USC’s in-season firing of coach Lane Kiffin gives the Utah Utes another opportunity to do what they’ve always done in the Pac-12, taking advantage of a troubled program.
They’d better capitalize Oct. 26 in Los Angeles, if they ever intend to beat USC. That’s because this coaching change means the Trojans’ underachieving is about to end.
USC athletic director Pat Haden will hire a much more qualified coach than Kiffin, further increasing the level of competition in the Pac-12 South. Having coached only 19 conference games, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham now has worked in the Pac-12 longer than any current coach in the South. That’s actually a bad sign for the Utes, in this sense: Everybody else in the division is getting better.
There’s limited evidence of improvement at Colorado at this stage, but the recent hirings by UCLA, Arizona State and Arizona definitely have made an impact, and USC’s move is sure to do the same. The Utes have preyed on downtrodden programs by going 5-1 against Pac-12 schools that either fired a coach during that season or would do so soon afterward. They’re 2-11 against the other teams.
Since the Utes officially joined the conference in 2011, seven Pac-12 schools have fired their coaches. In addition, Chip Kelly moved from Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles. So only Utah, Stanford, Washington and Oregon State have remained intact.
Kiffin faced some difficult challenges amid NCAA sanctions that cost USC several scholarships, even if a No. 1 preseason ranking in 2012 tended to hide those limitations. The irony is that in Saturday’s 62-41 loss at Arizona State, which ended his tenure, Kiffin finally discovered an offense this season. Conversely, a defense that held Chuckie Keeton and Utah State to 14 points and 285 yards the previous week was shredded for 612 yards by ASU.
Just when the offseason hiring of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast (replacing Kiffin’s father, Monte) was looking like a brilliant move, the Trojans crumbled. And now, because Kiffin was the play-caller, USC’s offense will be starting over with quarterback coach Clay Helton in charge.
It is stunning to witness what’s happened to the Trojans since last October, when a 38-28 victory over Utah helped them to a 6-1 start. They’re 4-7 in their last 11 games, including a Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech in December and a home loss to Washington State last month.
USC is off this week in a scheduling occurrence that certainly contributed to the timing of Haden’s decision. The Trojans (3-2) then will host Arizona and visit Notre Dame before Utah comes to town.
By then, who knows? USC may have found itself under interim coach Ed Orgeron’s direction. More likely, the Trojans will remain inconsistent, giving Utah a decent chance of winning in the Coliseum.
I’d suggest that the Utes cash in, while they can.
Pac-12 South résumés
Conference records for current Pac-12 South coaches:
Coach, school W-L
Jim Mora, UCLA 6-3
Todd Graham, Arizona St. 6-4
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona 4-6
Kyle Whittingham, Utah 7-12
Ed Orgeron, USC* 0-0
Mike MacIntyre, Colorado 0-1