Fallout from USC’s collapse this season began Thursday, as Monte Kiffin, the assistant head coach for defense, resigned effective after the Trojans’ bowl game, the school announced.
Kiffin, the 72-year-old father of Coach Lane Kiffin, stepped down to “pursue opportunities in the NFL,” the announcement said.
But Monte Kiffin was under fire for the defense’s poor performance during a 7-5 season.
“I respect my father’s decision and his desire to return to the NFL,” Lane Kiffin said in a statement. “We are very appreciative of the hard work and effort that he put in at USC these past three years.
“He has a tremendous passion for coaching young men and he is a phenomenal recruiter. The timing of this allows us to move forward now in the hiring of a new coach.”
NCAA sanctions prevented USC from playing in bowl games in 2010 and 2011. But the Trojans began this season ranked No. 1 in several polls, with designs on playing for the Bowl Championship Series title in January.
Instead, they are unranked and probably looking at a berth in the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl.
“I wanted to make this announcement now so that our players who are preparing for the bowl game and our recruits who will be visiting campus are aware,” Monte Kiffin said in a statement. “I really enjoyed my time at USC and the opportunity I had to work with our players and coaches.
“The chance to work for my son, Lane, was unique and memorable, but we always treated each other professionally on a coach-to-coach basis.”
On Nov. 17, after the Trojans lost to UCLA, 38-28, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden gave embattled Lane Kiffin a vote of confidence, saying he was his coach “150%.”
But Monte Kiffin’s departure from the staff was not unexpected after USC lost four of its last five games.
Reached by phone Thursday night, Haden declined to comment other than to say “the statement that Monte released is sufficient.”
Asked if his support for Lane Kiffin remained the same, Haden said, “I don’t know why it wouldn’t.”
Senior safety T.J. McDonald enjoyed his time with Monte Kiffin.
“Anyone who played for him would have respect for him because he’s been through it all,” McDonald said. “All the tasks we were asked to do, we did the best we could.
“The results weren’t always what we wanted them to be, but at the end of the day I have nothing but respect for the coaches and Coach Monte.”
Monte Kiffin coached in the NFL from 1983 to 2008 and was the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Super Bowl champion team in 2002. When Lane Kiffin was hired by the University of Tennessee before the 2009 season, Monte Kiffin left the Buccaneers to join his son’s staff.
A year later, Monte was a key component in former athletic director Mike Garrett’s decision to hire Lane to replace Pete Carroll.
Ed Orgeron, the Trojans’ defensive line coach, already holds the title of defensive coordinator. But Monte Kiffin was the boss of the defense.
After the Trojans struggled defensively in 2010, Monte Kiffin tried to adjust by making schemes simpler and utilizing smaller, faster personnel.
In 2011, the Trojans gave up a combined 84 points in consecutive games against Arizona State and Arizona, spurring calls for Monte’s ouster from Trojans fans. USC, however, rebounded to finish 10-2, capping the season by winning at Oregon and shutting out UCLA, 50-0.
Last February, however, linebackers coach Joe Barry, a former USC player who worked under Monte Kiffin with the Buccaneers, left the Trojans to return to the NFL as linebackers coach for the San Diego Chargers.
Barry was replaced by Scottie Hazelton, who joined the Trojans after five seasons at North Dakota State. Marvin Sanders, who had spent the last three seasons at Nebraska, also was hired to coach the secondary.
USC’s defense has given up an average of 396 yards a game, which ranks 62nd among 120 major-college teams. The Trojans are 46th in scoring defense (24.6 points a game), 57th in rushing defense (156.4) and 67th in pass defense (156.4).
The Trojans have caused 29 turnovers, tied for 12th nationally, but they spent much of the season as college football’s most penalized team. They are tied for 113th, averaging 8.1 penalties a game.
The Trojans’ — and perhaps Monte Kiffin’s — demise began in earnest on Oct. 27.
USC had a 6-1 record and was ranked 10th. But the Trojans gave up 588 yards in a 39-36 loss at Arizona as Wildcats quarterback Matt Scott passed for 369 yards and rushed for 100 while directing a spread-option attack.
Then Oregon’s fast-paced spread offense, directed by quarterback Marcus Mariota, shredded the Trojans for 730 yards in a 62-51 victory at the Coliseum. Ducks running back Kenjon Barner rushed for 321 yards and scored five touchdowns.
Oregon’s points and yardage, and Barner’s rushing yardage, were all records for a Trojans opponent.
A week after USC defeated Arizona State, UCLA ended a five-game losing streak against the Trojans as quarterback Brett Hundley expertly ran the Bruins’ spread-option and running back Johnathan Franklin rushed for 171 yards.
Then, last Saturday against Notre Dame, the low-powered Fighting Irish offense scored on its first three possessions in a 22-13 victory.
“Although things didn’t always go as well as we would have liked this year from a defensive and win-loss standpoint, I will leave USC with the utmost respect for the university, the Trojan family and, most importantly, the players I had the good fortune to coach,” Monte Kiffin said. “I see great things ahead for the USC football program.”