Lane Kiffin's inevitable firing came soon after USC's latest debacle, a 62-41 drubbing by Arizona State in the desert. The Trojans had never given up that many points in a game until last season, and now they've done it twice in the last 10 games.
Firing Kiffin was the easy part for USC athletic director Pat Haden, now comes the hard part: Whom would he hire to right the ship after it began taking on water because of both the NCAA sanctions and Kiffin's lackluster leadership? To understand Haden's predicament, we must examine how the Trojans fell into the abyss from such dizzying heights in just a few short years.
In the first decade of the 2000s, USC was inarguably the most successful program in college football. It won back-to-back national championships and just barely missed a three-peat. It went to a still-record seven straight BCS bowl games, winning six. It never lost more than two games in a season over a seven-year stretch and never finished lower than fourth in the final AP poll.
A quick review of the Trojans between 2002-2008, the Pete Carroll era without his first and final years at Troy:
2002: Began the season ranked 20th and won eight straight to finish the season 11-2, with a rout of Iowa in the Orange Bowl (final AP rank: 4).
2003: Lost to Cal in triple OT but won remaining games to go 12-1. Beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl to claim the AP national title.
2004: Went 13-0 and wire-to-wire No. 1 in the AP poll, blowing out Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl to repeat as national champions.
2005: Began the season No. 1 again and stretched winning streak to 34 games before losing to Texas in the Rose Bowl that ended the quest for three-peat (final AP rank: 2).
2006: Just missed playing in a third straight BCS title game thanks to an upset loss to UCLA. Finished 11-2 after beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl (final AP rank: 4).
2007: Began the season No. 1 again but lost out to 2-loss LSU for a shot at the BCS title game. Finished 11-2 and blew out Illinois in the Rose Bowl (final AP rank: 3).
2008: Reached No. 1 during the season but missed out on BCS title game despite finishing 12-1. Won third straight Rose Bowl, this time beating Penn State (final AP rank: 3).
The Carroll era unraveled after that, with a 9-4 record in 2009 and his sudden departure for the Seattle Seahawks while the NCAA took its sweet time untangling the Reggie Bush case. Kiffin arrived shortly before severe sanctions—a 45-scholarship reduction and two-year bowl ban—were handed down and regime change in the USC administration.
Kiffin's second season, with USC going 10-2 and a record good enough to qualify for the inaugural Pac-12 title game, heightened expectations considerably for 2012. The Trojans began the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll with senior quarterback Matt Barkley returning. But things fell apart quickly as USC finished 7-6, out of the rankings after losing the Sun Bowl to Georgia Tech.
The fact remains that USC has been BCS-irrelevant since Kiffin began his tenure, and that's not likely to change anytime soon unless Haden makes the right hire. He'll have no shortage of worthy candidates, since USC is easily one of the top five jobs in college football. But in my opinion, there's only one guy who can revive the Trojans dynasty in short order.
When USC went 82-9 in those seven years between 2002-08, only one program posted a better record during the same period: Boise State was 84-8 and won a pair of BCS bowl games when qualifying was much more difficult for a non-AQ program. Chris Petersen became the Broncos coach in 2006, but had been their offensive coordinator beginning in 2001.
With a career record of 87-10, Petersen is a California native who's spent nearly his entire playing and coaching career on the West Coast. He's a superb play-caller with a flair for the dramatic. With mid-major programs likely to be further shunned in the new College Football Playoff, there might not be much more that he can accomplish at Boise State. He should be USC's next head coach.