Lane Kiffin rolled into his dream job at Southern California with a wave of promises and praise, vowing to run a squeaky-clean program even while fending off questions about his staff's first few hours on the job.
LOS ANGELES — Lane Kiffin rolled into his dream job at Southern California with a wave of promises and praise, vowing to run a squeaky-clean program even while fending off questions about his staff's first few hours on the job.
Kiffin radiated California cool Wednesday even after arriving late to his first news conference because of traffic on the freeway after flying in from Tennessee. He abruptly left the Volunteers on Tuesday night after one 7-6 season.
"It's great to be back home," Kiffin said.
The longtime USC assistant coach said he couldn't pass up the chance to take the job he had identified as the nation's best a decade earlier, when he joined Pete Carroll's staff for six years as an assistant.
"This is a place that was very special to me for a long time," the 34-year-old Kiffin said in a packed room at Heritage Hall while his daughter, Pressley, lounged on a chair next to him. "It became obvious to me that this was the best place in America ... and this is the No. 1 job in America. I think it's a perfect fit."
Kiffin's staff committed several secondary NCAA violations during its 14 months in Knoxville. Now he joins a program laboring under a yearslong NCAA investigation that's expected to be resolved in the coming months.
Kiffin said he's dedicated "to running an extremely clean, disciplined program," saying his missteps in Tennessee will help his staff stay straight in Los Angeles.
Yet Kiffin and returning assistant coach Ed Orgeron immediately faced questions about Orgeron's contact with Tennessee recruits in the 24 hours since their hiring at USC.
Orgeron, the Trojans' new defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, acknowledged speaking to several members of the Volunteers' standout recruiting class, but claimed he only gave them information requested by their families and didn't try to poach any Tennessee commitments.
"We will not (recruit Tennessee-committed players), unless a guy would call us and say he's interested in us," said Orgeron, one of the nation's top recruiters during his first stint at USC.
Kiffin, the Oakland Raiders' coach for 20 tumultuous games before taking over at Tennessee, also brought along his father, respected defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Lane Kiffin said Trojans fans shouldn't expect to see the same pot-stirring coach who fired up the Tennessee fan base with a slew of rash declarations to reporters and recruits, most notably accusing Florida's Urban Meyer of cheating in recruiting. Kiffin later apologized.
"We don't need to go out and create energy about the program," Kiffin said. "We don't need to grab attention, because we've already got it. Our No. 1 thing here is to develop the student-athletes and coach football. We don't need to do anything else."
Embattled USC athletic director Mike Garrett said he identified Kiffin as a potential future leader of the program when he first joined Carroll's staff in 2001.
After a whirlwind coaching search that apparently included feelers to former Trojans Jack Del Rio and Jeff Fisher, as well as former Trojans assistant Mike Riley, Garrett swiftly hired Kiffin.
"I try to catch people right at the part of where they're going to burst out, and I think he's right on the cusp of becoming a great coach," Garrett said. "What do I like about him most? He's been beat up a lot (in Oakland and Tennessee), and I wanted to know, how does he get off the mat? I think we'll do well."
Garrett also acknowledged the Trojans are interested in rehiring UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who created the Trojans' standout early offenses before Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian replaced him in 2005.
Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said Wednesday night he believes Chow will stay with UCLA.
Kiffin replaces his former boss, Carroll, who left to become coach of the Seattle Seahawks earlier this week.
The Trojans are coming off their worst season since Carroll's first in 2001. USC went 9-4 in 2009, ending a run of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles.