Kennedy Pola is returning to USC's coaching staff, but the hiring of the popular assistant by Coach Lane Kiffin did not sit well with a former NFL colleague and USC alum.
Pola, about to begin training camp as the running backs coach for the Tennessee Titans, was hired Saturday as USC's offensive coordinator. Pola replaces running backs coach Todd McNair, a central figure in the NCAA investigation that resulted in major sanctions against USC.
Titans Coach Jeff Fisher, a former USC player, was not pleased with the way Kiffin handled the pursuit of Pola, who was hired by the Titans in January after five seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"I am very disappointed in Lane Kiffin's approach to this," Fisher told Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean newspaper, who first reported the hiring Saturday. "Typically speaking, when coaches are interested in hiring or discussing potential employment from coaches on respective staffs, there is a courtesy call made from the head coach or athletic director indicating there is an interest in talking to the assistant.
"So I am very disappointed in the lack of professionalism on behalf of Lane, to call me and leave me a voice mail after Kennedy had informed me he had taken the job. It is just a lack of professionalism."
Kiffin later issued a statement through USC.
"We reached out to Kennedy Pola [Friday] to gauge whether he had any possible interest in returning to USC before we moved forward with the process," Kiffin said.
"Kennedy said he would think about it and get back to us today. Once Kennedy did call back earlier today, out of my great respect for Coach Fisher, I immediately reached out to Coach to make him aware of the situation.
"I have spoken with Coach Fisher and he now has an accurate understanding of the timeline of events.
"We realize the timing of this isn't perfect for all parties, but this is a great opportunity and promotion for Kennedy."
Pola, a USC fullback in the 1980s and an assistant under Pete Carroll, acknowledged that the timing was difficult but said the chance to return to his alma mater as more than a position coach was an opportunity he could not turn down. Pola said he was grateful for the opportunity Mike Garrett gave him years ago but spoke enthusiastically about the hiring of Pat Haden as athletic director and the chance for his son, K.C., to possibly attend USC and play as a walk-on in the future.
"I don't feel good right now with that timing, but to do something special the timing isn't always right," Pola, 46, said in a phone interview. "Jeff was not happy. But Jeff is wired different than anybody I've been around. He said, 'I'll adjust. You're my brother. You bled and sweat at USC like I did and I know this is an opportunity.'"
Pola's hiring concluded another tumultuous week for the Trojans.
On Tuesday, USC announced that Haden would replace Garrett, ending Garrett's 17-year tenure.
Also last week, senior receiver Travon Patterson told USCfootball.com that he would transfer to Colorado and junior receiver Brandon Carswell tweeted that he was headed to Cincinnati. Carswell's father, however, said Saturday that his son was still considering his options, including remaining at USC. Trojans juniors and seniors are allowed to transfer without having to sit out a season because of the NCAA sanctions that include a two-year bowl ban.
USC now has four returning scholarship receivers on the roster, seniors Ronald Johnson and David Ausberry and sophomores Brice Butler and De'Von Flournoy.
USC has lost six players, all reserves, since NCAA penalties were announced in June. Linebacker Jordan Campbell transferred to Louisville, defensive lineman Malik Jackson to Tennessee, defensive back Byron Moore to Los Angeles Harbor College and running back D.J. Shoemate to Connecticut.