USC Trojans: Pete Carroll
The first practice was on speed dial. The tempo was frenetic. The energy was palpable.
The Steve Sarkisian Era opened in a blur with the new head coach happily immersed in the middle of his revolutionary -- for USC, at least -- no-huddle offense, calling the plays, communicating with his quarterbacks and carefully positioning his running backs and receivers.
It was a happy, upbeat afternoon full of unbridled hope and surging optimism.
And while this is not meant to deflate anything that is just starting out and beginning to build, if Sarkisian wants to succeed where his predecessor failed, he needs to understand one major facet of the job that Lane Kiffin never grasped.
He needs to spend at least a portion of his practice time with the defense.
Granted, it was just one practice, but the truth is he didn’t do much of that on Tuesday. He is an offense-oriented coach, and it is understandable. His priority is on that side of the ball. Moreover, he trusts the talented new coordinator he brought with him from Washington, Justin Wilcox, to take care of the defense.
But to many of those USC fans who suffered through the Kiffin regime, that tendency is more than a little scary. They watched Kiffin spend all his time at practice with the offense, rarely, if ever, wandering down to observe a defensive drill. They saw him during games staring at his now infamous play card, even while his team was desperately trying to stop an opposing offense. They would see him talking to a quarterback or a wideout but never to a linebacker or safety.
Whatever else you thought of him, there was no denying that Kiffin was a one-dimensional coach.
The great Trojan coaches of the past never did. John McKay was famous for developing Tailback U, but the rock-solid foundation of his teams was always a ferocious defense. Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Anthony Davis and Co. were electrifying, but so was The Wild Bunch.
It was the same with John Robinson, who preached a strong, power-running game while making sure there were guys like Ronnie Lott, Chip Banks and Joey Browner to attend to the less-glamorous side.
And then, of course, there was Pete Carroll, who was a defensive guy first and foremost, although he did manage to recruit plenty of athletes like Matt Leinart, Mike Williams and Reggie Bush to light up scoreboards around the country.
The point is, the coaches who have been overwhelmingly successful in college football are those who have taken equal interest in offense and defense.
Now, this is not to say Sarkisian won’t do that. Maybe he will. But as a noted offensive guru and, like Kiffin, a coach who refuses to give up the play-calling duties, it definitely is more difficult. You naturally become more attached to that facet of the job.
Based on his time in Washington, the evidence is that Sarkisian definitely has room for improvement in that area. In his first couple of seasons with the Huskies, while the team’s offense and overall record were better, the defense was deplorable. In 2011, Washington finished 105th or lower nationally in scoring defense, pass defense and total defense.
Once he brought in Wilcox, those numbers changed dramatically. By 2013, Washington was in the top 35 in scoring defense and 11th in pass defense.
But while Sarkisian seems to have found the right defensive coordinator, he also has to show he is not just there to delegate on defense. Make no mistake, the players will know.
One of the main reasons Ed Orgeron was so warmly embraced in his time as interim head coach a year ago is that the kids saw how involved he was on both sides of the ball. When Dion Bailey or Devon Kennard made a big, rally-killing play on defense, Orgeron wasn’t standing 10 yards down the sideline studying his next play-calling options. He was right there, cheering and enthusiastically slapping them on the backs.
Again, it is way too early to predict precisely what kind of coach Sarkisian will be for the Trojans. And one practice is far too soon to evaluate his methods.
But the warning signs are there, and if he’s as smart as Pat Haden, J.K. McKay and others seem to think he is, Sarkisian will not only be aware of them, he will do something about them.
Remember, Sark, in your rush to become the next great coach at USC, the mantra is really simple:
- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez gives the low-down on his team as it gets ready for spring practices.
- Arizona State makes a hire to boost recruiting.
- More from a Q&A with California coach Sonny Dykes.
- A thorough preview of Colorado heading into spring practices.
- Not surprisingly, Oregon folks think the proposed 10 second rule is "baloney."
- Former QB Lyle Moevao joins a crew of former Oregon State players working as Beavers GAs.
- A look at Stanford's big issues this spring.
- UCLA has announced its spring football dates, so plan accordingly.
- Former USC coach Pete Carroll makes several accurate observations about the travesty that was the NCAA's treatment of the Trojans.
- New Utah offensive coordinator Dave Christensen says he wants competition at QB, whether Travis Wilson is permanently cleared or not.
- Five issues for Washington heading into spring practices.
- A scouting report on former Washington State safety Deone Bucannon. This is about Washington State basketball coach Ken Bone, but I think there are well-expressed sentiments in it that certainly touch how we talk about football coaches.
Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. We keep typing that because it's for your own good.
To the notes.
Ben from Los Angeles writes: Ted, I agree that parity has changed the Pac-12. The differences are negligible among the top recruiting schools. I think it's unlikely that the differences will account for the conference champion. When Pete Carroll coached at USC, it had a big talent advantage almost every week. No more, and I'm not sure it will return. USC couldn't fill 19 slots with top-150 players, so how will six more slots deliver superiority? Practice players, but not superiority. All the schools have money, all the CA schools are good schools (UW, too); the coaching has spiked. Who wants to be third team when you can start at another good school, with a good coach?
Ted Miller: The Pac-12 has reached a perhaps unprecedented state of quality depth, but parity probably isn't the right word. The last time a team other than Oregon or Stanford won the Pac-12/10 was USC in 2008, which at that time was riding a streak of six consecutive conference titles.
(Washington State fans: Which was the last team to win the conference not named USC, Oregon or Stanford? Anyone? Anyone?)
But I understand your general point, which concerns USC returning to the dominance of the Pete Carroll Era. Yet even there I don't completely agree.
Simple question: If Nick Saban were named USC's coach tomorrow, what would be the over-under for national titles over the next 10 years? Five? The potential for another USC dynasty is there, and it would be easier to build one at USC than any other Pac-12 school.
While the Pac-12 is unquestionably deeper than it has traditionally been, I do not think that guarantees that USC, the conference's biggest national brand, can't again become, at the very least, first among equals -- see Alabama in the SEC.
It certainly won't be easy, in large part because the conference has upgraded its coaching quality across the board. But the Trojans' late run in recruiting under Steve Sarkisian suggests the USC brand retains allure among young athletes, and not only in Southern California. UCLA coach Jim Mora said as much in an interview with Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports.
"We're still fighting the years and years of great teams that Southern Cal had," Mora said. "A lot of these kids in the area grew up watching Reggie Bush and the other greats. What we're trying to do is turn the tide as quickly as we can, but sometimes it's a little slower than you want, but it all starts with winning the game. I am so excited with the local kids that we signed."
(Notice how he said "Southern Cal." USC folks don't like to be called that, so much so that it's noted in the football media guide and weekly game notes).
How much difference would it have made for USC to have a full array of 25 scholarships, which it will next February? I think a lot -- as in top-five class a lot.
Sarkisian and his staff are relentless and enthusiastic recruiters. They have a chance to perennially sign classes that are in the battle for best in the nation, just like Carroll.
Of course, it's the job of the other 11 Pac-12 coaches, starting with Mora, to make sure that doesn't happen.
And, by the way, there's also the larger question of whether Sark and his staff can coach those Trojans players up as well as Carroll and his staff, which included Sarkisian, once did.
Ted Miller: I have no idea. No one does. New year. New coaching staff. New offense. And none of those guys has any significant experience.
Lindquist, a rising sophomore, would have a slight advantage just by being the most senior guy. I have heard good things about Williams. I think Carta-Samuels, an incoming freshman, would be a huge long shot.
But this is pure speculation. For one, we should wait and see how the investigation plays out. If I were a betting man, I'd wager Miles doesn't get kicked off the team.
