LOS ANGELES (AP) — Less than two years after Southern California finished a 10-2 season with a 50-point win over UCLA, coach Lane Kiffin is unemployed.
Thirteen months after the Trojans were the nation's top-ranked team, they've lost seven of their past 11 games. They haven't looked good in many of their victories, either.
An elite football program has descended into mediocrity, and the slide culminated in Kiffin's firing by athletic director Pat Haden on Sunday.
Haden believes the right coach can put USC (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) right back among the nation's best, and he wanted to start the hunt while interim coach Ed Orgeron and the Trojans finish this season.
"All our coaches are in the winning business," Haden said. "When you're a coach at a place like USC, we have winning championships in our DNA around here. You have to do the other things as well. You have to play by the rules. You have to care about players. You have to graduate your kids. (But) at the end of the day, we're all in the winning business at USC."
Under the weight of NCAA sanctions and enormous expectations, Kiffin never lived up to the USC standard set by Pete Carroll, who won national championships and captivated L.A. before abruptly leaving for the Seattle Seahawks nearly four years ago.
Carroll is still mightily fond of USC, and he'll be watching the developments closely.
"It's been a hard time for the Trojan family," Carroll said Monday. "It's been a hard couple of years. This is difficult, too. Transitions like this, they are huge. ... I've known Lane since he was a little kid. I feel for him in this situation. They've made a decisive move, and they're going to move forward, and they'll make a good choice and get the thing going the way they want to go. But it's very difficult."
It's mostly difficult for Kiffin, who went 28-15 into his fourth season at USC. The mark is either a solid achievement given the Trojans' scholarship restrictions and depth problems, or it's an embarrassment to a school laden with NFL-caliber talent that accepts nothing but annual title contention.
It isn't tough to see what Haden thinks, and most USC alumni seem to agree.
In Kiffin's successor, Haden must find a coach who can handle USC's expectations while maximizing the school's many strengths. Kiffin briefly appeared to be that coach, but former athletic director Mike Garrett's choice for the job never got there.
Kiffin was on top of the game in late 2011, when the Trojans finished atop the Pac-12 South with wins over Oregon and UCLA.
Quarterback Matt Barkley then announced he would return for his senior season, passing up NFL millions for a year to stick with his beloved school, which got that preseason No. 1 ranking.