LOS ANGELES – Southern California fired Lane Kiffin early Sunday morning, ending the coach’s tumultuous tenure a few hours after the Trojans lost 62-41 at Arizona State.
Ed Orgeron was picked as USC’s interim head coach by athletic director Pat Haden later Sunday. The Trojans (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) have eight games left.
Orgeron was Kiffin’s assistant head coach and the former Mississippi head coach.
Haden fired Kiffin at the Trojans’ private airport terminal when the team plane returned from Arizona early Sunday morning, but not before a 45-minute meeting in which Kiffin tried to change Haden’s mind. The Trojans matched the most points allowed in school history in their seventh loss in 11 games.
He did a lot of things well under some very difficult circumstances here, Haden said. It’s never the perfect time to make a change, particularly in college athletics, but I thought this was the right time. ... I think it could easily be asked, Why not last year?’ The prior year, Lane had won 10 games. We thought, and were hoping, that last year was an aberration.
USC must finish an already disappointing season without Kiffin while looking for another coach to reboot its proud program. The Trojans have a bye this week before returning Oct. 10 at the Coliseum against Arizona.
Kiffin went 28-15 in parts of four seasons in his self-described dream job, but USC is 0-2 in conference play for the first time since 2001 after losses to Arizona State and Washington State.
The Trojans also were unimpressive on offense for most of their three victories, stoking discontent around a school with sky-high expectations even at the tail end of heavy NCAA sanctions. Kiffin received withering criticism for persisting in calling the Trojans’ offensive plays himself well into the school’s second straight poor offensive season.
The 52-year-old Orgeron went 10-25 in three seasons at Ole Miss, but that failed tenure did little to diminish his stature as a bulldog recruiter and defensive line coach. He coached alongside Kiffin at Tennessee before following his friend back to USC.
Orgeron, a Louisiana native with a thick Cajun accent, might sound a bit out of place in Los Angeles.
It’s an unfortunate day today that a coach got let go, but we understand the circumstances, Orgeron said. As a staff, we’re here to answer the bell. We’re all accountable for what happened.
Orgeron said Clay Helton will be his offensive coordinator and the Trojans’ play-caller.
Most players found out about Kiffin’s dismissal by text messages in the middle of the night.
We’ll try to move forward now and focus on these next eight games, really bonding as a Trojan family and getting these wins, offensive lineman Marcus Martin said.
The firing comes less than five months after Haden said Kiffin had been as good as he can be in the face of USC’s sanctions. Before this season began, Haden said he was 100 percent behind the embattled Kiffin.
We support our coaches 100 percent until they’re no longer our coaches, Haden said. Why would you support a coach 85 percent?
Just a few months after Kiffin took over, USC was hit with the heaviest sanctions leveled against a program in a quarter-century, including a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. Kiffin had nothing to do with the misdeeds committed under former coach Pete Carroll and athletic director Mike Garrett.