NCF On The Trail: Lane Kiffin

When the letters of intent come rolling off the fax machine Wednesday, USC is expected to finish as strong as any program in the country. There are even whispers of the Trojans climbing as high as No. 2 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings Insider if everything goes USC's way. Kudos will be heaped upon coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff -- rightfully so, because they did clean up in a topsy-turvy year in Pac-12 recruiting -- but there's another person Trojans fans probably should thank.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonWhile his success on the field wasn't enough to keep his job, Lane Kiffin's shrewd recruiting moves have USC poised for another big class.
Lane Kiffin.

Even though he was ushered out of town September 2013 after USC struggled on the field, it was Kiffin who assembled a shrewd recruiting game plan that helped USC navigate recruiting's murky waters after the NCAA's enforcement hammer came slamming down.

Kiffin was forced to recruit under a two-year bowl ban, the loss of 30 scholarships during a three-year period and a limit of only 75 total scholarships (10 fewer than the 85 maximum). But it's his 2011, 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes that helped USC get itself in position to come out the other side of the sanctions stronger on the field and without skipping a beat on the recruiting trail. The Trojans' expected strong finish on the recruiting trail Wednesday is mirrored by top five expectations for the 2015 football season.

"He was the caretaker of the program," a rival Pac-12 recruiting coordinator said. "With every move he made, he was looking at the long term so when the sanctions ended it would be exactly like it is today. In hindsight, I think a lot of USC fans should be big Lane Kiffin fans. It was his tactics on the recruiting trail that's put them where they'll be on signing day."

USC athletic director Pat Haden said Kiffin had a binder four inches thick that outlined how he wanted to handle recruiting and managing the talent on hand during the sanctions, and in many ways that involved going against the grain.

That was especially true with his 2011 class. After winning an appeal, the Trojans knew that class was going to be the last full class they would be able to sign before the sanctions hit. So they signed 31 players, a number you normally don't see in the Pac-12, and the list included players who went on to become household names such as quarterback Cody Kessler, defensive tackle Antwaun Woods, receiver Marqise Lee, running back Javorius Allen, kicker Andre Heidari and offensive linemen Aundrey Walker and Marcus Martin.

But in that 31-player class, Kiffin landed two quarterbacks and redshirted them both. He signed a long snapper, a punter and a kicker. He also bolstered line depth by signing seven offensive linemen and six defensive linemen.

Sure, not all of them went on to become stars, but it was a dramatic move away from the days of USC simply signing all of the four- and five-star players in the West regardless of what position they played. It was a shift that focused on adding depth and stockpiling talent at key positions because Kiffin knew the Trojans would have deficits in future classes.

Love him or hate him, Kiffin steered USC through some choppy waters, and his recruiting blueprint helped bring the Trojans to the point where they will be on Wednesday -- back in the national college football headlines for all the right reasons.

"A head coach with a great recruiting game is more important than a coach that has a great offensive or defensive philosophy," another Pac-12 assistant said. "It's imperative you have the players. They're the most important asset. And you have to have a good plan to get them. That's why I think so many coaches really admire what Kiffin was able to do while he was at USC. I know it's not a popular opinion with the fans, but it's the right one in hindsight."
Even Nick Saban can find some time to relax and let loose.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsMaybe Lane Kiffin's skill with a microphone aren't best used addressing the media.
Known more for his on-field scowls and stern deliveries at his press conferences, Saban has much more personality than he lets on when he's talking about his team with the microphones and cameras in his face. I mean, look at the job he did during the coverage of this year's VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. The man can talk.

But it also appears that he can also dance. More specifically, he can slide.

During a big recruiting weekend on campus, Saban entertained guests by partaking in the electric slide, which is a must for anyone with any ounce of soul or rhythm. If it's tricky for you, I suggest you either check Saban out and learn quickly before you're invited to any sort of shindig that has a dance floor.

ESPN 300 linebacker Rashaan Evans was in town on an official visit and his brother, Alex, captured part of the special moment on video and uploaded it to Vine. You can see it here. It's only six seconds long, but the little bit that you see of Saban is great. As a certified pro at the electric slide, I was really impressed with Saban's moves.

But what might have been even more impressive was the karaoke session new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin had with ESPN 300 running back commit Bo Scarbrough's mother, Donetris.