Ted Miller: Stanford loses RB Tyler Gaffney and four outstanding offensive linemen, but Stanford won't lose its identity in 2014. The Cardinal offense will be a run-first, smashmouth team.
For one, I expect LT Andrus Peat, a rising true junior, to develop into an All-American next year. So QB Kevin Hogan's blind side should be well-covered. Further, the offensive line won't be as inexperienced as it appears because the Cardinal's "jumbo" packages have allowed guys such as guards Josh Garnett and Johnny Caspers and OT Kyle Murphy to get plenty of experience the past two seasons.
There might be some growing pains, but this will be a good line. If it stays healthy, it probably will be as good as any Pac-12 line by season's end.
As for running back, that's more a question mark. Remound Wright, Ricky Seale and Barry Sanders all have skills, but none of them had more than 20 carries last year. Heck, incoming freshman Christian McCaffrey might even get into the mix.
Still, even with Hogan and all his receivers coming back, I don't think you'll see the Cardinal throw the ball 40 times a game. They might throw more, but David Shaw isn't going to abandon a style that has paved the way for consecutive Pac-12 titles.
Ted Miller: Someone needs to go down to hell and see if it's frozen over. Oh, never mind -- I'll just call Nick Saban and ask.
This might not mean much to many of you, but Gerald has been a longtime Pac-12 blog and mailbag gadfly. Not sure what to make of this note.
Perhaps someone has stolen his mailbag handle and the real Gerald will read this and his head will explode.
Perhaps Gerald has joined a 12-step program for trolling.
Perhaps Gerald had a good weekend in Vegas, which included taking the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Perhaps he's just trying to soften us up before launching a counterattack to our unguarded flank.
Or perhaps this will start a trend, and all of the Pac-12's blog myriad and often profane critics will suddenly see the error of their ways and profess only love for your kindly Pac-12 insiders.
Wait. That would be incredibly boring. Let's not let that happen.
2. What strikes me about Carroll’s double is how few men who won a national championship even tried to coach in the NFL. Beginning in 1936, when the Associated Press began its poll, I counted 15: in addition to the four coaches above, add Dan Devine, Dennis Erickson, Lou Holtz, John McKay, John Robinson, Bobby Ross, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Gene Stallings, Jock Sutherland and Bud Wilkinson.
3. It’s early, I know, but Notre Dame is already shaping up as one of the most interesting stories going into the 2014 season. Quarterback Everett Golson is back, but the anchor of the defensive line, nose tackle Louis Nix III left early for the NFL, and coach Brian Kelly has new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Not to mention slipping from 12-1 in 2012 to 9-4 last season. This will be Kelly’s fifth season in South Bend. The last coach employed at Notre Dame for more than five seasons? Lou Holtz (1986-96).
To many, Pete Carroll is football’s version of Peter Pan, Robin Hood, The Fonz, or just a latent adolescent inside a lovable rogue.
To others, Carroll is football’s version of Rhett Butler, Prof. Harold Hill, or Ferris Bueller combined with the charismatic inconsistencies of Bill Clinton.
With just six days remaining before the Trojans' former legendary football coach guides his Seahawks into Super Bowl XLVIII against the AFC championship Denver Broncos, Carroll still remains for many a polarizing figure in Trojans history.
During Carroll’s illustrious Trojans coaching career, the former University of Pacific safety won two national championships, seven consecutive Pac-12 titles and 34 consecutive games. He sent waves of players to the NFL such as Troy Polamalu, Carson Palmer, Shaun Cody, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Ryan Kalil, Lofa Tatupu, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Sam Baker, and the list goes on and on.
For good measure, Carroll’s Trojans were the AP's No. 1 team for a national-record 33 straight polls and were ranked in the AP Top 10 for a school-record 63 consecutive games. In his nine seasons at Troy, Carroll’s record was 83-18, and he received almost every coaching award imaginable.
Carroll’s infectious enthusiasm, boyish charm and choirboy persona mesmerized recruits, families of recruits, boosters and fans, the rubber chicken circuit, and, yes, even the media with his extroverted and charming personality.
