Apparently, USC athletic director Pat Haden had seen enough. As USC flew back on its team charter early Sunday morning after a loss to Arizona State, only Haden knew when the plane landed he would fire Lane Kiffin.
The decision came after a game in which the Trojans gave up a school-record 62 points for the second time in as many seasons -- and suffered a seventh loss in the last 11 games -- but this wasn’t really about just one game. It was about an athletic director who had tried to support a coach, even in the face of overwhelming fan discontent, and finally came to realize that the time had come for him to act.
There is no doubt that there is an element of surprise to Haden’s decision to fire Kiffin in the middle of the season. It’s been well-documented that Haden had backed Kiffin “150 percent” at the end of the 2012 season. He reiterated that support before the 2013 season began with a video that claimed Kiffin was not on the proverbial “coaching hot seat.”
However, in the end, Haden could no longer ignore the reality of what had transpired with his program. No matter how much he wanted to believe that Kiffin was the right guy, the evidence proved he wasn't. There were simply too many issues, too many missteps and not enough good football.
It’s no secret that Kiffin was a polarizing figure, but Haden thought he had a solid fundamental football coach as well. Haden talked often about how he thought Kiffin was a “dynamic” playcaller with good recruiting skills. He talked about how Kiffin was still a relatively young coach who could mature on the job, and he asked for patience as Kiffin dealt with NCAA sanctions.
That stance was not a popular one among USC fans. The tailspin from the 2012 season and the numerous distractions brought about by Kiffin (walking out on the media, jersey-switching, ball deflating) were enough for many Cardinal and Gold faithful to make up their minds. The fact that the Trojans became the first team since the 1960s to begin the season ranked No. 1 and finish outside the Top 25 only added fuel to the fire.
By the time the Trojans fell to Washington State on Sept. 7, a game in which they had only 54 passing yards, the fans thought it was time to let Haden know exactly how they felt. There were boos during the game -- that part wasn’t surprising -- but the chants of “Fire Kiffin” that reverberated throughout the crowd in the fourth quarter were new. Several longtime observers said they could never remember similar chants in their years of watching Trojans football.
Haden didn’t tip his hand on Kiffin, so USC fans had no way of knowing that the end was near. The ASU game was thought to be a good test to see where these Trojans stood. Unfortunately for Kiffin, the test and results weren't positive.
So now Haden is faced with the biggest decision of his USC tenure. Chances are he will name an interim coach for the remainder of the season, and then he will look to place his stamp on the program with the hiring of a new coach. A source told ESPN's Joe Schad that assistant head coach Ed Orgeron will be named interim coach.
There has been talk that the USC job may not be as attractive as it once was, but that theory is about to be proved wrong.
The Trojans are on the tail end of NCAA sanctions, so there is a light at the end of that tunnel.
This is still USC football, one of the elite bluebloods of college football which is located in the heart of a fertile recruiting territory with brand-new facilities and the ability to offer a top-notch education.
Haden will have a wide selection of candidates to choose from. One thing we know about Haden -- a thoughtful and intelligent man -- is that he will take his time to make sure he gets the decision right.