Here's what she told 247Sports about singing what had to be a very special duet of the song "Sweet Home Alabama":
"I think if you're new there, you have to do karaoke. It's kind of the theme with the new coaches. Everyone has to do a karaoke night. It was his turn and he kept on hiding. He told me, 'I think I'll go on ahead and do it, if you sing with me.'

"It made the night. It was the talk of the night."

Dancing is one thing, but singing is a whole different arena. As a former musical theater student, I'd jump at the chance, but not everyone has belted like I have. Kudos to Kiffin for letting those vocal cords go. Adding some air guitar to the whole thing would have just been icing on an already delicious cake.

It's just more proof that these coaches are, in fact, human. They aren't the robots they sometimes make themselves out to be. They have fun sides and know how to entertain when it's time to get out of coach mode. That had to be a pretty fun experience for everyone.

So which coaches would you guys love to see dance in public? Who would you love to see perform some beautiful karaoke, and what song would you pick?

I'd love to see soft-spoken Tennessee coach Butch Jones go solo with Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball." Singing only, of course. Maybe throw some Kanye West or Katy Perry at him to keep him on his toes. And clearly everyone wants to see Arkansas coach Bret Bielema do the "Dougie."

Notebook: WeAreSC recruiting roundup 

September, 30, 2013
It took USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron less than a minute and a half to utter the word “recruits” during his news conference Sunday following the firing of Lane Kiffin. Given how important recruiting will be for the Trojans the next two years, nobody would have been surprised if Orgeron blurted that word even more quickly.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesEd Orgeron will try to build some recruiting momentum as USC's interim head coach.
Known as one of the nation’s top recruiters, Orgeron figures to play an integral role leading up to national signing day in February. In fact, the energetic, 52-year-old coach had already contacted some top targets Sunday morning.

“We’ve already spoken to our recruits about the value of USC and what’s going on at USC,” Orgeron told reporters Sunday. “Recruiting has been one of our strengths here and it will continue to be one of our strengths. We expect to have a great recruiting class and continue to bring some of the best recruits across the country to USC.”

Orgeron’s pitch, despite his interim status and uncertainty surrounding the coaching situation, will be simple. He will touch on the education, prestige, opportunity and past glory.

“There’s a lot of great things about USC still here,” Orgeron said. “Nothing has changed about USC.”

In this week’s WeAreSC recruiting notebook, we touch on the impact Kiffin’s dismissal could have on USC recruiting and more:
It is a whole new ball game with recruits out West now that Lane Kiffin is out at USC.

The Trojans’ Class of 2014 recruiting efforts mirrored the product on the field. There were a few bright spots like highly regarded ESPN 300 defensive end Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), ESPN 300 linebacker D.J. Calhoun (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito) and ESPN 300 offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra), but it was also a class full of incompletions, fumbles and big misses.

[+] EnlargeTalamaivao
Erik McKinney/ESPN.comThe Trojans hope a new coaching staff will sway recruits like Viane Talamaivao (committed to Alabama) to USC.
The Trojans, in one of the deepest hotbeds of talent in the entire country and with one of the proudest football traditions around, were able to lure only seven commitments and watched conference rivals Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington blow past them on the recruiting trail. Recruits and high school coaches throughout the Southland also raised major concerns about the way Kiffin interacted with -- or some say flat-out ignored -- many top local prospects and coaches when they would come for unofficial visits or wanted to talk shop.

You have to win the recruiting wars in Los Angeles if you’re going to dominate at USC. It’s something that Pete Carroll figured out the second he stepped into Heritage Hall, but Kiffin was never able to fully embrace.

However, the Trojans now have a chance to reset things.

If USC makes the right hire, there’s still a real chance to lure a number of the West’s best prospects. Twenty-seven of the Top 100 and eight of the top 15 prospects in California have yet to make up their minds.

Plus, there will be kids who are committed to other schools that will take a long look at the Trojans again with a new coach in charge. You can bet that players like ESPN 300 offensive lineman and Alabama commit Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial), ESPN 300 athlete and Arizona commit Marquis Ware (Los Angeles/Salesian), Elite 11 quarterback and Miami commit Brad Kaaya (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade) and many other committed players in California will get calls from the new USC staff.

In recruiting, nothing can erase the errors of the old and give a school some new momentum like a coaching change.

