The scholarship restrictions gradually eroded the Trojans' depth, and last season's struggles clearly hurt the vaunted recruiting power of Kiffin and Orgeron. Between the sanctions and injuries, the Trojans played at Arizona State on Saturday night with 56 recruited scholarship players, well below its limit of 75 and the standard 85.
Kiffin largely stayed out of NCAA trouble at USC. But while everybody realized the challenges facing Kiffin and his staff, he didn't help his navigation of the Trojans' troubles with his standoffish personality and several strange ethical decisions.
Last year, USC was reprimanded by the Pac-12 for underinflating footballs before a loss to Oregon. Kiffin also was criticized for switching jersey numbers on players in an attempt to deceive the Trojans' opponents.
Kiffin even closed USC's practices to the public after years of transparency under Carroll, who embraced USC's tradition of raucous open workouts. The Trojans cited NCAA compliance as the reason for the decision, but it didn't sit well with fans and alumni.
This season, Kiffin also closed his practices to the media. He dithered on his choice of a starting quarterback, waiting until the third game of the season to select Cody Kessler over Max Wittek.
The offense has been largely terrible this season, but Kiffin was finally undone by another dreadful game by his defense, which had been solid under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast until Arizona State piled up 612 yards.
USC's next game is in 11 days, giving the Trojans a bye week to regroup and heal. USC hasn't announced the severity of a left knee injury for Lee, the Biletnikoff Award winner last year. He is expected to have his knee evaluated later Sunday in Los Angeles.
"It didn't look very good," Kiffin said after Saturday's game. "It didn't sound very good or look very good, so that's all I got for you."
Hours later, Lee's health became just one of the huge problems facing USC's proud, storied program.
"I think the guys on this team really do care and can turn this thing around," Kessler said a few hours before the firing was announced. "It's going to be hard — I'm not going to lie — but with the character and leadership that we have, we can do it."