Like an all-time Broadway hit, the Pete Carroll Show returned to the NFL after a great performance run in college, and fans of the Seattle Seahawks are watching, enjoying and enthusiastically supporting a near carbon copy of the Beatles-like euphoria that Trojans fans once knew.
However, despite Carroll’s undeniable accomplishments, magnetic personality and movie star looks, he is still associated with the Reggie Bush catastrophe and ensuing NCAA sanctions.
Regardless if Carroll did or did not know about the Bush fiasco, as much as his on-field triumphs and off-field civic involvement are of positive public record, so is the fact that the “Prince of L.A.” left USC ahead of the NCAA posse, escaped the posse and violated his own mantra of “protect the team.”
USC gave Carroll the opportunity to rehabilitate his career. Although it will rankle many, the way Carroll left USC holding the NCAA sanctions bag should not be swept under the Coliseum rug. Carroll left the program he built into a Goliath with three years of hard NCAA labor and a series of sanctions -- just or unjust -- for others to pay.
They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Carroll’s version of that cliché was to get going back to NFL, and in a video response at the time to the NCAA sanctions announcement, Carroll said he was “absolutely shocked and disappointed in the findings of the NCAA.”
Yes, Carroll was shocked and disappointed, but the NCAA didn’t control the USC football program. Carroll did. If the NCAA had it in for the Trojans, Carroll still was one to lead them back out of the mess. What happened to being a role model?
Is there anybody that doesn’t believe that things might have been different for Troy had Carroll seen his program through the horrendous NCAA sanctions waters and showed the world and USC how to survive through extreme adversity?
In 2010, Pro Football Talk writer Mike Florio asked Carroll why he left USC, which Carroll knew was under NCAA investigation, and Carroll replied, “My coming to Seattle was for one reason. This is an extraordinary opportunity. This is an NFL dream opportunity for me and it had nothing to do with anything that was going on at any time.”
Carroll added, “That ongoing investigation was five years in the making anyway. Why wouldn’t I have left some other time?”
It may have been a “dream” opportunity for Pete Carroll, but it left USC with a nightmare. With the appearance of perfect timing, the fact is that Carroll left USC just in the nick of time. Coincidence? You be the judge.
In all fairness, Carroll had every right to return to the NFL and prove he could be a major factor as an NFL head coach. Judging by this season’s Seahawks, he accomplished that and can accomplish more with a victory on Sunday.
After this Sunday’s Super Bowl, Carroll could put the Lombardi Trophy into his vast closet of awards, but also somewhere in that closet is a skeleton that brought upon the darkest moment in USC football history.
Rooting for Carroll on Super Sunday?
The choice is yours.
If the famed singing duo were to change the lyrics of their celebrated song to relate to the 2014 Trojans fullback position, they might croon, “Where have you gone, Sam Cunningham, a Trojans nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo). What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson, Sam Bam has left and gone away (Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey).”
In the evolution of football, the once famous fullback position could be the gridiron’s version of the dinosaur. Your children may one day ask, “Hey, dad, what’s a fullback and did the Trojans ever really have one?”
Through no fault of their own, new Trojans head football coach Steve Sarkisian and his colleagues across the country have been rapidly changing the face of collegiate offenses by adjusting to the new rules, formations, speed of the game and the spread-the-defense mentality. It’s now all now part of the college football and even NFL landscapes. It would appear the days of the fullback as we know it are numbered.
While he is still evolving in a new direction for his own offensive philosophy, Sarkisian can still remember how useful the fullback was during his assistant days under former Trojans coach Pete Carroll.
Carroll, a defensive guru by trade, realized how much damage could be inflicted on an offense from a fullback, especially coming out of the backfield like he did with current Indianapolis Colt fullback Stanley Havili. One doesn’t have to jog a Trojans memory too far back to recall how Havili (2006-10), whose running ability was only superseded by his pass routes out of the backfield, caused havoc to mismatched linebackers.