USC now has the chance to right its recruiting wrongs. Coupled with the fact recruits and high school coaches still consider the Trojans Los Angeles’ football team, USC’s run to signing day in February could alter the Pac-12 for years to come.

#AskLoogs: Kiffin's credibility

September, 26, 2013
Want to ask ESPN RecruitingNation senior analyst Tom Luginbill a question about your team? Tweet it to @TomLuginbill using the hashtag #AskLoogs.

I’m not convinced that Lane Kiffin’s personal credibility is at stake with prospective student athletes, but moreover the perception and credibility of the overall program based on wins and losses is what prospects see most. In a world of uncertainty, players want as much of it as they can possibly get when possible. If USC continues to struggle on the field, then more negative publicity will be directed at the program and create uncertainty over Kiffin’s long term viability as the head coach. This is never a good thing especially with UCLA’s sudden resurgence and ASU, along with Washington and others, starting to come on. If a coach’s job is constantly in jeopardy then that will allow for negative recruiting tactics against them by their competitors. Who would have ever thought that the class of the Pac-12 would be Oregon, not USC? High school prospects in the state of California (even out of it, their best defensive player is from Florida) still view USC a premier program, but confidence is waning. USC might not have their pick of the litter the way they’ve been accustomed to in the past, but I think it is more of a byproduct of NCAA sanctions and a lack of meeting a level of expectations than it is the credibility of Kiffin in the eyes of recruits.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Several recruits in Los Angeles took to Twitter on Wednesday to criticize Lane Kiffin, sparking a heated debate with Trojan fans; how Florida losing a four-star offensive line commitment is a good thing, and Oklahoma sends out offers to two of the nation’s top juniors.

Recruits turned off by USC's poor showing 

September, 9, 2013
In a sport in which turnover is constant and there are very few sure things on the recruiting trail, college football has seen its share of rapid rises and falls -- programs or coaches going from the penthouse to the outhouse, or vice versa, in a short period of time.

Saturday night marked another low point in the precipitous fall of the USC football program. Trojans fans will likely debate whether the 10-7 loss to Washington State -- which featured 54 passing yards by two USC quarterbacks -- ranks above or below last season’s 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, when USC totaled 205 yards of offense.

What is no longer up for debate is where this program sits in comparison to 14 months ago.

Lane Kiffin
(AP Photo/Jae C. HongThe calls from USC fans to fire Lane Kiffin were discomforting to potential recruits.
As July 2012 came to a close, USC held the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class -- one of the more impressive collections of talent in recent memory, featuring 18 terrific high school athletes -- and was a few weeks away from being ranked No. 1 in the country in the preseason Associated Press poll. The disappointing 2012 football season took its toll on that recruiting class, as eight of the 18 verbal commitments wound up signing letters of intent with other programs.

While an offseason filled with coaching questions led to a slow start to the 2014 recruiting class, Saturday’s loss might have put the brakes on it completely. That is, if Saturday’s performance remains the status quo.

USC picked a bad night to have one of its worst offensive games in school history. Several 2014 and 2015 recruits in attendance for USC’s first home game of the season were witnesses to prolonged boos and a chant urging athletic director Pat Haden to fire head coach Lane Kiffin.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 9, 2013

It was another weekend without any commitments in the Pac-12, but the conference made a statement with a 9-1 record -- the only loss coming in conference play -- and four teams scoring more than 50 points. But that one loss was a big one, as USC dropped its home opener to Washington State in front of a number of high-profile recruits. On the field, a Cal commit put on a show while two elite 2015 prospects stood out as well.

Biggest offer

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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Washington State’s victory over USC on Saturday will give the Cougars plenty of ammunition on the recruiting trail and is only going to create more problems for embattled Lane Kiffin; and BYU has even more defensive help on the way.

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Pac-12 recruiting mailbag

August, 30, 2013
Friday means a trip to the mailbag to answer questions you've e-mailed or tweeted about the Pac-12 recruiting. The Pac-12 recruiting mailbag will run every Friday, so send in your questions to Erik McKinney, via e-mail or @EMcKinneyESPN.

@SoCalSunDevil: What really is the key to keeping top in-state talent for #ASU...consistent winning or what?

Winning is always the best way to keep recruits interested, but simply showing a genuine interest in the local recruits is a close No. 2. High school coaches talk about what a statement it makes when the local college coaches come out to practices even when there aren't any recruits they are interested in offering. Building those kinds of relationships can pay off in a big way, and the new staff at Arizona State is doing that.

