— LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lane Kiffin triumphantly flew in from Tennessee nearly four years ago as the unlikely choice to extend Southern California's football renaissance.
When Kiffin's Trojans trudged home to that same airport early Sunday morning after another loss, athletic director Pat Haden couldn't wait another minute to end the divisive coach's tumultuous tenure.
USC fired Kiffin hours after a 62-41 loss at Arizona State that dropped the Trojans to 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12. The loss was the seventh in 11 games for a powerhouse program still struggling under the cumulative effect of NCAA sanctions, but unwilling to accept such a dramatic decline.
"It's never the perfect time to do these things, but I thought it was the right time," Haden said.
Ed Orgeron will be USC's interim head coach for the final eight games of the season before Haden chooses a permanent successor for one of college football's highest-profile jobs. Orgeron, Kiffin's assistant head coach and top recruiter, is the former Mississippi head coach.
Haden broke the news to Kiffin in a 3 a.m. meeting at the Trojans' private airport terminal, but not before a 45-minute chat in which Kiffin tried to change Haden's mind. Haden didn't hire Kiffin, but had been firmly behind the coach in public until Saturday, when the Trojans matched the most points allowed in school history.
"He did a lot of things well under some very difficult circumstances here," said Haden, who also fired men's basketball coach Kevin O'Neill during the season last January. "No one could have worked harder. He did a lot of the things we asked. Graduated players, never had compliance issues ... and he really worked under some very difficult NCAA sanctions, there's no doubt about it."