Perhaps the most coveted position in college football became available this weekend with the firing of Lane Kiffin. A blowout loss at the hands of Arizona State was the last straw for USC athletic director Pat Haden and his advisors, who reportedly made the decision at halftime to relieve Kiffin of his duties.
Kiffin, 38, was hired in 2010 after just one season as a head coach at the University of Tennessee and after compiling a 5-15 record with the Oakland Raiders. Kiffin led USC to respectable 8-5 record in 2010, and 10-2 in 2011, but just a 28-15 record overall. Last year, the Trojans entered the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, but were just one defeat away from finishing below .500 for the first time since 2000.
With the firing occurring in the first month of the 2013 season, Haden has plenty of time to make a hire, and numerous candidates to consider for their next head coach. The Trojans have a history of showing interest in coaches with NFL pedigrees, and there will be no shortage of potential hires linked to the program in the coming weeks.
A few high-profile names have already emerged as possible targets for Haden.
Jack Del Rio
The former USC linebacker may be the early favorite to take over for Kiffin. The Trojans tend to hire from within their family, and the former Pro Bowler shined for a Rose Bowl-winning squad in 1985. Del Rio made a few playoff appearances as the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach and helped turn the Denver Broncos into a top defensive unit as a coordinator. According to Gil Brandt of nfl.com, Del Rio’s clean background makes him an ideal candidate in the eyes of Hayden.
Del Rio, 50, is reportedly set to remain with the Broncos for the rest of the season, but that might not be a problem for USC. Accepting the head coaching position at a top program would be an upgrade for Del Rio, and it would give him the opportunity to succeed in the college ranks, something he has yet to do in his career.
He’s just begun his second season with the St. Louis Rams, but Fisher could be a top target. Even before Kiffin was fired, there had been rumors that Fisher would be the favorite to be the Trojans next head coach. In early September, ESPN’s Ted Miller reported that the 55-year-old could top USC’s list of replacements. Travis Haney of ESPN confirmed the report.
At this point, the level of interest may be one-sided. Fisher is a USC alumnus, having won a national championship in 1978. However, he has never coached at the college ranks, spending almost 30 years in the NFL. He helped the Rams make a five-win improvement in 2012, and isn’t likely to bolt for another job any time soon.
Whenever a top NFL or college coaching position becomes available, Gruden’s name is mentioned among the most likely candidates. This time should be no different, with the Super Bowl winner bound to be at the center of USC coaching rumors. It’s hard to imagine the school not wanting Gruden if he expressed any interest in the job.
He has had success in the NFL and spent five years as an assistant in college. The Trojans have a rich tradition of producing five-star quarterbacks, and there are few football coaches with more expertise to develop a quarterback than Gruden.
Gruden, however, hasn’t given any recent indications that he’s ready to return to the sidelines. Since he last coached in 2008, the 50-year-old has been approached by several college and NFL teams, but remains an analyst for ESPN.