Lane Kiffin Still on the Hot Seat, No Matter What Pat Haden Says

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

 

On the eve of Pac-12 Media Day, USC Trojans athletic director Pat Haden released a video with one key soundbite: the announcement that beleaguered head coach Lane Kiffin is not on the hot seat.

Haden discussed the 125th anniversary of the athletics program, renovations to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and the “positive” coaching changes, all of which were quickly forgotten when he turned the conversation to Kiffin:

“I anticipate the media will ask me if our football coach is on the hot seat this year. Here is my answer, and it will be my answer whenever I’m asked: He is not.”

If only that settled it.

As Haden alluded to his statement, the media will keep asking, particularly if the Trojans don’t show improvement as the fall rolls along.

While the AD’s answer is unlikely to change, Kiffin would be far from the first coach canned after receiving what is now widely known as “the dreaded vote of confidence.” Still, coaches who are truly on the hot seat generally get dubious public support from their bosses midseason; it’s fairly unusual for an athletic director to address the situation so directly before fall camp even begins.

Haden listed academics, NCAA compliance, community engagement and the lack of off-field player issues as factors in coaching decisions in addition to, of course, wins and losses.

Another potential factor? The NCAA sanctions limiting the number of scholarship players the Trojans can have on their roster.

Haden acknowledged the program is still dealing with the sanctions, and while he says they’re not an excuse for poor performance on the field, they do make the playing field a bit less even.

He noted that the sanctions will last for two more seasons, perhaps hinting at how long Kiffin has before he is actually on the hot seat. Some USC fans and experts believe Haden, who did not hire Kiffin, may be content to keep the coach around until the team is no longer dealing with scholarship limitations. If that’s the case, the coach truly isn’t on the athletic director’s hot seat, at least not yet.

The news isn’t what the USC students, alumni and fans who wanted Kiffin gone at the end of last season hoped to hear, but it was all they were going to get, regardless of Kiffin’s actual job status. Even if a coaching change was on the horizon, Haden wouldn’t tip his hand and risk losing recruits this early.

There’s also the possibility Kiffin won’t be on the hot seat until the sanctions are over because Haden wants to give him a fair chance to prove he can win at USC. If the team had consistently struggled under Kiffin, that might not be the case, but the Trojans are only one year removed from a 10-2 season.

As Haden said in his video, the team has a few more seasons before they’re back at full strength; until then, he may evaluate his head coach differently than he would under different circumstances.

The Trojans’ AD made it clear he hoped the team would “make a good run at the Pac-12 South Division title.” Those are Kiffin’s marching orders this season.

The Trojans don’t have to win the division for Kiffin to win at least one more season, but they have to at least compete for the South.

Haden also noted that turnover margin, third-down conversions and third-down defense are areas he expects to see improvement.

If he does, and if USC is among the top teams in the Pac-12 South, Haden’s answer to the Kiffin hot seat question will remain the same.

 

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