LOS ANGELES >> Although Lane Kiffin is grateful for Southern California athletic director Pat Haden’s video vote of confidence, his job security won’t alter Kiffin’s urgency to get the Trojans back on top.
USC released a video in which Haden strongly backed Kiffin on Thursday night, the day before Pac-12 football media day in Culver City.
“I anticipate the media will ask me if our football coach is on the hot seat this year,” Haden said in the video. “Here is my answer, and will be my answer whenever I’m asked: He is not.”
Haden also said he is “behind Lane Kiffin 100 percent.”
USC endured a hugely disappointing season last year, going 7-6 after starting with the preseason No. 1 ranking. Despite the presence of senior quarterback Matt Barkley and star receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, the Trojans lost five of their final six games, finishing their embarrassing slide with losses to crosstown foe UCLA, perennial rival Notre Dame and Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
Yet Haden and USC President Max Nikias have never wavered in their support of their attention-attracting coach, who is 25-13 after three seasons under severe scholarship restrictions from NCAA sanctions handed down shortly after Kiffin was hired in 2010.
“Obviously, it’s a positive,” Kiffin said about Haden’s vote of confidence. “It’s not a negative to me from my standpoint as a head coach, but it wasn’t a surprise to me, because I deal with Pat on a daily basis, so I have felt Pat’s support and Max’s support the whole time we’ve been here.”
Kiffin served as an assistant coach under Pete Carroll at USC before brief stops with the Oakland Raiders and the University of Tennessee. He left the Volunteers after just 14 months to replace Carroll following the 2009 season, only to see the program buckled by sanctions a few months later.
USC was hit with a two-year bowl ban, four years of probation, 30 lost scholarships and 14 vacated victories for misdeeds involving Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush.
Faced with obvious depth problems and the school’s tarnished reputation before his first game, Kiffin has recruited exceptionally well and run a largely clean program at USC, getting into only minor compliance scrapes. But his sometimes-brash personality and the Trojans’ underachievement in two of his three seasons have led to an uneasy relationship between the coach and many of the school’s most ardent fans and alumni.
Although Haden didn’t hire Kiffin, only taking over the athletic program several months after AD Mike Garrett left, the former USC quarterback has been a firm supporter of Kiffin. Haden made similar statements of confidence in Kiffin last season, repeatedly dismissing the notion he would abruptly fire his coach.
“I have felt that they have always looked at the big picture of things and taken the whole time we’ve been here into account,” Kiffin said of Haden and Nikias. “They have a better understanding of the numbers, of what happened three years ago with the sanctions, how that impacts us in a bunch of different areas I’m not going into, but I think they understand that a lot better than a fan would or the media would, because they’re right in the middle of it.”
USC was picked to finish third in the Pac-12 South by the league’s media on Friday behind UCLA and Arizona State. Kiffin hasn’t picked a successor to four-year starter Barkley, but Lee returns along with tailback Silas Redd and the usual bumper crop of elite offensive talent.
The Trojans’ defense, which was repeatedly shredded last year, will have an entirely new look under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who replaced Kiffin’s father, Monte.
“It’s been a great transition,” USC linebacker Hayes Pullard said. “Pendergast brings that swagger that’s been great for us. They simplified this defense for us guys to go out there and just play fast and play to the best of our ability.”