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Lane Kiffin starts his dream job

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

But he spends much of his first day as the new USC football coach being questioned about his old job.

January 14, 2010|By Gary Klein

As a young assistant at USC, Lane Kiffin was associated with some of the greatest offenses in college football history.

But on Wednesday, the Trojans' new coach spent much of his introductory news conference on the defensive.

Kiffin, 34, was hired to replace his mentor, Pete Carroll, who left the Trojans after nine seasons to coach the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.

USC did not release terms of Kiffin's contract, but his annual compensation is thought to fall somewhere between the $2 million he made last season at Tennessee and the more than $4.4 million that Carroll earned.

About 100 cheering students greeted Kiffin at Heritage Hall as he made his way to a room packed with reporters, camera operators, USC staff and several current and former Trojans players.

"The first time I saw Lane Kiffin, I saw a leader in the making," Athletic Director Mike Garrett said before Kiffin came to the podium.

Kiffin, wearing a black pinstriped suit with a cardinal-colored tie, had just arrived from Tennessee, where he left in his wake players, students and fans angry about his decision to bolt to the Trojans after only one season as Volunteers coach.

He called his return to USC, where he coached from 2001-06, "a perfect fit," and said that he had always considered it his dream job.

"The greatest job in America," he said, two young daughters playing at his feet.

Despite the presence of former Trojans players such as Keyshawn Johnson and LenDale White, Kiffin's first official day as the leader of the Trojans football program did not feel like a celebration.

At times, it was more of an interrogation.

Kiffin was 5-15 in one-plus seasons as coach of the Oakland Raiders and 7-6 last season at Tennessee.

He left Knoxville dogged by a string of secondary NCAA violations that occurred during a short but stormy stay in the football-mad Southeastern Conference.

"Our No. 1 thing that we're going to do is have a dedication to run an extremely clean, disciplined program and that will start from today and we'll continue that," Kiffin said in his opening remarks.

Still, Kiffin fielded multiple questions about the violations, Garrett at one point leaving his seat and saying, "Let's move on."

Garrett hired Kiffin four days after reports first broke that Carroll was considering a return to the NFL.

Oregon State Coach Mike Riley was thought to be USC's first choice to replace him, but Riley announced he had agreed to a three-year contract extension.

In an interview before Kiffin's news conference, Garrett said that Kiffin was the only coach he talked with and offered a contract to.

He said USC had checked into the violations that occurred under Kiffin and was satisfied there would not be similar problems. USC, which has been under NCAA investigation for nearly four years, reportedly is scheduled to go before the governing body's infractions committee next month.

"It was not out of whack from the other teams in the conference," Kiffin said of Tennessee's six violations. "That being said, we don't want to have any. We want to strive to have zero."

Seated to Kiffin's left were assistants Ed Orgeron and Monte Kiffin, both of whom coached last season at Tennessee.

Still to be determined is whether UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow will return to USC.

Chow left the Trojans for the NFL's Tennessee Titans after the 2004 season because Carroll wanted to give more responsibility to Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.

Garrett said he had suggested to Kiffin adding Chow to the staff.

"I think the world of Norm," Kiffin said. "And I don't have any issues with Norm."

Chow's representatives remain in negotiations with UCLA officials regarding a possible contract extension, said a source close to the situation who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Orgeron coached at USC from 1998-2004. He said he always wanted to return to the Trojans after a three-year stint as Mississippi's head coach and single seasons as an assistant with the NFL's New Orleans Saints and Tennessee.

Orgeron, who will be the defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, spent several minutes after the news conference answering questions about phone calls he made to Tennessee recruits after leaving for USC.

"In my knowledge I followed the NCAA rules correctly," Orgeron said. "I did not knowingly break a rule."

Monte Kiffin, a longtime NFL defensive coordinator, has no doubt that his son is prepared for the challenge of following Carroll.

"He's ready -- golly, he should be," Monte Kiffin said. "More so than the Raiders and more so than Tennessee, he's been here for six years."

Carroll, busy putting his staff together in Seattle, said he was happy for Kiffin and the Trojans.

"It's good that USC acted quickly to get a coach connecting with our history," Carroll said in a brief phone interview. "The players will feel comfortable and be able to follow some of the same kinds of lines of what they're accustomed to.

"They're going to be good -- they have the best defensive coach in the history of the world. And Lane will hit it running and take pride in recruiting and the whole deal. Lane's going to do great."

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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