The thought of no fullback in a Trojans backfield causes one to reminisce those beasts who once blocked for all those Heisman Trophy winning tailbacks. In fact, one of the great USC trivia questions has always been who blocked for all-time tailbacks Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson, Anthony Davis, Charles White, and Marcus Allen?
Of course the great irony with 1979 Heisman Trophy winner Charles White is that his lead blocker was a young fullback named Marcus Allen. Allen has always maintained that his service as a fullback helped develop his skills as a devastating tailback.
In the case of Davis, Hall of Famer Sam “Bam” Cunningham (1970-72) led the way and when Santa Barbara Sam was crushing linebackers to clear the way for A.D., he was also busy diving over the top for a Trojans score. Cunningham’s four touchdown leaps over Woody Hayes’ Ohio State defensive in the 1973 Rose Bowl are legendary.
There probably has never been a more bruising and brutal fullback in Trojans lore than the late Mosi Tatupu (1974-77), the Hawaiian bone crusher, whose All-American son, Lofa, starred for Carroll’s 2004 national champions as a linebacker. Mosi was expertly used during his junior and senior year under Hall of Fame coach John Robinson, who once said, “Trying to tackle Mosi is like trying to tackle a Coke machine.”
Robinson had another two-way fullback/tailback in Lynn Cain (1977-78), who followed Tatupu. Cain was an All-American JC tailback out of East Los Angeles College, but Robinson turned the former L.A. Roosevelt prep star into a multi-purpose tailback/fullback. By having Cain as a running and blocking threat, opposing defenses couldn’t exclusively key on White. Cain was instrumental in helping the Trojans to the 1978 national championship.
Not all the Trojans’ fullbacks have been national household names. There was Danny Scott (1966-68), who teamed with Simpson. Scott, who played at Pico Rivera (Calif.) El Rancho High and transferred to USC from Cerritos (Calif.) College, was a human battering ram at just 5-foot-10 and 207 pounds.
In the mid-80s, the Trojans had another stud fullback out of Banning High in Carson, California. Leroy Holt (1986-89) was known more for carrying the football than just blocking. Holt’s playing skills may not have been as important as his leadership skills in helping guide the Trojans into the 1989 Rose Bowl game. Most players referred to Holt as the team’s spiritual leader. Making fullback Holt unique is that he still ranks No. 21 in USC career rushing (1,825 yards), and those numbers say he is the greatest running fullback in USC history.
There have been other fullbacks who played a major role in the storied history of USC. Consider yourself a Trojans historian if you remember the names of Big Ben Wilson, Ron Heller, Mike “Bambi” Hull, David Farmer, Deon Strother, Scott Lockwood and Terry Barnum. No, not forgotten is the late All-America tailback Ricky Bell, whose Trojans offensive career began as a John McKay fullback.
So the Trojans have their history of extraordinary fullbacks, but the question is rapidly becoming this: Have we seen the last of the USC fullback?
USC’s new head coach was more of a coach-in-waiting last weekend as he met with parents, players and coaches in Las Vegas before officially taking over the reins following USC’s 45-20 win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Sarkisian watched the game from a suite in the press box along with USC athletic director Pat Haden and met with the team as the players boarded the team bus after the game.
“I want them to enjoy it and embrace it,” said Sarkisian, 39. “I couldn't be more proud of them, that they were able to come out and perform the way they did. They deserve it. I just tried to stay out of the way, the best I could. Now I get to get my hands on them and get going -- and there's a lot to work with, that's for sure.”
Before Sarkisian gets going, he sat down with ESPNLosAngeles.com for a wide-ranging interview about taking over the team and about his plans for the future of USC football.
ESPNLA: When Lane Kiffin was fired five games into the season, most figured Pat Haden would spend the final two months of the season trying to secure a “home run” hire to replace him. No disrespect, but after a 34-29 record at Washington, you were not viewed as a” home run hire” by many. Why do you think you’re the right hire for USC?
