LOS ANGELES – Lane Kiffin triumphantly flew in from Tennessee nearly four years ago as a somewhat unlikely choice to extend USC’s football renaissance.
When Kiffin’s Trojans trudged home to that same airport early Sunday morning after another loss, athletic director Pat Haden couldn’t wait to end the divisive coach’s tumultuous tenure.
USC fired Kiffin hours after a 62-41 loss at Arizona State that dropped the Trojans to 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12. The loss was the seventh in 11 games for a storied program struggling under the cumulative effect of NCAA sanctions, but unwilling to accept such a decline.
“At the end of the day, it became a gut feeling that we weren’t making the progress that I thought we should be making,” Haden said. “It’s never the perfect time, but I thought this was the right time.
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“Our history has been great, and we need to be great again.”
Kiffin had a 28-15 record. He was hired by then-AD Mike Garrett after Pete Carroll left USC to coach the Seahawks.
Ed Orgeron will serve as interim coach for the rest of the season before Haden chooses a permanent successor for one of the sport’s highest-profile jobs. Orgeron, Kiffin’s assistant head coach and top recruiter, is a former Mississippi head coach.
Haden broke the news to Kiffin in a 3 a.m. meeting at the Trojans’ private airport terminal, but not before a 45-minute talk in which Kiffin tried to change Haden’s mind.
“He did a lot of things well under some very difficult circumstances here,” Haden said of Kiffin. “No one could have worked harder. He did a lot of the things we asked. Graduated players, never had compliance issues … and he really worked under some very difficult NCAA sanctions, there’s no doubt about it.”
Kiffin received withering criticism for persisting in calling the Trojans’ offensive plays himself. USC lost its home opener 10-7 to Washington State on Sept. 7, and late in the game many fans were chanting “Fire Kiffin!”
• Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator of the NFL Denver Broncos and a former USC linebacker, has been mentioned often in speculation about whom Haden will hire.
Some others include St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, Washington’s Steve Sarkisian, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, Boise State’s Chris Petersen and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald.