LOS ANGELES — Lane Kiffin rolled into his dream job at Southern California on a wave of promises and praise, vowing to run a squeaky-clean program even while fending off questions about his staff's first few hours on the job.
Kiffin radiated California cool Wednesday even after arriving late to his first news conference because of freeway traffic after flying in from Tennessee. He abruptly left the Volunteers on Tuesday night after one 7-6 season to return to the school where he spent six seasons as an assistant coach.
"It's great to be back home," Kiffin said.
Kiffin accepted his third head coaching job in less than three years because he couldn't pass up the chance to claim the job he had identified as the nation's best a decade earlier, when he joined Pete Carroll's staff in 2001 as a 25-year-old tight ends coach.
"This is a place that was very special to me for a long time," the 34-year-old Kiffin said in a packed room at Heritage Hall while his daughter, Pressley, lounged on a chair next to him. "It became obvious to me that this was the best place in America ... and this is the No. 1 job in America. I think it's a perfect fit."
Kiffin left Knoxville ahead of an angry, mattress-burning mob, taking along at least two members of a coaching staff that committed several secondary NCAA violations during its 14 months in Knoxville. Now he takes over a program laboring under a yearslong NCAA investigation that's expected to be resolved in the coming months.
Kiffin said he'll "have a dedication to run an extremely clean, disciplined program," adding his missteps in Tennessee will help his staff stay straight in Los Angeles.
"We need to have complete attention on making sure that we are running this program with great discipline, and that we are in compliance with all the rules," Kiffin said. "And I don't know that I could have done that 14 months ago ... as well as I could now because of being down there, (under) the microscope down there in the SEC and on Tennessee."
Yet Kiffin and returning assistant coach Ed Orgeron immediately faced questions about Orgeron's contact with Tennessee recruits in the 24 hours since their hiring at USC – contact that wouldn't constitute an NCAA violation, but struck some Volunteers as overly aggressive.
Orgeron, the Trojans' new defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, acknowledged speaking to several members of the Volunteers' recruiting class, but claimed he only gave them information requested by their families and didn't try to poach any Tennessee commitments.
"We will not (recruit Tennessee-committed players), unless a guy would call us and say he's interested in us," said Orgeron, one of the nation's top recruiters during his first stint at USC.
Kiffin, the Oakland Raiders' coach for 20 tumultuous games before taking over at Tennessee, also brought along his father, respected defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Lane Kiffin said Trojans fans shouldn't expect to see the same pot-stirring coach who fired up Tennessee fans with a slew of reckless declarations to reporters and recruits, most notably accusing Florida's Urban Meyer of cheating in recruiting. Kiffin later apologized.
"We don't need to go out and create energy about our program," Kiffin said. "We don't need to go out and grab attention, because we have it. ... Our No. 1 thing here is to develop the student-athletes and coach football. We don't need to do anything else."
Embattled USC athletic director Mike Garrett said he identified Kiffin as a potential future leader of the program when he first joined Carroll's staff in 2001. After a whirlwind coaching search that apparently included feelers to former Trojans Jack Del Rio and Jeff Fisher, as well as former Trojans assistant Mike Riley, Garrett swiftly hired Kiffin.
"I try to catch people right at the part of where they're going to burst out, and I think he's right on the cusp of becoming a great coach," Garrett said. "What do I like about him most? He's been beat up a lot (in Oakland and Tennessee), and I wanted to know, how does he get off the mat? I think we'll do well."
Garrett also acknowledged the Trojans are interested in rehiring UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who created the Trojans' standout early offenses before Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian replaced him in 2005.
Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said Wednesday night he believes Chow will stay with UCLA.
Kiffin replaces his former boss, Carroll, who left to become coach of the Seattle Seahawks earlier this week after winning 97 games and two national titles in nine seasons.
The Trojans are coming off their worst season since Carroll's first in 2001. USC went 9-4, ending a run of seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and BCS bowl game appearances.
Kiffin and Orgeron will get to work this weekend on making sure the Trojans' recruiting class remains solid, and they plan to evaluate the players left behind by Carroll. Three top USC juniors who are headed to the NFL along with Carroll: leading receiver Damian Williams, leading rusher Joe McKnight and defensive lineman Everson Griffen.
"This is an exciting day for all of the players," said quarterback Matt Barkley, who waited for Kiffin's arrival on the balcony at Heritage Hall overlooking USC's trophy cases, which contain seven Heisman trophies. "We're just glad we got a coach quick, and we're glad it's a competitive guy like Lane. I've known him since I was a freshman in high school. He recruited me."