teams, I’d bet that the final score of Kiffin’s latest game (UCLA 38, USC 28) was met with unanimous sentiment from both fan bases along the lines of this: ha, ha, ha!

Kiffin is like the spouse who got you to co-sign for a credit card, and then ran up a $50,000 tab while cheating on you with one of your friends before leaving you sixth months later, filing for bankruptcy and sticking you with the entire bill. And like the jilted spouse, it’s hard not to follow your ex’s train wreck of a life when it’s on display for all to see and laugh a bit at his expense as misfortune follows – especially when there are no signs of repentance.

Before I go any further, let’s not exonerate Tennessee for its poor decision in hiring Kiffin in the first place. The late Al Davis, owner of the Oakland Raiders who fired Kiffin just over a year before he came to Knoxville, publicly called Kiffin “a flat-out liar” who was “guilty of bringing disgrace” to the Raiders in the aftermath of the termination. Davis was, at the time, dismissed by many as a senile old man at the time, but the Vols should have paid more attention since Kiffin had been on the USC staff that the NCAA had been investigating for a couple of years already.

In any case, the mass opinion of Kiffin around here has been that the consequences of his actions haven’t caught up with him – and when you’ve been screwed over, there’s few things harder than watching the perpetrator reap the rewards of his actions. Yes, the Trojans lost 10 scholarships a year from 2011 to 2013, but that didn’t stop USC from going 10-2 last season, nor has it stopped Kiffin from building what Rivals.com is billing as the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class for 2013 thus far.

Nor has it stopped Kiffin from cheating and/or general dishonesty at USC. If the 37-year old were a cartoon character, there’s no doubt he’d be Pinocchio, for Kiffin is no more than a lying little boy who refuses to grow up.

Kiffin’s rap sheet for this year alone includes lying about not voting the Trojans No. 1 in the preseason Coaches’ Poll, locking visiting Hawaii out of Southern Cal’s home field for its Friday walk-through before the Trojans’ season opener, illegally deflating game-used footballs so that the Trojans could more easily throw and catch the ball, having his punter don a jersey with the punter’s number (and then switching back, mid-game) in violation of NCAA rules.

So far, Kiffin hasn’t been so much as slapped on the wrist for any of it, but perhaps the football gods have seen that Kiffin’s gotten some justice, after all. Saturday’s loss was Kiffin’s fourth against seven wins, and a fifth is probably coming in the next few days with No. 1 Notre Dame traveling to Las Angeles for a date with the Trojans, who’ll be without injured superstar Matt Barkley, their quarterback, this weekend. For a team ranked No. 1 in the AP’s preseason poll, the Trojans’ season, in context, is a failure on par with UT’s 4-7 campaign thus far.

Now, as to the Trojans: it’s poetic justice that Kiffin’s 2012 season has been a flop. When Southern Cal hired Kiffin, everyone knew that the NCAA had just started investigating the Vols for alleged violations during Kiffin’s tenure there, and given the nature and the number of those allegations, it didn’t take a genius to figure that things were going to end well. Southern Cal’s administration, knowing that the NCAA had already been snooping around its campus for about three years investigating previous violations, should have considered Kiffin on par with Rod Blagojevich and Bernie Madoff in terms of fitness for the job.

The irony of the situation is that, just as Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart bears some of the brunt for a hire he didn’t make, so does his counterpart, Pat Haden, at Southern Cal. Haden is a Rhodes Scholar and an all-around good guy, and probably the exact guy you’d want to clean up the kind of mess that is Southern Cal (remember, the Trojans have drawn major sanctions for basketball, too). It’s a wonder that Haden – who insists that his head coach is safe – hasn’t already pulled the plug on Kiffin for embarrassing the school in so many ways.

Then again, perhaps Haden subconsciously knows it’s fitting. Given the Trojans’ lengthy history of operating outside the NCAA rulebook and Kiffin’s buffoonery, few institutions and coaches deserve one another like these two. And even if it amounts to petty jealousy, it’s hard to blame citizens of the Volunteer State for laughing.