AP Sports Writer
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."
Kiffin ran a competent program despite the loss of 30 scholarships over a three-season stretch that ends in 2015. But even Kiffin acknowledged he wasn't winning enough in the last two seasons at a school with USC's pedigree, and he also created off-the-field troubles ranging from ethically questionable tactics to pointless squabbles with media.
"Lane did negotiate some of these things remarkably well," Haden said. "I have supported Lane with my heart and soul for 3½ years and gave him every opportunity. He wasn't given a fair hand in a lot of ways. I said all along, we graded on the curve, but we failed on the curve, too."
The Trojans are off this week before returning Oct. 10 at the Coliseum against Arizona, giving Orgeron time to evaluate what can be done to salvage the season with the toughest matchups on USC's schedule still looming.
Kiffin went 28-15 in parts of four seasons in his self-described dream job, but USC is 0-2 in conference play for the first time since 2001 after losses to Arizona State and Washington State -- and the record only partly captures the discontent of USC's fans and alumni.
The Trojans were unimpressive on offense even in their three victories this season, stoking unease around a school with sky-high expectations even at the tail end of crippling NCAA penalties stemming from coach Pete Carroll's tenure.
Kiffin received withering criticism for persisting in calling the Trojans' offensive plays himself well into the school's second straight poor offensive season. The Trojans lost their home opener 10-7 to the Cougars earlier this month, and Coliseum fans serenaded USC repeatedly with chants of "Fire Kiffin!"
USC has been in a slow tailspin since going 10-2 and beating Oregon in 2011, the last year of its bowl ban. After starting as the preseason No. 1 last year, the Trojans finished 7-6 and out of the rankings -- the first preseason No. 1 in nearly a half-century to fall so far -- followed by this season's disappointments.
"I think it could easily be asked, 'Why not last year after the 7-6 season?'" Haden said. "'What do you know now that you didn't know after a 7-6 season?' The rationale was the prior year, Lane had won 10 games. We thought, and (were) hoping that last year was an aberration. We felt we could rebound, make some changes, and indeed, Lane did. ... But at the end of the day, we just weren't making the progress I felt we needed to make."
The firing comes less than five months after Haden said Kiffin had "been as good as he can be" in the face of USC's sanctions. Before this season began, Haden said he was "100 percent" behind the embattled Kiffin.