It started off with the potential for a real feel-good story.
The son, Lane Kiffin, gets the job as head coach of the USC Trojans and brings his dad, Monte, along as his defensive coordinator. What son wouldn’t want to go to work with his father every day? And it’s not like it was simply a case of nepotism, either. Monte was a well-respected defensive mind in the NFL with a Super Bowl title to his credit.
On paper, it seemed like a match made in heaven. But the reality just never seemed to fit, and it came to an end on Thursday night with the news that the elder Kiffin would be resigning after the Trojans’ upcoming bowl game.
There was a lot of hope at USC for Monte and his Tampa 2 defense, a scheme he popularized during his stint as the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Pete Carroll often credited Kiffin as his coaching mentor, which carried some weight given the success Carroll saw during his stint as coach of the Trojans.
The problems started to surface in the Kiffins’ very first game -- at Hawaii in 2010 -- when the Warriors torched USC's defense for 588 yards. That wasn’t what Trojans fans expected, but it was assumed it would take time for the players to learn the system.
Unfortunately, that learning curve never quite kicked in, and it culminated in a record-setting night this year when the Oregon Ducks gained 730 yards en route to 62 points, both setting records for the most by a USC opponent. In between those games, there were simply too many offenses that ran free against the USC defense and put up too many yards and points.
There were awkward position changes -- such as the insistence that Devon Kennard was a middle linebacker -- and reduced roster numbers due to NCAA sanctions that were always offered up as possible explanations. In the end, it didn’t matter what the reasons were because it was clear the system just wasn’t working.
The tradition of defense at USC had been built a certain way, and the performance of the 2012 defense spoke to just how far that standard had fallen. The Trojans ranked No. 62 in total defense by giving up 396 yards per game and were No. 98 in first downs allowed (276).
More than any number, though, it became obvious to anyone who watched that USC’s defense didn’t have an answer to the spread offenses that have become so prevalent in recent years. Teams with mobile quarterbacks who brought option skills to the table simply had too much success against USC. And the spread isn’t going away anytime soon.
We all can have empathy for the difficult conversations that must have gone on between father and son as Monte had to know the impact his defense’s poor performances were having on his son’s coaching tenure. By the time the season ended, there really wasn’t much doubt there would be a change. It was just a matter of how it would happen.
That end came on Thursday when Monte sent out a statement saying how much he enjoyed his memorable experience at USC but that he was resigning to pursue a return to the NFL. Lane followed that up by saying how appreciative he was of the work his father did at USC.
It was bittersweet. No matter how bad the defense got, there was always a level of respect for Monte from the players in the program and the Trojan family. Was he the right coach at the right time for USC? No. But he had earned the right to leave with dignity, and now the time comes to look for a replacement.
It stands to reason that defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will get a strong look. In addition to being an emotional presence, Orgeron is also a key component of USC's recruiting efforts, so it will be critical to keep him on staff. Don’t be surprised if another name that pops up is Joe Barry, the former USC linebacker who was on the staff from 2010-11.