It's no surprise that USC athletic director Pat Haden fired head coach Lane Kiffin after the team's 62-41 loss to Arizona State on Saturday. The Trojans had been unimpressive all season, and Kiffin had lost the support of many around him for a multitude of reasons in his fourth season there. The question now is who replaces Kiffin, and there may be a number of NFL names in play. Assistant head coach Ed Orgeron will take the position of interim head coach, but unless Orgeron somehow magically runs the table, Haden will be looking elsewhere.
Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report indicates that current Denver Broncos defensive coordinator and former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio could be the most compelling candidate. Freeman is one of the better-sourced people in the business, and he believes this could be a match under the right circumstances. Del Rio played linebacker for USC before an NFL career that spanned from 1985 through '96.
"I've spoken to Del Rio repeatedly about USC," Freeman wrote on Sunday. "There isn't a more proud alum. But he's been linked to USC before and has resisted going back. My guess: Del Rio holds off USC for the moment -- he may even say he's not interested -- but seriously considers the position while his agent quietly gets a feel for what Del Rio's head coaching prospects are in the NFL."
Del Rio has done a great job with Denver's defense, and Denver's offense is among the most impressive we've seen in a very long time. For Del Rio to leave a team clearly on a Super Bowl path (at least at this point), Haden and his people would have to seriously sweeten the pot. Mike Klis of the Denver Post reports that Del Rio will not leave the Broncos during his current contract, but his contract does expire after the 2013 season.
St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher is also a serious candidate, according to Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News.
#USC coaching candidates list: 1. James Franklin 2. Jeff Fisher; 3. Jack Del Rio; 4. Chris Petersen; 5. Mike Riley
— InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) September 29, 2013
Fisher played for the Trojans from 1977 through '80, and he's in the second year of his tenure with the Rams. As the wolves were circling around Kiffin in early September, Fisher was asked by the media about leaving the Rams for his alma mater, and he called the notion "absurd." That wouldn't stop Haden from reaching out, but Fisher is another potential coach who's currently in a more favorable situation -- the Rams don't exactly look great right now, but Fisher has an impressive amount of autonomy and control in his current position, he's a key part of the league's Competition Committee, and he's universally respected throughout the NFL.
Another name to consider is current San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. The USC offense has been traditionally built on a strong balance between the run and pass, and few in football better understand how to strike that balance in diverse ways than Roman. From his days with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford to now, Roman has justifiably gained traction as a big name because of his ability to successfully scheme to his personnel.
On July 1, Dave Miller of the National Football Post wrote that "There is a job waiting for San Francisco 49ers assistant Greg Roman should he decide to return to the college game. The New Jersey native is very well-respected nationally, not just on the West Coast."
One thing any new USC head coach will have to deal with is the sanctions handed to the program by the NCAA based on impermissible benefits during the Pete Carroll era. Those sanctions included scholarship limitations from 2010 through '13, and any new coach will obviously have to deal with the aftereffects of that disadvantage.
Haden and USC vice president for athletic compliance Dave Roberts recently met with the NCAA to ask for their sanctions to be reviewed in the wake of the decision to reduce Penn State's sanctions following the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
"There is no comparison between USC and Penn State," the NCAA said in a Friday statement. "USC's appeal was denied, and there is no further consideration being given." So, any current NFL coach would have to be able to look past that drama to leave his current position. It's clear that Haden is operating with a handicap in that regard, despite the program's storied history.