Maybe Lane Kiffin had a chance at Tennessee. But he was young and confident and had to climb the proverbial coaching ladder.
Fueled by the power steering of agent Jimmy Sexton, Kiffin parlayed a failed stint with the Oakland Raiders and one seven-win year at Tennessee into the ultimate big-boy job. He would conquer USC and cash in on the hero culture of high-level college coaching.
He cashed in, all right. He made some millions. Now he's 38, his coaching rep -- defined more by his gaffes than what he actually did well -- is tarnished, and he might never be a head coach again.
Kiffin's dopey ways are easy to bash, but he had enough presence to draw people to hire him. Maybe, had he paced himself, honed his craft, made his youthful mistakes at one job instead of overextending himself, he'd be a prime candidate for USC's search today.
He'd be ready. He wasn't ready.
Now what? That question might give several potential USC targets pause.
For every coach that might want USC, there are others who will pass because they know what it's all about.
Job security. Pacing yourself. Make millions and cultivate a winning environment in a place that will allow you to flourish, with an AD that shares your vision.
Some of the grassroots coaches who will inevitably be linked to USC, they've all turned down at least one so-called top job.
Vandy's James Franklin reportedly spurned Arkansas a year ago. When asking a source close to Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald this week about USC or Texas as possibilities, the source said, “Well, consider he turned down Michigan.'' Yes, he did that three years ago.
That doesn't mean Fitzgerald wouldn't consider those jobs now -- who knows how these coaches operate -- but you get the point. When a coach takes a top job while the timing isn't right or he isn't ready, he risks losing the cachet forever.
Chris Petersen, who gets calls every year, could take the USC job. Or he could stay at Boise and never get fired.
It's the Shaka Smart theory in hoops. Smart stays at VCU because he's well-paid and has job security and likes coaching there. Only in basketball, he has a better chance at winning a national title than the smaller-resource football schools.
Calculated risks can be appreciated. Sometimes grabbing for glory works out. Worked out for Urban Meyer and many others.
But taking the USC job is hardly a guarantee to produce Pete Carroll results, even for the most energetic coaches. There's some NFL talent on the roster, and the scholarship sanctions will dissipate. There's plenty for Pat Haden to sell.
If a coach doesn't rebuild this thing in two, maybe three years, he's on the street instead of winning games where he was before.
Who's firing Peterson or Franklin or Fitzgerald at their current schools? Save a colossal program meltdown, no one.
Maybe Kiffin could have had that luxury at Tennessee.