Sarkisian: I think I’m one of their own. I’ve always considered myself a part of the Trojan family. I come here with a dedication to do everything in my power for them, to work my tail of to get this place back to where it needs to be and belongs to be. I’ve got rich ties to this program. I was here in some of the best years this program has ever had. I think we have an exciting, innovative offense that will kick-start this program and make it the dynamic program offensively that we know we can be. I know I’m going to recruit Southern California extremely well. But at the end of the day, whether you agree with my hiring or not, let’s judge the hiring three or four years down the road. Then come tell me if you think it was a good hire or not. I’m like a recruit. Every coach probably has stars on them. I don’t know if I’m a three-, four- or five-star coach, but that really doesn’t matter in recruiting. It’s the results that you have that really earn those stars so we’ll go see how many stars I can earn.
ESPNLA: Lane Kiffin left Tennessee after one season to come back to coach USC. You left what you had built at Washington over five years to come back and coach USC. You both could have carved your own paths elsewhere but came back. What is it about the USC job that makes it a “dream job” for you?
Sarkisian: I was born and raised in Southern California. I’ve watched the USC football program from the first day I can remember watching football. They won Rose Bowls and national championships and had all those great players. In my youth, those were some of the best years ever in USC history, in the 1970s. I’ve always held on to that. I also had my time here as an assistant coach with Pete [Carroll] and some of the great memories and experiences and teams that we had. So for me, when this opportunity came, I had to take it.
What makes it unique for me is, first of all, it's home, second, the rich history and tradition that this place has, and third, I can vividly remember talking to Pete as a young coach. He asked me, “What do you want? What are you looking for in this profession? Where are you headed?” I told him, “I want your job.” I remember saying that to him a long time ago. I think this is the best job in America. People come here to be the best and that’s why I chose to come here.
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Trojans red hot on and off field
It could be argued USC is the hottest team in the country after beating No. 4 Stanford this past Saturday. All of the success on the field also has given the Trojans a ton of recruiting momentum. In front of a packed house of recruits, including No. 7 overall prospect Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and Alabama four-star offensive tackle commit Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial), the Trojans put on a show that brought back memories of the glory years of Pete Carroll. The victory generated a lot of positive comments from recruits, and now it's cool to have USC on your list again. It will be interesting to see how seriously USC looks at Ed Orgeron as a candidate for the Trojans' coaching position, because recruits certainly are warming up to the idea. "If Coach O isn't there, then I'm not looking at USC anymore," one top prospect said. "I would follow that guy anywhere."
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Standing outside the Los Angeles Coliseum locker room entrance, Haden simply stated: “They have hope now.”
Without the return of “hope,” the Trojans' likelihood of upsetting arch-rival Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday night would have been harder than former USC head coach Lane Kiffin not calling for a bubble screen or a fade. The Irish could have been primed for one of its most satisfying poundings of this series.
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Is the USC head coaching position really wide open, or is Pat Haden merely conducting a perfunctory search while knowing that Jack Del Rio is already his guy? It’s an interesting question, and the answers you get from connected boosters vary . . .
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Lane Kiffin has suffered through the slings and arrows from media and fans during all three of his head-coaching stops, so the distinguishing aspect of USC's news conference on Sunday over his termination was that no one said anything bad about Kiffin.
Athletic director Pat Haden, who deemed it "disrespectful" to talk about his upcoming coaching search, started by thanking Kiffin and lauding his effort. He said he had received no complaints about Kiffin from assistant coaches or players. Interim coach Ed Orgeron said Kiffin was always receptive to him and said he would have handled the early-season QB controversy the same way. The players said they had been 100 percent behind Kiffin.
Haden also again noted that Kiffin had been handed a tough job. Severe NCAA sanctions undoubtedly made it more difficult to win like USC is accustomed to winning.
And yet ...
