POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 31, 2010
Lane Kiffin really didn't start out to be the most minutely dissected and controversial head coach of this season in college football.
Originally, he just wanted to be, well, the next Trent Dilfer.
But a funny thing happened on the way to making a name for himself as a college quarterback and becoming a hoped-for heir to Dilfer at the position at Fresno State.
"I was a senior -- and No. 2 on the depth chart -- when David Carr showed up as a freshman (in 1997)," Kiffin said. "Carr came in and, in about 5 minutes after they had seen him throw, I was moved to No. 3."
Right there, on the Bulldogs' practice field, Kiffin saw his future come into a quick and clear focus. So much so that he gave up his jersey, shoulder pads and senior year of eligibility immediately for a clipboard and a student coaching job.
The Aloha Stadium sideline he never came close to leaving in two visits as a Bulldogs backup will be the site of his first test as Southern California's head coach Thursday, when the University of Hawaii opens its season against the 14th-ranked Trojans.
It has been a quick ascent for the 35-year-old, notable especially for someone who never played a down in college, as his quarterbacks at USC take delight in reminding him.
In a split practice session recently when the Trojans were left without a signal-caller, the quarterback doing a lap as is the standing punishment for anyone throwing an interception, Kiffin quickly went under center.
The move did not go unnoticed. "I stepped in for two plays," Kiffin said. "They laughed, (so) I made sure I didn't turn the ball over or fumble a snap."
Even for someone who has coached the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers, Kiffin faces considerably more scrutiny and expectation in his latest coaching role, beginning with the nationally televised debut against the Warriors.
It would be a formidable enough task if he was just following in Pete Carroll's highly successful footsteps at USC. But throw in the questions raised by the potentially debilitating NCAA-imposed sanctions meted out in June and the controversies that have followed him from a hasty and nasty departure from Tennessee in January and Kiffin is getting as exacting a look as anything currently under the microscopes at the Centers for Disease Control.
After a summer of headline-making sanctions, suits, suspensions and roster changes, not to mention a shakeup in USC leadership, Kiffin is likely foremost among the 120 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches in believing this kickoff cannot come soon enough.
"I don't know about them," Kiffin said, "but I know we're definitely excited to finally get it under way."
The son of a coach (current USC defensive coordinator and former NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is his father), Lane likely would have found his way into coaching anyway after growing up around the sport.
But the arrival of Carr, a future first-round draft choice, made it sooner rather than later. "It (going into coaching early) turned out to be a really good decision," Kiffin reflects.
Getting through this year successfully is likely to require every bit of knowledge he has absorbed.