(USA TODAY) Former USC coach Lane Kiffin blames himself for the Trojans' steep slide since the beginning of the 2012 season, when his team entered the year ranked No. 1, but still feels a sense of pride about what the program was able to accomplish in the face of intense NCAA penalties, he said Saturday.
In an interview on ESPN College GameDay, his first public appearance since being fired at USC on Sept. 29, Kiffin said "it's been a hard two weeks" since the Trojans' 62-41 loss to Pac-12 South Division rival Arizona State. That loss dropped USC to 0-2 in the Pac-12, setting back the team's quest for a Rose Bowl berth after struggling to match high expectations in 2012.
"It was very difficult," Kiffin told GameDay host Chris Fowler. "I have great passion for USC, for those players, for those coaches, and it was a tough situation. Because you put so much into those kids and have that taken away, it's been very hard."
Kiffin went out of his way during the course of the interview to praise not only USC and his former players – saying "there are some great kids that are still playing hard" – but also athletic director Pat Haden, who voiced his support for Kiffin after last season but announced a coaching change after the loss to ASU.
Haden is a "very hands-on athletic director," Kiffin said, and "a great athletic director."
"Even though he may see what's going on, on the inside, and how hard it was to deal with the sanctions and the reduced roster, at the same time he has a lot of people to answer to," he said. "I appreciate Pat's support over three and a half, four years there, it was phenomenal. And they're going to continue to do great things."
Despite the disappointing conclusion, Kiffin said he still feels a strong sense of pride about what the Trojans were able to accomplish over his three-plus seasons with the program: USC went 28-15 under Kiffin – including a 10-2 finish in 2011 – despite the painful nature of crippling NCAA sanctions, which instituted a postseason ban and stripped the program of scholarships.
"I think there were some really good things that we did in our time there," Kiffin said. "Once we got there we were handed down what many people consider to be the 'death penalty' (in NCAA sanctions). I remember all the articles at the time. We were able to manage through that and a great year at 10-2 and then it fell apart there toward the end."
Kiffin compared how USC handled NCAA sanctions to how penalties have impacted other "major programs, like an Alabama."
"There's some good stuff in there," he said. "And to see the way they played the other night was awesome. I was so proud of those kids and of that coaching staff."
Kiffin watched Thursday night's USC win against Arizona with Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, a former co-assistant on Pete Carroll's staff at USC. He called the process "like watching someone else raise your kids," adding, "but at the same time, you know they are in great hands." USC beat the Wildcats 38-31 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, a member of Kiffin's staff.
"I think any experience that you have, there's a good part to it and a bad part, and you've got to learn from the bad parts and the mistakes that you made," Kiffin said. "I've made a bunch of them. So you learn from them and then you grow from there. You get stronger at your next job."
USA TODAY also reported how a few people brought signs to commemorate Kiffin's appearance. (Thanks to @bubbaprog for sharing the photos with USA TODAY Sports)
"Remember when Lane Kiffin had a job"
"Kiffin, ESPN isn't hiring"