"I’ve said all along, we’ve graded on a curve," Haden said, "but we failed on the curve, too."
Haden said he made his final decision during the Trojans' 62-41 loss at Arizona State, but he also noted that "this has been brewing for a while. It hadn't felt particularly good, even since the Hawaii game."
Haden said he and Kiffin met for 45 minutes at the airport after the USC charter landed around 3 a.m. Haden admitted that Kiffin was blindsided and fought for his job.
"Lane was clearly disappointed," Haden said. "Lane is a great recruiter. He battled me. He really tried to keep his job and I respect that."
There will be changes with Kiffin gone. For one, Orgeron said QBs coach Clay Helton will take over as offensive coordinator and playcaller, though Orgeron added that he didn't think the offense would change much philosophically. Cody Kessler will remain the starting QB.
Orgeron also said USC will again open practices to the media.
"I want us to have some fun over these next eight games and let the chips fall where they may," he said.
Of course, the first question is whether Orgeron has a chance to become permanent head coach. Orgeron was head coach at Ole Miss from 2005 to 2007, so he knows the basics of running a program and he has a long history at USC, ranging back to the glory days under Pete Carroll. To this, Orgeron would merely say he is focused on the Trojans' next eight games, but he didn't seem to want to close the door on the possibility.
It will be interesting to see how the players react. Orgeron is as fiery a coach as there is in the nation, and his intensity works on players in practice, games and in recruiting. But can he re-motivate a team that is pretty media savvy when it comes to saying the right things to reporters at news conferences but that also seems pretty indifferent on the field?
We'll get our first impression when Arizona visits on Oct. 10, a Thursday night game.
Said Orgeron, "We're here to answer the bell."
The Trojans’ Class of 2014 recruiting efforts mirrored the product on the field. There were a few bright spots like highly regarded ESPN 300 defensive end Malik Dorton (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), ESPN 300 linebacker D.J. Calhoun (El Cerrito, Calif./El Cerrito) and ESPN 300 offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra), but it was also a class full of incompletions, fumbles and big misses.
You have to win the recruiting wars in Los Angeles if you’re going to dominate at USC. It’s something that Pete Carroll figured out the second he stepped into Heritage Hall, but Kiffin was never able to fully embrace.
However, the Trojans now have a chance to reset things.
If USC makes the right hire, there’s still a real chance to lure a number of the West’s best prospects. Twenty-seven of the Top 100 and eight of the top 15 prospects in California have yet to make up their minds.
Plus, there will be kids who are committed to other schools that will take a long look at the Trojans again with a new coach in charge. You can bet that players like ESPN 300 offensive lineman and Alabama commit Viane Talamaivao (Corona, Calif./Centennial), ESPN 300 athlete and Arizona commit Marquis Ware (Los Angeles/Salesian), Elite 11 quarterback and Miami commit Brad Kaaya (West Hills, Calif./Chaminade) and many other committed players in California will get calls from the new USC staff.
In recruiting, nothing can erase the errors of the old and give a school some new momentum like a coaching change.
USC now has the chance to right its recruiting wrongs. Coupled with the fact recruits and high school coaches still consider the Trojans Los Angeles’ football team, USC’s run to signing day in February could alter the Pac-12 for years to come.
While Carroll's dynastic run at USC was notoriously about non-stop competition, he also understood team dynamics. He believed that it was important to name a starting quarterback as soon as possible. When he saw separation, he believed a starter should be "anointed." And, yes, that was the term he used.
"Part of the reason for naming [Sanchez] is to see [leadership] come out," Carroll told me in 2008. "He wasn't able to show it. He hadn't been anointed yet."
That formal anointing allowed the quarterback to gain and then demonstrate confidence. He became the offensive leader.
In the spring of 2011, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, formerly Carroll's offensive coordinator, leaned on this lesson when he opted to name Keith Price his starter over Nick Montana.
