In January 2007, Lane Kiffin was 31 years old and had the football world at his feet. As the offensive coordinator at USC, for five seasons the pre-eminent power in college football, Kiffin stood as a coaching scion with a limitless future.
Less than seven years later, Kiffin has gone through three head-coaching jobs. He was fired at two places and remains reviled at the third. He has built a reputation for immaturity and dissembling, for over-promising and under-delivering.
A year-and-a-half before the reality check that is a 40th birthday, at an age when any assistant coach hired for his first head gig would be described as "youthful," Kiffin has been fired from his dream job at USC. Kiffin so badly wanted to replace his mentor, Pete Carroll, with the Trojans that he endured a public relations nightmare of leaving Tennessee after only one 7-6 season to do so. Before Tennessee, he lasted only 20 games as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
At all three jobs, Kiffin left behind a legacy of controversy. By doing so, Kiffin has clouded over a simple fact. Anyone who studies his career for longer than it takes to read a tweet would understand that Kiffin has yet to take a job where he had a real, bona fide, honest-to-Tommy-Trojan chance to succeed.
Oakland in the last 20 years of late owner Al Davis' life proved to be a difficult place for any coach to win. And at both Tennessee and USC, Kiffin replaced a national championship-winning coach in a program rife with turmoil.
If nothing else, Lane Kiffin has embodied the nickname given him as a child. As a little boy, Kiffin was known as Helicopter, because the moment that he entered a room, he stirred things up. That nickname may have been more prophetic than anyone knew. What makes a helicopter unique is its sudden ascent, and, yes, its equally sudden descent.
The men who coached with him and for him at Tennessee and at USC speak of Kiffin with respect and fondness.
"He's all about recruiting and football," said Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who held that same position under Kiffin at Tennessee. "Anything that gets in the way … doesn't matter. It's all ball and all recruiting."
Bowling Green football operations director Dennis Slutak, who worked with Kiffin on Carroll's staff at USC, said, "It was just always about -- whether it was recruiting or football -- 'Let's watch more film.'"
The men who coached against Kiffin give him a respect beyond his still-tender head-coaching years.
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