The Sun Devils are trying to make an impact in Louisiana and Texas, and there can be a fine line between recruiting nationally and ignoring the local recruits, but it appears that Todd Graham’s staff is doing a good job walking it so far.

@strat_nick: How does USC still trick good recruits into going there?

Obviously a loaded question, but I’ll tackle it anyway.

USC is USC. That’s something we hear often from recruits and there’s a reason they say it. Pete Carroll gets plenty of credit for turning the program around when he took over in 2001, but look at some of the players on the roster for that season: Carson Palmer, Matt Cassel, Matt Leinart, Lonnie Ford, Kris Richard, Troy Polamalu, Jacob Rogers, Shaun Cody, Kenechi Udeze and Mike Patterson. There is always going to be talent at USC, and it’s one of the few programs that is only ever one year away from turning things around.

Right now there are plenty of recruits who are a little apprehensive about the Trojans -- specifically questions surrounding coach Lane Kiffin’s future there -- but while those questions began late last year and very much affected the finish to the 2013 recruiting class, the expectation among recruits is that there will be some solid answers before signing day, which could lead to another big finish for USC.

@PoweredbyBMW: Did the recruiting rules change starting 9.1.13? Or did they shelve all or some of the NCAA proposals??

All of the NCAA proposals that caused the initial outrage were suspended. That includes texting, unlimited coach contact and unlimited printed recruiting materials.

There is a chance that the NCAA could revisit all of those topics later, but it’s likely that the NCAA has a few issues more pressing than recruiting to tackle at this time.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: The Trojans are in great shape to land ESPN 300 defensive end Malik Dorton and remain a viable option for top California talent, what one SEC recruiter thinks LSU’s chances are with Clifton Garrett, and a busy September is on tap for the Huskers with official visits.

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USC lands commitment No. 4 

May, 2, 2013
After signing only one defensive line prospect in the 2013 class, USC figured to amp up its pursuit this recruiting cycle.

Fresno (Calif.) Central defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood became the first to commit, doing so at the school's junior day event in late February just moments after sitting down with assistant coach Ed Orgeron. The second piece fell into place on Thursday, when juco defensive tackle Michael Wyche (Chesapeake, Va./East Los Angeles College) unofficially visited campus and committed to the Trojans shortly after coach Lane Kiffin extended a scholarship offer.

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USC offers local 2015 WR 

April, 18, 2013
USC continued its local tour on Thursday, offering a scholarship to a fast-rising receiver on the fourth day of the spring evaluation period.

Long Beach (Calif.) Poly defensive back Iman Marshall was the first Class of 2015 prospect to receive good news this month when the Trojans offered. The Gardena (Calif.) Serra defensive pair of Rasheem Green and John Houston Jr. was next.

On Thursday, it was Diamond Bar (Calif.) receiver Cordell Broadus’ turn.

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Tee Martin is USC's secret weapon 

February, 7, 2013
While it’s safe to say signing day didn’t quite go as planned for the Trojans on Wednesday, there are still some positives to take away from it all -- most obviously the fact that although small in numbers, USC’s class is filled to the brim with talent.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee and Robert Woods
Icon SMITee Martin is one of USC's best recruiters, opening up a pipeline into the Southeast.
With an eye toward the future, there is one more reason to be optimistic if you’re a Trojans fan, and that’s the effort and ability showcased on the recruiting trail by one of the staff’s youngest coaches, Tee Martin.

Lured away from Kentucky in late February 2012, Martin was a hit with just about every player, parent and coach he came in contact with over the past year, solidifying his standing as one of the top up-and-coming recruiters in college football.

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The One Who Got Away: RB Thomas 

January, 31, 2013
In a topsy-turvy recruiting season that has had Trojans fans teetering on the brink of insanity with the decommitments of one-time USC verbals Eddie Vanderdoes, Max Redfield, Eldridge Massington, Sebastian LaRue and Kylie Fitts -- not to mention the uncertain status of others such as Jalen Ramsey and Torrodney Prevot -- it’s worth taking a quick look back to signing day 2011. While the saga of the Class of 2013 has been filled with plenty of drama, nothing compares to the way Lane Kiffin and his staff were rocked by the last-second defection of De’Anthony Thomas.

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