USC’s head coach Lane Kiffin has been roundly criticized for a number of things—his petulance, his trickery, his infamous media tantrums and meltdowns, his recruiting prowess—but perhaps no facet of his coaching style is so maligned as his play-calling.
The atrociousness of Kiffin’s offensive play-calling is befuddling, really. Here is a man who has spent his entire life around football. From being around his father to playing at Fresno State to a coaching career that even at his young age of 37 has spanned more than a decade—if Lane was going to get it, he’d have gotten it by now.
It is time for Lane Kiffin to hand over the reins of offensive play-calling. It's time to hire an offensive coordinator that can use USC’s talent to its best advantages to win more than seven games a season on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that Kiffin’s oversized ego will allow someone else to call the plays for the Trojans. But let’s pretend we live in a world where USC’s athletic department has the balls to enforce its will upon Kiffin to better ensure the success of the Trojan football program. Who would be best suited to being the USC offensive coordinator?
Former Cal coach Jeff Tedford has been mentioned and he might be a good foil for Kiffin’s ego, having acted as his mentor when the two were at Fresno State at the beginning of Kiffin’s career. I am not a fan of this option for a few reasons, but mostly because USC shouldn’t be looking at coaches that were fired for failing to produce winners. That seems vastly counter-productive. Also, CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman has reported that Kiffin is adamantly against Tedford coming to USC.
That said, Tedford did develop Aaron Rodgers while at Cal as well as Trent Dilfer and David Carr while at Fresno State. He's reputed to be somewhat of a quarterback guru—though what he has done in that regard in the past decade is beyond me.
He was Cal’s winningest coach, claiming a school-record 82 wins in 11 seasons. Tedford was also Kiffin’s QB coach from 1994-96 when Kiffin played at Fresno State before becoming his mentor when Kiffin became an assistant for the Bulldogs in 1997.
It seems the Tedford train sailed before it ever really got out of the station. Despite my misgivings about it, it’s really too bad. It is likely the OC job for the Trojans will be fraught with drama and politics, and Tedford has both the maturity and the history with Kiffin to navigate the minefield. A stop in Los Angeles could give Tedford the break he needs to figure out his next move.
Pep Hamilton is in his third season in Palo Alto and his second as OC/QB coach. Prior to that, he spent a season as the Cardinal's WR coach. Hamilton's first season on Stanford's coaching staff in 2010 saw the Cardinal win a school-record 12 games, capped off by its Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
In Hamilton’s first season as Stanford’s OC, the Cardinal won 11 games, losing only to Oregon and then Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. That season Stanford averaged more than 43 points per game, scored 561 points on the season and set a school single-season record for total offense with 6,361 yards and 489.3 yards per game. The rushing average for the Cardinal in 2011 was 210.6 yards per game.
Stanford also ranked 10th nationally in first downs per game (25.0) and third nationally in third-down conversion percentage (92-175; 52.6). Hamilton's offensive play-calling also contributed to Stanford leading the nation in red-zone efficiency, as the Cardinal converted 97 percent of their scoring opportunities when inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
As QBs coach, Hamilton worked with and developed quarterback Andrew Luck, who earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors for two straight seasons and was also voted Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year. Luck also won the Maxwell Award, awarded to the nation's top player.
Clearly Stanford has a balanced and prolific offense marked by well-developed players and smart coaches that are capable of making in-game adjustments. These are all things missing from USC’s offensive game. Imagine what Hamilton could do with Max Wittek, Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholar.
Hamilton also spent time in the NFL with the Bears, 49ers, Jets, Chiefs, Redskins and Ravens.
At 38 years old, he is young enough to not intimidate Kiffin. With the four losses in a row to the Cardinal, he might even be someone whose brain Kiffin may be eager to pick. Having worked under Jim Harbaugh, Hamilton is well-versed in dealing with an oversized ego and should be able to navigate Kiffin’s eccentricities.
Kliff Kingsbury is the offensive coordinator/QB coach at Texas A&M. Yes folks, this is the man who works with Johnny “Football” Manziel, who could very well become the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy.
Kingsbury is considered to be one of the nation’s best young assistant coaches. He is in his first season as OC/QB coach at Texas A&M. Prior to the Aggies, Kingsbury spent time at the University of Houston where he was instrumental in the Cougars' 13-win 2011 season.
Houston led the nation in total offense, passing offense and scoring in 2011, while QB Case Keenum took the nation by surprise with his accuracy and arm strength.
Kingsbury, a former Texas Tech QB, knows how to coach and develop QBs. USC needs this skill in its OC/QB coach badly, as Kiffin completely lacks any ability to develop players.
The two QBs Kingsbury has worked with, Keenum and Manziel, have been top contenders for the Heisman. Keenum came out of nowhere in 2011 to finish seventh in the voting and Manziel is one of just three finalists invited to New York for this year’s trophy presentation.
Kingsbury played college football under Mike Leach and his air-raid offense, making him ideal for Max Wittek and USC’s receiving corps.
One final point on Kingsbury: His Texas A&M Aggies are the only team to defeat No. 2-ranked Alabama this year in their first year as a member of the SEC.
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