USC Football: Six Things The Trojans Should Fix
USC Football is right around the corner and most fans are fired up.
Analysis abounds about the Trojans, although with the defense coming off a less than stellar year and Matt Barkley looking like an interception machine as of late, it seems as though pundits and fans alike are hesitant to go on record with predictions of a successful season.
However, there are also a few things regarding USC football that are missing from the glory days (besides high expectations).
Attendance at big Coliseum games is down about 20,000+ fans.
There have also been mysterious disappearances of a BCS National Championship Trophy, and a Heisman Trophy.
From the dining hall to Heritage Hall, many things have changed over the last few years.
Here are six issues with the current USC Trojans football program and suggestions on how they can possibly be fixed.
Problem #1: Athletic Director Pat Haden’s refusal to go on the offensive with the NCAA.
This proved to be a pointless endeavor, and was definitely not the will of the people. After the Reggie Bush debacle and the Ohio State and Cam Newton sagas, USC fans wanted, at the very least, to bloody the nose of the NCAA in the court of public opinion. The NCAA was and is running amok with ridiculous rulings--rulings that often counter their previous rulings and mission statements--and yet, there was Haden taking the “Let’s Hope They Do The Right Thing” approach. Most students and alumni took a "Haden Knows Best" stance and put their faith in him. In the end, USC’s denied appeal felt inevitable and the approach felt naive, combining to make USC fans feel as though they had been sucker-punched by the NCAA twice.
Fix: There is no true fix, but coming out to acknowledge the mistake in approach and announcing that USC is back would be a pretty cool move. Such a statement would be inconceivable for a tempered guy like Haden, but the time for the measured approach is over. USC is losing season ticket holders in droves, and a bold prediction from the man at the top could inspire confidence and sell some tickets.
Problem #2: The program’s singular focus on the fact that USC is a pro-football-player factory.
This is a source of pride for the program, and for good reason. No other program sends more players to the NFL, and with more regularity, than USC. However, focusing on this fact has reached epidemic proportions during the “Sanctions Era” and takes away from the true goal: Winning. Winning is what turned USC into an NFL factory, not the other way around.
Fix: Head coach Lane Kiffin, just like Haden, needs to come out and acknowledge that 8-5 is unacceptable and start making some bold predictions. New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is famous for verbally writing checks that his woefully out of shape body could never cash. This gives his players the opportunity to step up both their game and their achievements, as well as gets fans fired up.
Problem #3: Kiffin has been muzzled for past media indiscretions.
Fix: Take the young pup off his leash. He proved in 2010 that he can play nice with the media. He has finally ditched the mumbling routine of 2010 and now he has to find that happy medium between brash, shoot-from-the-hip coach and tempered, veteran coach. It won’t be the hardest thing he’s ever accomplished.
Problem #4: Kiffin's staff lacks discipline.
No, this doesn’t mean that the coaches themselves have no discipline; by all accounts they are true workhorses. The staff alluded many times to the fact that Pete Carroll was too “buddy-buddy” with the players and that those days were over. And yet, the staff lacks a true disciplinarian. Monte Kiffin doesn’t fit the bill. He is a meticulous, professor-type who is constantly thinking, analyzing and scheming for game-day. Lane Kiffin, Joe Barry and Willie Mack Garza have also proven to be more from that mold. And last, but not least, the guy that most people point to as the disciplinarian, defensive line Coach Ed Orgeron, DEFINITELY is not that guy. Yelling and cursing only takes you so far. By the end of the year, if not the beginning, the players have all but tuned out Orgeron’s blustery act. Orgeron amuses the players more than intimidates them and he is simply miscast as the “fist” of the coaching staff.
Fix: The softer approach of Carroll and now Kiffin has worn thin and is simply not working anymore. It appears the coaching staff feels that discipline is a problem, as evidenced by the extra conditioning drills the Trojans are doing this year. Kiffin must step up and fill the role of disciplinarian, even if he is as unfit for the job as Orgeron. The voices of tough guys like offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu, safeties’ assistant Sammie Knight and wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore can only go so far. If being a disciplinarian is truly foreign to Kiffin, he would be wise to take the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan approach. Conspire with team leaders like Matt Barkley and TJ McDonald. Go to them ahead of time and tell them, “I’m going to ride you hard today in front of everybody," in order to set a standard for the rest of the team.
Problem #5: The student body has been banned from attending practice.
This, not the hands-off approach to the NCAA appeal, is the most egregious mistake committed by new AD Haden. According to the sanctions, USC must “prohibit non-university personnel from attending practices and camps.” This cannot possibly apply to the student-body and if it does, it is yet another thing Haden should’ve fought harder for during the appeals process. Most students don’t realize or care that they once were allowed at practice, but for the few students who used to attend practices, especially those who were just walking by, had the courage to walk up to the door and were told that they could come in if they had student I.D., attending practices was pretty special.
Fix: This one is simple: Keep distractions like Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell out (sorry, Will) and let the kids back in.
Problem #6: The new athletic department leadership is not growing the Trojan brand.
This is a massive mistake considering that the days of Coliseum games consistently drawing 90,000 fans are at least three years in the rearview mirror. 2010’s colossal matchup with then undefeated #1 Oregon failed to entice 90,000 fans. The game drew 88,726--3,000 more (on paper at least) than the Notre Dame rain game. Last year’s Arizona State game drew 68,744, the lowest attendance for a Coliseum game since 2003. Haden has done a serviceable job preserving USC’s respectability but, as the "Bowl Ban" penalties are about to wear off, it is once again time to start getting the Trojan name back in the limelight.
Fix: Multiple steps need to be taken in order for this to happen. Unfortunately, the free advice portion of the show is over, so a good first step would be to see #2 above and just get back to winning.
Reach Ryan by email.