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November 28, 2011

Pac-12 coaches got it wrong




On Monday afternoon the All-Pac-12 Conference Football Team was announced and the Trojans led the way with seven players named to the first team. USC head coach Lane Kiffin was thought to be a favorite for the Coach of the Year, but that honor went to Stanford's David Shaw instead.

There is no doubt that Shaw did an amazing job for the Cardinal this season. With a new staff Shaw didn't regress a bit from the standard Jim Harbaugh set over the past few seasons.

But the fact is Shaw inherited a great team with the best player in the country running the show. He also took over a team that went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl.

This season Shaw finished 11-1 beating USC in the Coliseum in triple-overtime and losing to Oregon by 23 at home.

Shaw essentially kept the Harbaugh-led train chugging along at the same impressive pace as it was last season. But with the Cardinal winning 12 games in 2010, there wasn't much room for improvement.

If Shaw was able to beat Oregon, go undefeated and win the Pac-12 North, hard to argue against him for the COTY. But an 11-1 season after a 12-1 season normally isn't what gets coaches recognized. If it was, Pete Carroll would have won a bunch more than three COTY honors.

That is why Lane Kiffin hands down should have been given the Pac-12 Coach of the Year for his efforts in 2011. And it shouldn't have been close.

Unlike Stanford, the Trojans went 8-5 last season after a coaching change and NCAA sanctions rocked the program. "Free agency" sent players packing for other teams and looming scholarship limitations gave opposing coaches tremendous leverage in head-to-head recruiting battles with Kiffin.

There was also no opportunity for USC players to attend a bowl game or play for the conference championship.

Despite that looming dark cloud, Kiffin did the unthinkable. He signed a top recruiting class, kept his core group of players together, developed young talent and made his team better every week.

He also won on the field to the tune of a 10-2 record with the most underrated program in college football.

Kiffin beat Chip Kelly in Eugene, something no other coach has ever done. He beat rival Notre Dame on the road and put up half a hundred points in the shutout of UCLA.

His Trojans finished with the best record in the Pac-12 South and beat both teams that will be playing for the conference championship on Friday.

Some have argued that Lane Kiffin is doing "more with more," insinuating that he had superior talent to his opponents. While that may be true, his roster wasn't stacked with proven talent. Many of the players on the two-deep depth chart had zero college playing experience heading into the season.

No one knew about Hayes Pullard or Dion Bailey or Marqise Lee outside of recruitniks back in August. Pullard and Bailey led the team in tackles and Lee had 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns. All three are freshmen.

Lane Kiffin took a good quarterback and turned him into a Heisman candidate. He took a bunch of underclassmen and made them a cohesive unit. He started with an 8-5 team that lacked an identity and turned it into a 10-2 juggernaut that could play with any team in the country.

That is why Lane Kiffin should have been named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

Sanctions may have kept this team under the radar during much of this season, but those handcuffing sanctions should have been a positive for Kiffin when considering the COTY.

The current Trojan players were in grade school when the alleged NCAA violations occurred. They have been slighted on numerous occasions yet continued to play hard. As their leader, Kiffin had the most to overcome of any coach in the conference and probably the country. He performed admirably and deserved this recognition. It's a shame the other Pac-12 coaches didn't get it right.

Stay tuned to USCFootball.com as the Trojans try to carry their momentum on the gridiron heading into recruiting.

Ryan Abraham is the publisher of USCFootball.com. You can email him at ryan@uscfootball.com or follow him on twitter at @insidetroy.


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