Two Years In: Comparing the Legacies of Pete Carroll and Lane Kiffin

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The USC Trojans football program has set a standard of excellence.The 11 National Championships and 473 Trojans selected in the NFL Draft (more than any other program) speak for themselves. So in the year 2000, after being the only team of the 1990s in the then Pac-10 conference to not finish a season ranked in the National top 10, the Trojans fired then coach Paul Hackett. The rest is history; USC hired Pete Carroll amongst criticism from the media, alumni, and donors who went 69-12 during his nine-year tenure.

When Carroll infamously left the Trojans moments before they were sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations, Athletic Director Mike Garrett had another legacy-defining hire to make. Controversy was abundant again when he hired Carroll’s former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin away from Tennessee to lead the Trojans back to glory two days after the search began. USC needed a guy familiar with the program and one who could recruit the best class in the Nation on a consistent basis, in order to follow the model of success set by Carroll. Kiffin was even mentioned in a Lil’ Wayne song, which boosted his popularity among young high school kids looking to reach the fame of hearing their name auto-tuned by Mr. Carter. Carroll was a pop culture icon in his own right, being the first college coach with a Facebook and Twitter account. Pete was also famous for his excellent recruiting abilities and top recruiting classes; the similarities between the legendary coach and one trying to build his own legend are just beginning.

During his first year at USC, Carroll started 2-5, but finished 2001 strong with a 6-6 record. He coached up junior starting QB Carson Palmer and young freshman QB’s Matt Cassel and Matt Leinart.  Following the season, the Trojans were able to bring in a top 10 recruiting class in every y

ear except one from 2002-2008. Lane Kiffin’s first season was almost as tumultuous; they finished 2010 with an 8-5 record, but Kiffin also had a young, talented QB in Matt Barkley who needed some more coaching and experience in the pocket. The 2011 recruiting class for Kiffin was ranked top five in the Nation. Both coaches recruit the big stars—by which I mean four and five star recruits who can add to the team on multiple levels-- and they aren’t afraid to use them. Carroll used Matt Barkley as the first freshman QB to start opening day for the Trojans and in 2010 the leading receiver under Kiffin was freshman Robert Woods.

Building off of his strong finish in 2001, Carroll’s second season brought the addition of stellar freshman wide receiver Mike Williams and ended with the Trojans winning the Pac-10 and an 11-2 record overall. Carson Palmer won the Heisman Trophy, Williams shattered freshman receiving records, and USC embarrassed Iowa in the Orange Bowl 38-17. It was the beginning of the Trojan’s domination for the next six years. The second season for Lane Kiffin was just as successful finishing with a 10-2 record and the addition of another star freshman wideout in Marquis Lee.

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The legacy of Pete Carroll is already cemented in the past. He is arguably the greatest coach to grace the Coliseum sidelines for the Trojans and coached the game with the attitude of the captain varsity cheerleader. Lane Kiffin stays stone-faced as the Trojans crush rival UCLA 50-0, as if this is what he is meant to do. He’s here, he’s winning, and he will continue winning with the number eight recruiting class coming into 2012.

Kiffin is walking solidly in Carroll’s footsteps and it is a proven winning formula. The Trojans are ranked number one by some pundits and have a solid Heisman candidate in QB Matt Barkley. The Lane Kiffin era is in charging full-steam ahead and he doesn’t plan on slowing down once it reaches the consistent number one rankings year after year, Heisman after Heisman, Rose Bowl after Rose Bowl.

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