LOS ANGELES -- There's nothing for USC athletic director Pat Haden to say right now. There may be nothing for him to say next week. Haden has so far expressed support for Lane Kiffin in the aftermath of USC's loss to crosstown rival UCLA, but if USC loses to Notre Dame on Saturday, sooner or later he's going to have to say: "Lane, you're fired."
Haden has been hearing complaints about his head coach from disgruntled alumni since the day he became USC's athletic director in 2010. Now, Kiffin's team has dramatically under-delivered on lofty preseason hopes and the chorus of dissatisfaction is growing louder and louder.
With good reason.
This week USC became the first school since Ole Miss in 1964 to start the season as the No. 1 team in the AP poll and completely fall out of the rankings by the end of the season.
If USC loses to Notre Dame, the current No. 1 team in the country, it would be the first time the Trojans have lost to both UCLA and Notre Dame in the same season in 17 years, and Kiffin would become the first USC coach since Paul Hackett to have at least five losses in two of his first three seasons at the school.
Not only have the Trojans lost the most significant games on their schedule so far, they have lost them in historically bad fashion. Three weeks ago, Oregon ran up the most points (62), touchdowns (nine) and yards (730) ever surrendered by USC, in a football history that dates to 1888. Last Saturday, UCLA scored more points against USC, in a 38-28 win, than it had in any game since 1996, and running back Jonathan Franklin's 171 rushing yards were the most for a Bruin against USC since Gaston Green's 224 yards in 1986.
Kiffin isn't making history. He's having history made against him.
This season was supposed to be Kiffin's shining moment as a head coach (not to mention a storybook ending for loyal-to-the-program QB Matt Barkley). It was the first time he entered a season with championship aspirations and with what appeared to be the talent to back them up.
But instead of title talk, it's been a year of disappointments and distractions. Yes, USC was battling sanction limitations and some key injuries, but too often Kiffin did not help his team's cause.
He denied voting the Trojans No. 1 in the preseason USA Today coaches' poll and pulled his vote and criticized the paper for breaking his confidence when they corrected his version of events.
He refused to allow visiting teams to hold walk-through practices at the Coliseum before USC home games, claiming it was the venue's decision, even though Coliseum officials said it was USC's call.
He attempted to ban a beat writer from practice for reporting on a player injury and stormed out of a media session when another writer asked about the impact of a previously injured player's return.
He changed the jersey numbers of a backup quarterback and punter during a game against 1-10 Colorado while attempting a two-point conversion during a 50-6 win.
He pleaded innocent when a student manager, whose entire employment hinges upon doing what he is told, was blamed for intentionally deflating game balls during the first half of USC's loss to Oregon. USC fired the student manager and was fined $25,000 for the incident.
Meanwhile, the University of Tennessee is still unsuccessfully trying to erase Kiffin's name from its memory. Last week, the NCAA announced additional penalties had been levied against Tennessee's football program stemming from a major infractions case during Kiffin's time at the school.
Perhaps Haden could overlook Kiffin's baggage and shortcomings if USC were in position to play in a BCS bowl game this season. But USC is not in position to play in a BCS bowl game. In fact, the Trojans are likely headed to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Not exactly the way to endear oneself and one's program to alumni that had made holiday plans in South Beach.
Even if Kiffin finds a way to beat Notre Dame on Saturday, with a backup quarterback at the helm, it will only delay the inevitable.
This season was supposed to be the eye of the USC storm. A legitimate run at a national title was supposed to get Kiffin through the rough waves that still loom ahead.
Even after delivering a highly touted recruiting class this year, the program, which is already suffering for its lack of depth against top teams, will likely be in a rebuilding process over the next couple of seasons, and it is important that Haden find a coach that will help build the program back up instead of tearing it down, one big loss and one petty incident at a time.