Lane Kiffin is still a valued commodity in college football.
At the moment, declaring such a thing to be true is on par with saying puppies are ugly, whiskey is terrible and Breaking Bad was a bad television experience.
But despite the dumpster-fire-esque end to his head-coaching career at USC—and the flames can still be seen hundreds of miles away—Kiffin will find work again. In fact, he’ll likely catch on somewhere sooner than later, assuming he tempers his expectations of what (and where) that position should be.
The jobs he is eventually offered will be a fascinating storyline to follow, as will be his potential willingness—or unwillingness—to take on a role that isn’t head coach at a major program or President of the United States. (His career path is bizarre and difficult to process. Just assume he bypasses head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and falls straight to the top.)
Depending on what teams have openings, Kiffin could get coaching looks as soon as this offseason. At the moment, he’s probably too hot to touch, so he can leave his cell phone in the golf cart when he takes his putter to the green for the time being. In time, however, that will change. Schools will need to fill vacancies, and his name will be scribbled across the whiteboard during a brainstorming session because of his unique skill set.
More specifically, he would be an outstanding candidate to head up a team’s recruiting efforts—a role that is still being defined by the programs in a position to define it—if he’s willing to embrace something other than the position at which he's continuously failed. And that’s a big if.
Throughout Kiffin’s failures at USC, there was one constant positive. Even while battling significant NCAA sanctions—including the loss of 30 scholarships and a two-year bowl ban—he recruited extraordinarily well. Some can argue that the school pretty much recruits itself, and they aren't necessarily wrong, but his impact played a major role.
The Trojans finished out of the top 10 in 247Sports' teams rankings only once under his guidance, and that came in 2013, when the Trojans still ended up with the No. 12 class.
Even with this most recent class, he landed the likes of safety Su'a Cravens, who has already proved himself as one of the elite young safeties in the nation.
Justin Davis, the freshman running back averaging more than seven yards per carry in his young career, also looks to be a star in the making. Blue-chip quarterback recruit Max Browne could be one down the line, and this is just scratching the surface of potential.
Whoever eventually takes over USC going forward will inherit a team rife with intriguing talents. Consider this Kiffin’s legacy sendoff; one that could prove to be integral to the next regime.
As for Kiffin and where he goes from here, the criticisms will require addressing. The media bans, the cryptic injury releases, the deflated footballs, the lack of defense, the lack of offense, the lack of wins—the most important item of them all—or the rare cases where he awkwardly stormed off during a press conference because an injury question was asked.
The list is long, but not acknowledging what he did well does not represent the entire Kiffin catalog. And in the cutthroat search for any advantage a team might be able to hold over an opponent, Lane Kiffin could prove to be a valuable resource.
That is still strange to write and probably reads the same way, but his value is increasing even at a time where his stock has plummeted. The ultra-competitive nature of recruiting is changing daily, and there simply aren't many proven recruiters on the market.
A head-coaching job for Kiffin isn’t out of the question, but his track record will provide plenty of cause for pause.
His first three head-coaching stops—the Oakland Raiders, the Tennessee Volunteers for a cup of coffee and USC—can be viewed as nothing but a bust. And the trail of falling up stops here. (Unless that Dallas Cowboys scenario actually happens, which it won't, but if it did, the Internet might break.)
Kiffin’s best course of action isn’t waiting for the next big job to open, hoping his phone rings a few hours later. He's done that, and it won't. A smaller school out of the spotlight could be interested in him as a head coach, hoping to capitalize on his recruiting efforts, although even this feels like a long shot at the moment.
At only 38 years old, Kiffin has a chance to rebuild by starting with his strengths, latching onto a team as an offensive coordinator—or some other offensive adviser—with a heavy emphasis on doing what he does well: recruiting. It’s a position he can succeed in, one in which he can be noticed for the right reasons, and perhaps even use as a stepping stone to secure a more significant head-coaching position down the line.
Kiffin should have this long-term plan in mind when he makes his next move. He can continue to improve as recruiter—becoming an even bigger asset to a school—all while perfecting his ability to actually coach, something that just has not translated yet.
The book on Kiffin isn’t closed yet, but a reboot is in order. Is he willing to take a backseat to another authority, putting his ego and resume stops aside, instead zeroing in on what he has done well?
He may not have a choice.
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