When Athletic Director Pat Haden handed Lane Kiffin his pink slip last week, the easiest part of the task was complete.
After Arizona State hung 62 points on the Trojans, it was time for Kiffin to go. He ended his tenure with seven losses in his final 11 games. In 2012, his program was the first since 1964 to go from preseason number 1 in the polls to unranked. The two-year post-season ban and 30 scholarship penalties had taken their toll.
The bad news is in the forefront at USC, but soon enough the college football off-season will be upon us and they boast one of the most attractive positions in all the NCAA. Not only are they one of the top five coaching gigs in the country, but the next head coach will take over at the perfect time.
After all, you don't want to be the guy after the guy. Lane Kiffin followed Pete Carroll, a daunting task even for the best of coaches. In seven straight seasons, Carroll's USC team finished in the top four of the polls. The next bench boss to roam the sidelines of the Coliseum will have a much easier task bettering the Kiffin's results.
With that in mind, the following are five options USC should consider. It includes four that will most certainly be called and one that is a dark horse that would be a great option, but may not even receive a phone call.
The favourite: Jack Del Rio. The former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach and current offensive coordinator may have what it takes to turn the program around in Southern California. He was a former All-American linebacker at the school and boasts the perfect blend of NFL and NCAA connections. There is also speculation he really wants the job.
The contenders: Steve Sarkisian. The head coach behind a re-tooled Washington program that is now competitive in the ultra-tough Pac-12. He was an assistant at USC under Carroll and took over as offensive coordinator when Kiffin left for the Oakland Raiders head coaching gig. Two things are working against Sarkisian - his connections to the university may be too recent for Haden if he's looking for a fresh face to lead the program - and he seemingly loves his job in Washington. The new facilities there and the Huskies' recent success would be tough to turn back on.
Mike Riley - The 60-year-old mastermind at Oregon State has been linked to big school jobs in the past and will certainly get consideration by USC. The Beavers are an up-tempo exciting football program which is essentially the exact opposite of the 2013 Trojans. Riley is known as one of the best pure coaches in the NCAA. One downside is leading a program is much more than just teaching. Riley is not the strongest recruiter on the list, but given the advantages of being at USC, he'd be able to get enough great athletes to return the program to prominence.
Tom Herman - The offensive coordinator at Ohio State, Herman will be a head coach somewhere next year. He would have been a prime candidate this year if not for a two-year commitment he made to Urban Meyer. An offensive wizard might be exactly what Haden is looking for. Watch for Herman to gain steam as a trendy option if the Buckeyes are able to keep their undefeated season going. A national championship in Columbus may boost Herman to the top of this, and any other head coaching list.
The dark horse: Kliff Kingsbury is doing a great job at Texas Tech. The problem is he may be too much like Kiffin for Haden's liking. The 34-year-old is smart, successful and a smash hit with the young players he's chasing on the recruiting trails. Wearing his RayBan sunglasses as he roams the sidelines, Kingsbury is the new Kiffin. He may not be as established as some of the other names on USC's radar, but if they could look past some obvious similarities to Kiffin, they may have their new coach for years to come.
In naming Ed Orgeron the interim coach for the remainder of the season, USC ensured we'll be able to debate who should be the new coach for the coming months. Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern and Chris Petersen of Boise State will also garner consideration. If Haden is smart, he'll take a long hard look at all of these names when making a decision that will shape the program for years to come.