THERE'S A SILVER (AND BLACK) LINING WITH KIFFIN'S DEPARTURE.
So the NFL finally does tap into the USC program for a head coach and it's -- Lane Kiffin?
Only wacky Al Davis would pull this one off.
Only Davis would call on a 31-year-old with no NFL coaching experience and zero head-coaching experience.
``I wanted a young guy,'' Davis said.
Hey, his qualifications had to begin somewhere. What he really meant to say was, he wanted a young guy who actually wanted to coach the Raiders.
Turns out, that seriously whittled the list of candidates.
It has been a wild, curious, unexpected past few weeks for USC and the NFL. Coaching toes kept being dipped in and out of pro waters, like a child uncertain if he really wanted to make the plunge.
USC followers had crossed fingers, prayed to Tommy Trojan and promised undying booster support to prevent the NFL from absconding with their prized leader and making him a head coach.
The fear was reserved for Pete Carroll, who gave them all a serious cardinal-and-gold fright when he met secretly in Costa Rica on his vacation with the owner of the Dolphins.
Carroll returned home to hold the strangest, most useless news conference of his life, talking about how unique the Miami opportunity was, how he would await the next Dolphins phone call and not once saying he would turn down an offer and remain at USC. Until 30 minutes after the news conference when he called one reporter.
It wasn't Carroll's finest Trojans moment, but all anyone around Heritage Hall ultimately wanted to hear was he was staying. The entire L.A. basin seemed to release a sigh of relief.
Meanwhile, Kiffin was applying for the head-coaching job at the University of Minnesota, in his home state. Given that he was only 31, no one was truly surprised when the Gophers went elsewhere.
At this point Davis, that Howard Hughes of the NFL, had set his sights on USC assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian, an old man of 32. They were so deep into negotiations, Davis had even brought up Sarkisian's USC partner, Kiffin, to discuss becoming offensive coordinator.
Then Sarkisian had major second thoughts -- perhaps noticing that 2-14 Raiders record and dark labyrinthine organization -- and bowed out.
Hard to imagine our boy Davis took that well.
Undeterred, Davis bypassed all local emos, spurned the Olsen twins, Shaun White and several sterling Pop Warner coaches, and switched to Kiffin. He had to hire somebody.
``I think, 31 years old, wow, that's young,'' Davis said. ``The youngest in professional football. But you don't have to be old to be great. You have to be good. You have to want it. You have to have desire and passion for football.''
Now -- who knows? -- maybe Kiffin works out swell. Stranger things have happened in the NFL. None come immediately to mind, but it isn't like Kiffin has ever failed anywhere.
Not that he's been a lot of places. He's spent the past sixyears at USC, the past two as offensive coordinator, but it's not that we every really got to know him.
Kiffin doesn't exactly have a colorful personality and felt uncomfortable -- or perhaps annoyed -- talking to the media. He could seem arrogant, like there was a certain football entitlement because his father was Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. In truth, USC followers never could get a good bead on him.
He had detractors among the USC family -- followers still mourning the loss of Norm Chow -- that felt he and Sarkisian combined could never approach the former's offensive mastermind.
It's hard to imagine this being too big a hit for USC.
Sarkisian will now become the offensive coordinator, eliminating that confusing two-headed thing with Kiffin, and it figures a seamless mini- transition.
Davis has been mired in the past -- his last coaching hire was throwback Art Shell -- though perhaps most shockingly, he realizes it.
``We have to move the clock back,'' Davis said. ``We have to get youth in the organization and have to go ahead and attack with someone who really means he will attack.''
At Kiffin's news conference Tuesday, the two made a striking, almost unnerving pair. Davis looked frail, carrying the weight of every one of his 78 years. Kiffin looked so youthful you almost wanted to pinch his cheeks.
He'll age now. There will be no more moving almost silently in Carroll's large shadow. He'll have to be front and center, and hopefully less stilted and uncomfortable as time goes by than Tuesday.
He tried to talk the good game at the news conference, channeling plenty of Carroll as he spoke of turning around the Raiders.
``We will start on the practice field,'' Kiffin said. ``Practice is everything. It will be highly competitive and energetic.
``Our players will compete every day in practice against each other at a high level. The game will become easy to them because practice is so hard.''
Davis wanted an offensive-minded head coach and got him, though he's retaining defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, another son of an NFL coach. The defense is loyal to Ryan, so interesting days await.
For USC, it's already been an interesting few weeks. The NFL finally plucked one of its own as a head coach, but it wasn't the guy who turned around the program. And the Trojans can live with that.
2 photos, box
(1 -- color) Oakland coach Lane Kiffin, left, with team owner Al Davis.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
(2) Lane Kiffin, shown in 2005 with LenDale White at USC, was hired as the Oakland Raiders' head coach Tuesday.
Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press
COMING OF AGE
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jan 24, 2007|
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