In all three cases, a coach made a decision and it turned out to be the right one. That is what good coaches do. They use their wisdom and intuition to make decisions that help their football team reach its potential.
At a place like USC, "reach its potential," means winning and winning big. And that is -- critically -- where USC coach Lane Kiffin, who also coached under Carroll, has fallen short. He has made decisions and they have turned out to be the wrong ones. Those wrong decisions now have him riding an 8-7 record since his team started the 2012 season ranked No. 1.
When judging Kiffin, that is what matters: The concrete decisions he makes and the real-world results of those decisions. It's not about folks who have never talked to him one-on-one judging his personality or character. It's not about the perception that he's smug or hasn't paid his coaching dues. Forget perception and personality. It's about results.
Two games into the 2013 season, after a miserably disappointing 2012 campaign, those results have been terrible, at least in the specific areas that Kiffin oversees: offense and quarterbacks. Though Clay Helton is the titular quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, Kiffin's decision -- another bad one -- to retain play-calling duties this fall makes him responsible entirely for the results on offense.
Of course, a defense lawyer pleading Kiffin's case could try to change the narrative. He could say USC doesn't have a Leinart, Sanchez or even a Price on its roster. He could say the QB competition was too close to call -- to anoint -- at the end of spring practices. He could say Kiffin should be able to call plays because it's his team, as Carroll called plays on defense and Sarkisian calls his offensive plays. He could say USC is leading with its stout defense. He could say NCAA sanctions are hurting Kiffin's offense.
He could say the season is far from over, and that would be unquestionably true.
The easy and decisive counter to all that is to wheel in a TV and turn on a replay of the loss to Washington State. To use a Kiffin phrase, "It is what it is." And that is horrific. If the prosecutor wanted to pile on, he'd then make it a double-feature with the Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.
Yet, it's also easy to counter each defense argument.
QB talent? Max Wittek was No. 3 and Cody Kessler was No. 29 in the ESPN.com ranking of QB recruits in 2011. True freshman Max Browne was the No. 2 QB in the 2013 class. Young QBs across the country are putting up big numbers, most of whom were lower rated than these guys.
Competition too close to call? There wasn't an observer during spring practices who didn't believe Kessler had outplayed Wittek.
Call his own plays because it's his team? As the head coach, it's his job to judge performance objectively. By any measure, USC's offensive playcaller in 2012 failed at his job. He also certainly failed through two games this season.
Leading with a stout defense? Well, take a look at the scoreboard. That stout defense needed more help if winning remains the goal.
NCAA sanctions? Really? You'd use that argument after losing at home to a team that has averaged 9.8 losses per season over the past five years?
Kiffin's chief problem in 2012 was getting distracted by little things. He seemed consumed with gimmicks and gamesmanship. He hasn't seemed to grasp the fundamental fact of coaching USC: If superior players execute well, they win just about every time.
USC still has superior players. While that advantage might not be as decisive these days when matched with Oregon and Stanford, or even a rising UCLA, it certainly is when standing opposite Washington State.
Kiffin made a pair of decisions entering the 2013 season: 1. He would retain play-calling duties; 2. He would play two quarterbacks. After two games, those decisions are abject failures by even charitable measures.
Based on the "Fire Kiffin" chants in the Coliseum as the clock wound down last weekend, more than a few folks are done with charitable measures.
It's no secret that in the Los Angeles sports market, winning is a major component to filling the vastness of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which lists a capacity of 93,607.
Nobody has done football winning at the collegiate level in the City of Angels quite like the University of Southern California Trojans. With such accomplishments as 11 national championships, 37 conference titles, 46 bowl appearances and six Heisman Trophy winners, you'd think that would be enough to draw the masses into its fabled home in Exposition Park.
Filling the Coliseum for games against rival UCLA and Notre Dame rarely has been a problem. Others on the schedule, though, have been the challenge to put bodies in seats. USC always has had its core fans, but it takes more than that to fill the Coliseum on a weekly basis. It takes superstars, as well.
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