Kiffin, in his first public comments since being fired on Sept. 29, took the high road during an interview with Chris Fowler on ESPN’s “College GameDay” show in Seattle.
Kiffin said he had “a great passion” for USC and Trojans players and coaches.
“To have that taken away is very hard,” Kiffin said. “It’s been a very hard two weeks.”
Kiffin compiled a 28-15 record in three-plus seasons at USC after succeeding Pete Carroll in 2010. He inherited a program that was hit with some of the most severe sanctions in college football history, including the loss of 30 scholarships over three years.
Kiffin, 38, was fired by Athletic Director Pat Haden after the Trojans’ 62-41 loss at Arizona State. Kiffin did not reveal details about the night he was fired. He said Haden was “a great” athletic director and that “Pat has a very hard job.”
“Even though he may see what’s going on the inside and how hard it was to deal with the sanctions and a reduced roster, at the same time he has a lot of people to answer to,” Kiffin said. “So I appreciate Pat’s support over our 3-1/2 years there. It was phenomenal.”
Kiffin guided the Trojans to a 10-2 finish in 2011, but USC collapsed in the second half of the 2012 season. The Trojans lost to Washington State and Arizona State this season.
“We were able to manage through [sanctions] and have a great year at 10-2 and then it fell apart there toward the end,” he said. “Obviously, I’m to blame being the head coach. There’s a lot of things I should have done better but at the same time I’m very proud of our time there.”
Kiffin watched USC’s game against Arizona with Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian, who coached with Kiffin as an assistant under Carroll. Kiffin praised interim coach Ed Orgeron.
“Ed’s going to do a great job with them, “ Kiffin said, “and in the long term for Pat to be there for those kids, they’re in great hands at a great university, so that makes you happy too.”
After the victory over Arizona, Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler said, “I couldn’t ask for a better head coach right now,” and that players “would go to war” for Orgeron.
Kiffin praised Kessler and said, “By the time I woke up the next day, I had a text from Cody and from his mom and from his dad. I would expect nothing less from those kids to support the next coach and the next one after that.”
Kiffin indicated that he would probably return to coaching -- “It’s what I’ve done my whole life” -- but he appeared comfortable before the camera and later in the show as analyst.
“I will say this -- there’s not very much stress in this right here,” he said during the interview, adding that crew members were “wishing me luck before I came up. I said, ‘This is nothing.’”
Asked if he had examined why drama and turmoil seemed to surround him at his coaching stops, Kiffin said: “You’re always trying to figure yourself out and figure out mistakes that you’ve made. So, different things that I’ve done that I wouldn’t do again, you know, have followed me, and that’s the price that you pay when you make mistakes early on.”
Fowler ended the interview by asking Kiffin if he would root for the Trojans this year.
“Oh yeah,” Kiffin said. “Forever.”
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