LOS ANGELES — Southern California fired Lane Kiffin early Sunday morning, ending the coach's tumultuous tenure a few hours after the Trojans lost 62-41 at Arizona State.
Assistant head coach Ed Orgeron, 52, was picked as interim head coach by athletic director Pat Haden, who dismissed Kiffin at the airport after the Trojans' flight home. USC (3-2, and 0-2 in Pac-12 for the first time since 2001) matched the most points allowed in school history. Last year it allowed 62 to Oregon.
Haden said a search for a permanent coach would begin soon but declined to talk about possible hires, saying jokingly that all his candidates are "alive" and "you are all candidates in this room." A few candidates that seem to make sense: David Shaw of Stanford, Chris Petersen of Boise State (who has said no to USC in the past) and James Franklin of Vanderbilt.
"It's never the perfect time to do these things, but I thought it was the right time," Haden said.
Haden fired Kiffin in a 3 a.m. meeting at the Trojans' airport terminal, after a 45-minute chat in which Kiffin, 38, tried hard to change Haden's mind.
Most players found out about the dismissal by text messages in the middle of the night.
Receiver Marqise Lee, who twisted his left knee Saturday, was surprised at the timing: "My whole thinking was finishing out the season at least. I don't know what to expect.''
Haden didn't hire Kiffin — after the coach abruptly left Tennessee in 2010 after one season — but said he was fully behind him until Saturday's seventh loss in 11 games as the program struggles under NCAA sanctions from the Pete Carroll era.
Kiffin went 28-15 in parts of four seasons in his self-described dream job. In 2011 USC went 10-2 and beat Oregon. Last year, the Trojans finished 7-6 and unranked.
"I think it could easily be asked, 'Why not last year after the 7-6 season?' " Haden said. "The rationale was the prior year, Lane had won 10 games. We felt we could rebound. … But at the end of the day, we just weren't making the progress I felt we needed to make."
Less than five months ago Haden said Kiffin had "been as good as he can be" in the face of sanctions, and before the season said he was "100 percent" behind him. "We support our coaches 100 percent until they're no longer our coaches," Haden said. "Why would you support a coach 85 percent?"