Published as sent to OFD:
Going as far back as the 1920s, the University of Southern California (USC) football program has been regarded as one of the nation’s best. Great players like OJ Simpson and Marcus Allen ran all over defenses as legendary coaches like John McKay and John Robinson stalked the sidelines and won national championships. After the Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush led USC dynasty ended after the 2005 season, head coach Pete Carroll, the architect of said dynasty, led three consecutive Rose Bowl winning campaigns before leaving for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks on the eve of the Reggie Bush recruiting scandal after having the most Pac-10 (Now Pac-12) conference losses in his tenure in the 2009 football season. Since then, USC has posted an overall winning percentage 200 points lower than it was under Carroll, winning only one conference championship in 10 seasons after Carroll won seven consecutively. Has this impacted their national standing? Of course not. The newest misled notion is that the USC job will somehow be able to effectively lure former Ohio State and Florida coach Urban Meyer, a three-time national champion, out of retirement to help reinvigorate this fallen college football “powerhouse”. By analyzing both recruiting vs results as well as the coaches they have been forced to settle for in these past few seasons, the notion that USC still is a college football superpower is copiously overrated.
One of the main talking points that the Southern California football program appears to have in its favor is its location. Located in the city of Los Angeles and surrounded by high school football powerhouses like Mater Dei, St. John’s Bosco, and De La Salle, one could imagine that USC should be routinely pulling in the best and the brightest high school prospects in the state, right? You would be correct, as over the past ten seasons since Carroll has left. They have even held things down in their own state, as over the current recruits that occupy their own team (2016 class onward), they have successfully recruited at least one of the top three recruits onto their state. If they’ve been doing such a good job recruiting, why then have they only won one conference championship, despite doing such a tremendous job recruiting over the rest of the conference? Why then, have they had such a little impact on the national conversation? Why then, have they been surprised by programs the likes of Wisconsin, in terms of conference titles and Rose Bowl trips over the past decade? Why then, has their main rival, Notre Dame, had two bites at the apple of winning a national championship while USC has only managed two top-ten finishes? Why then, has UCLA turned what was a relatively lopsided rivalry with USC around, winning four out of the past seven matchups? Why then, have they been surpassed by the likes of Stanford and Washington, historically lesser football schools, in their own conference? The answer is simple, and it is what separates good teams with great recruits from great teams with great recruits. Coaching.
Every college football superpower, both new and old, legendary coaches that set their program out from the rest of the pack. Alabama has Bear Bryant. Penn State has Joe Paterno. Ohio State has Woody Hayes, and the School Up North has Bo Schembechler. Notre Dame has so many to choose from, with the likes of Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, and Lou Holtz all winning so many national championships and deserving of so many statues that they built a building full of them. USC, like stated before, has John McKay, John Robinson, and Pete Carroll all building USC into a national power. Since Carroll left, however, where have the bumbling, inexperienced, USC “family” Athletic Directors Pat Haden and Lynn Swann turned?
To replace the revered Carroll, he decided to hire Lane Kiffin, a former offensive coordinator with Southern Cal during their dynasty years under Carroll. After leaving USC, he lasted all of twenty games as the head coach of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders before Raiders owner Al Davis famously fired him in a 45-minute-long press conference where Davis read, in its entirety, a letter he sent to Kiffin saying that he “conned” the organization, in addition to calling Kiffin “immature” and “destructive”. After one 7-6 season at the University of Tennessee, where Kiffin tried to single-handedly tried to wage a war against Urban Meyer, told Super Bowl Champion Wide Receiver Alshon Jeffery he’d be pumping gas if he went to South Carolina (he did) and caused rioting on the streets of Knoxville when he left for the USC position. Surely, he’d be worth the trouble, right? Well, his crowning achievement at USC was tanking the pre-season no.1 team to a 7-6 record, and, to put the cherry on top, his “offensive genius” only put up a whopping seven total points in their bowl game against a Georgia Tech defense that was so porous in the regular season that they were operating under an interim defensive coordinator for the last seven games of the year. Five games later, and he was fired on the tarmac after a loss against Arizona State in which his team allowed 62 points. Okay, now that they have a head start and AD Pat Haden has a few years under his belt, surely, they’d get this one right, right? Well, after striking out on Boise State head coach Chris Petersen and alienating beloved interim head coach Ed Orgeron, he settled on Steve “Seven-Win-Sark” Sarkisian (only for Petersen to replace him at a less prestigious job, but I digress), famous for being Kiffin’s co-coordinator during the now-distant Carroll years and maxing out at 7-6 while the head coach at the University of Washington. After going 9-4 in year one, Haden then fired him five games into year two, Haden fires him (after trying to cover his alcohol abuse up) due to his increasing issues with alcoholism, including him showing up drunk at a booster fundraiser. To replace him for the remaining season, Haden went with offensive coordinator and current head coach Clay Helton, who ends the campaign with a 5-4 record (Orgeron went 6-2), and despite this mediocre record, Haden inexplicably gives him a 5-year contract before promptly retiring, saddling new AD Lynn Swann (another inexperienced AD who happened to be a USC player) with a coach who wasn’t his. Flash forward to now, where Helton, after having sort-of successful seasons with superstar QB Sam Darnold (blowout road losses, including losing 49-14 at Notre Dame, as well as a Rose Bowl win only due to asinine Penn State play calling) USC stands at a crossroads it has never faced before.
And just to top this off a bit, here is a tweet from Bill Connelly that will force a grin out of you: