A month ago when Brian Kelly was introduced as the next football coach at Notre Dame, a sent a clear message out of South Bend: The Fighting Irish want a proven winner running their program.
Kelly has won plenty. The former Grand Valley State head coach won two national championships at the Division I-AA level, then turned Central Michigan and Cincinnati into elite programs in their respective conferences.
Four weeks after Kelly took the job as head man at Notre Dame, USC lost theirs. Pete Carroll, the man who won two national championships and seven consecutive Pac-10 titles, decided that like Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles, his work there was done. Carroll dashed from Hollywood to Seattle and the NFL’s Seahawks over the weekend, leaving a gaping hole at the top of one of the nation’s most visible programs.
As the Trojans scrambled to find Carroll’s replacement, names were peppered around about who they would go after. Nowhere in the mainstream media was Lane Kiffin’s name even mentioned. Then all of a sudden, Kiffin, 33, spurned an entire state when he accepted the USC job just one year after being hired at Tennessee.
Notre Dame zigged. USC zagged.
In Kiffin, the Trojans are going with the former assistant, young fireball route with their coaching hire. Kiffin’s year at Tennessee was his first as a college head coach. His name was made famous more by his father, Monte, who was a hall-of-fame caliber defensive coordinator for years in the NFL. Lane spent six seasons on coach Carroll’s staff, the last two of which as an offensive coordinator.
Kiffin was also the recruiting coordinator before he left USC, and was responsible for bringing in top-five recruiting classes every season. The Trojans clearly felt that in hiring Kiffin to be the head guy, they were getting a coach who could continue the unmatched recruiting success at USC. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for in salesman-like poise.
After a decade that saw Notre Dame beat USC exactly two times (never since 2001), the Irish suffered numerous embarrassing losses at the hands of the Trojans. While USC was on cruise control as an established giant with a successful head coach, Notre Dame fishtailed under coaches who had never proven they could succeed at that level as a head coach.
Bob Davie was a hot assistant under Lou Holtz, Tyrone Willingham was an up-and-coming head coach from Stanford, and Charlie Weis was an offensive genius from the NFL but had never been a head coach before anywhere. Finally, the administration got it right in hiring a coach who has won at every level so far as a head coach.
Now USC goes another direction with its coaching decision. Kiffin brings little experience but a lot of “street cred” to a job where the expectations are to bring home national championship trophies, and lots of them. Kiffin’s familiarity with the USC program and his knack for bringing in future superstars make him a good bet to win plenty of football games in Los Angeles.
The problem is nobody knows just how good Kiffin can be; he is not a sure thing. Kelly is as close to a sure thing as Notre Dame could have ever dreamed of landing. The microscope is on these two tradition-rich cross-country rivals, because they are now as interconnected as ever.
For the coming years, it will be with great interest that the landscape of college football watches the evolution of Notre Dame and USC. Who made the right hire, Jack Swarbrick or Mike Garrett? Swarbrick hired Kelly while Garrett brought in Kiffin. Both athletic directors are about to be put to the ultimate test of who made the bigger coup.
With the two teams standing in opposite ends of this generation’s college football hierarchy, both schools have opened new chapters for their football program. Where the two programs will go from here is anybody’s guess, but it’s clear the approaches the schools are taking are as opposite as fire and ice.
This article can also be found at http://bleacherreport.com/articles/326009-notre-dame-and-usc-take-opposite-coaching-approaches