Believe it or not, there was a time when I was actually a somewhat successful person in the business world. Eventually, I eschewed all the accoutrements that come with corporate glory (you know, things like decent paychecks, steak dinners, ulcers....stuff like that) for the wacky world of sports talk radio. However, many of the things I learned in my 16 years selling whatever it was I sold still apply, even in the sports world.
When I finally made the jump from being Joe Sales Guy to Joseph Sales Director, I remember my then-boss telling me the one skill that will decide whether or not I would be successful -- hiring. In any position of leadership, if you surround yourself with idiots, then no amount of charisma, intelligence nor creativity can make up for it. Conversely, surround yourself with winners and you, too, Mr. Position of Leadership Guy, will win, or at the very least mask a lot of your deficiencies.
This brings us to Oakland Raiders...no wait, Tennessee Vols....wait hang on, Southern Cal (THERE we go!) head football coach Lane Kiffin, whose career path from non-descript coordinator on Pete Carroll's USC staff earlier this decade all the way to the big seat for the Trojans as of last night is a fascinating study in hiring, if nothing else.
It started when Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis decided to give Lane Kiffin, at the time 31 years old and with no head coaching experience, a chance to be a head football coach in the NFL. In some ways, Davis is really the one responsible for beginning this cycle of Kiffin bloodshed because merely blowing a whistle and throwing on a headset in the NFL nowadays is enough street cred to interest even some of the best college programs in your head-coaching chops.
Unfortunately for Tennessee, it was enough to interest Athletics Director Mike Hamilton. After getting dumped by Al Davis after a 5-15 start to his Raiders career, Kiffin eventually was selected to succeed Phil Fulmer as coach of the University of Tennessee football program, in large part because of the dysfunction through which it was believed Kiffin had to manage in Oakland (because it takes a special talent to amass a 5-15 record amidst chaos, I guess).
If the mere rub of coaching for twenty games in the NFL was part of Kiffin's allure, the other part was the promise of the staff he would assemble at UT, which eventually included his father (the legendary Monte Kiffin) as defensive coordinator and ace recruiter Ed Orgeron as his recruiting coordinator. As an added, unadvertised bonus, the following prizes were also part of the Lane Kiffin Package on the Showcase Showdown:
-- Signing day accusations directed at Florida coach Urban Meyer that Meyer cheated in the recruitment of Florida high schooler Nu'Keese Richardson, accusations that proved to be wrong
-- Heightened attention from the NCAA on various recruiting tactics used by Kiffin and his staff, attention that Kiffin said he found to be a "compliment"
-- More fun and games when the aforementioned Richardson and defensive back Mike Edwards were arrested for armed robbery outside a Knoxville convenience store (if the NCAA attention was a compliment, then the attention from an armed robbery arrest must've been a candlelit dinner)
-- A pedestrian, but cautious-optimism-inducing 7-6 record
In the end, none of the stuff listed above really mattered, at least not to Kiffin, because when Pete Carroll decided to head back to the NFL this weekend, Kiffin decided that being USC's fourth or fifth choice to coach the Trojans was good enough for him. Sayonara, Knoxville....fight on!
The buy-in for Lane Kiffin to take the reins in Los Angeles was a promise of bringing his posse with him -- old man Kiffin, Orgeron, and making a run at UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow. And talk about a staff that hit the ground running! Orgeron was allegedly already telling Tennessee recruits about to enroll at mid-semester to back off on that and take a look at USC (during a recruiting quiet period, no less) and Monte Kiffin was discussing a UT recruit by name (a huge NCAA no-no) on the radio, although to be fair Monte can just use the Uncle Leo "Whuh!?! I'm an old man!!" excuse.
So let's take a look at our hiring scorecard:
WINNER: LANE KIFFIN -- hires a killer staff at Tennessee and promises to bring them along to USC, which somehow trumps a career 12-21 record as a head coach; becomes coach of one of the top five most prestigious football programs in the country
LOSER: AL DAVIS -- hires Lane Kiffin and gets a 5-15 record; Tom Cable, reported wife-beater and coach puncher, actually seen as an upgrade
LOSER: MIKE HAMILTON -- hires Lane Kiffin and gets a 7-6 record, complete disarray, potential NCAA violations, and another head-coaching search 14 months later as a reward.
So to be clear, the winner is Lane Kiffin, who surrounds himself with good recruiters and coaches; the losers are those who have hired...well, Lane Kiffin. If Lane Kiffin has proven one thing, he's pretty good at two things -- getting hired and giving those who did so buyer's remorse shortly thereafter. USC AD Mike Garrett will find this out soon enough. Eventually, the Peter Principle trumps good hiring.
Clay Travis of Fanhouse wrote a very eye-opening piece in the wake of Kiffin's departure. It paints a picture of a head coach who disrespected the Vols' rich traditions and wanted instead to create a "USC South" franchise, ironic given the attention Kiffin paid to those very traditions in his introductory press conference at Tennessee.
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We now know that was all lip service. Vol recruits now know that whatever Kiffin and his staff were shoveling toward them was equally false. Kids, if I can give you one piece of advice, repeat after me...don't pick your school based on the head coach! Geography, your conference, tradition, and (gasp!) academics are all better reasons to choose a school.
In the end, Tennessee will be better off. USC did the Volunteers a favor. There may be some short-term pain and a recruiting class may get sacrificed in the process, but it's necessary breakage. The Kiffin hire was a mistake, and I said that on my radio show from the day it went down.
Now, there's nowhere else for Kiffin to go; he will be at USC long enough to either prove me wrong or flame out spectacularly. And if you peel back the layers of the onion on Kiffin's body of work, which ending has more evidence with which to support it? Exactly. Better wear your asbestos suit, Mike Garrett. Kiffin's about to leave another body in his hiring wake.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the Sean & John Show, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.