The University of Southern California Trojans have long been one of the mighty powerhouses of college football. With nearly 800 all-time wins, 38 conference titles, six Heisman Trophy winners, 49 bowl trips and 10 claimed national championships, USC is easily considered one of the elite programs in college football.
But lately, USC just hasn't looked like USC.
NCAA sanctions, brought on by the action (or inaction) of former players and coaches have certainly had an impact on the program's recent success—or lack thereof. But Trojans fans are beginning to train their crosshairs on a new target: current head coach Lane Kiffin—and for good reason, too.
Kiffin probably knows what people think of him. Then again, being a head football coach at a program like USC can lead to tunnel vision and living in the proverbial bubble. Maybe he doesn't see what is happening around him among the Trojan faithful. Maybe it's time he's clued in to the feelings of USC fans, and who are we to withhold what is so sorely needed?
To help out Coach Kiffin, and for some therapeutic venting, here's our open letter to Lane Kiffin from the standpoint of a frustrated USC fan.
Dear Coach Kiffin,
By now you must be fully aware that the University of Southern California is a very special place. In addition to our amazing football program, USC is one of the nation's great educational institutions. Needless to say, students, alumni and fans take great pride in associating themselves with USC.
Lately, however, we fans have become increasingly concerned with the direction our beloved football program has taken. There are a number of problems we see from our admittedly comfortable position in the stands and in armchairs across the nation. Nevertheless, we think it's time we let you know exactly where we stand in the hopes that you may better understand our expectations, and maybe, just maybe change the current trajectory of the Trojans.
That pride we mentioned? Funny as it may seem, it was on full display this past season when fans and players alike took to social media to disparage the Sun Bowl and the host city of El Paso, Texas.
As funny as it may sound, we really didn't mean any disrespect to the folks at the Sun Bowl or the good people of El Paso. Honest. What was on full display for the entire world to see what the frustration of the USC family finally boiling over. All due respect to the Sun Bowl, it's simply not the destination of choice for many teams. No one starts out in September with signs in the locker room saying “Sun Bowl or bust!”
The Sun Bowl, and bowls like it, just aren't what we're used to at USC. Since the 2002 season, we've seen our Trojans play in nine bowls. Seven of those have been BCS games, including a pair of BCS title games. With that kind of tradition, you can understand why the Sun Bowl isn't exactly what we were hoping for last year.
Even though fans and players alike may have been disappointed with the ultimate destination for the 2012 season, that still doesn't excuse how the program handled itself in the run up to the New Year's Eve bowl.
We might be able to excuse Tony Burnett for his ill-advised, yet fleeting, spur-of-the-moment thoughts on USC's selection to play in the Sun Bowl. It was an initial reaction captured via the unfortunate use of social media—a problem that didn't exist just a few years ago. Burnett was quick to apologize, and we figured the whole mess was behind us.
But when the rest of the team fails to learn from Burnett's mistake, evidenced by freshman Leonard Williams' tweet after arriving in El Paso, we have to wonder why. Wasn't there some sort of team meeting about how to behave? Isn't there some sort of policy in place about social media and what is or isn't acceptable? Didn't you or your staff tell the players something along the lines of “cool it with the 'El Paso sucks' tweets” or something along those general lines? Why not?
Which leads us to bring up your conduct in relation to the program's completely botched trip to El Paso.
As if the host city and the Sun Bowl committee itself weren't already feeling slighted, you failed to get your team to the pre-bowl banquet. Regardless of your excuse (which we'll get to in a moment), it was terribly insulting to the Sun Bowl, El Paso and Georgia Tech. Just plain bad form.
Even though the situation was probably beyond repair at this point, it still would have been best to say a simple “I'm sorry.” Instead, like a 16-year-old child missing curfew, you tried to explain it away.
“We were 30 minutes late.” No, you were 90 minutes late.
“[Georgia Tech] left a lot earlier than [they] were supposed to.”
“I thought it was staggered. I didn't even know we were supposed to eat together.” Really? What kind of bowl dinner has the teams eat separately? Were you being serious with this? And trying to shovel some of the blame on the Yellow Jackets? They weren't the ones showing up late or tweeting their displeasure with the Sun Bowl or El Paso.
“We went as fast as we could.” This was just an outright lie.
A picture of you wearing a sombrero was taken in El Paso and tweeted at 2:34 p.m. The dinner was a whopping seven miles from El Paso and began sometime around 8:30 p.m.
Even if you were walking from El Paso to the banquet site in Sunland Park, N.M., you would have made it on time.
You set an example for the players, Coach. We're left wondering what kind of example you're actually setting. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised by all the foot-in-mouth tweets, lying to the media, abortive pressers or student managers who are caught deflating footballs.
One would think that after two-year bowl ban, you, your staff and your players would be thankful to be playing in any bowl game. Again, we know full well that the Sun Bowl isn't where we had hoped to see our Trojans at season's end, but it could have been worse.
Still, if you want to improve our team's lot in life, maybe the focus should be more on winning regular-season games than taking out our frustrations on the good people of El Paso—who had nothing but respect for us, at least before our constant derision of them.
Of course, in order to win more games during the regular season, something needs to change.
Try as we might, USC isn't going to be able to skate by on reputation alone any more. After our embarrassment in the wake of Pete Carroll and “No. 5,” the rest of the conference has had time to catch up. Oregon, already nipping at our heels, is now a bona fide national power. Heck, even Stanford is beating us year after year.
If all of that wasn't bad enough, the kids across town in their cute blue uniforms beat us!
It seems all of the problems the team had last season could be summed up in one game: the season finale against Notre Dame. You had plenty of opportunities to change the momentum of the game, particularly late. With just under six minutes left, down by nine, it looked as if we might finally capture a little momentum with a spectacular completion by Max Wittek to Marqise Lee for 53 yards all the way to the Notre Dame two-yard line.
Two yards, seven points and a two-point game. A false start moved us back to the seven, but the Irish bailed you out with two pass interference calls in the end zone. It was 1st-and-goal from the one. Cake.
Four plays to gain just three feet. The result? Zero points.
Afterward, you said, “You gotta make those plays. You'd like to think with that many snaps, you could score a touchdown.”
No kidding. And there's something to be said about executing plays, but you really weren't blaming the players, were you? And what about the plays called? Did you really not see any game tape on Notre Dame before hand? You can't honestly tell us that you didn't know the Fighting Irish were capable of that kind of goal-line stand, especially after what they had been doing to teams—including Stanford—all season long.
Again, while execution is critical, perhaps we also need to look at which plays the players are being asked to execute.
Like any good fan, we're pulling for our team to win each and every game. To do that, we need you to win each and every game. We're pulling for you, Coach. But we clearly have some legitimate concerns.
USC just doesn't look like USC these days. We're losing games we never used to lose. We're being ridiculed in the media like we're Colorado or Miami or Northern Illinois. Perhaps worst of all, we've become just another “also ran” in college football.
Maybe we expect too much. Maybe we're not being fair. After all, we're just coming out of the dark days of the bowl ban, and we're still left with lingering scholarship limits imposed by the NCAA. Maybe it is always darkest just before you turn on the light.
But could you please find that light switch soon, Coach?
Lead the Trojans, don't just coach them. Start by setting a good example for the players. Don't make excuses when things don't go as planned, take responsibility. Don't blame execution when play-calling is still an issue.
This isn't a time for grandstanding; this is a time for humility. Admitting you may not be the best play-caller and delegating some of that responsibility to your coordinators isn't a sign of weakness. In fact, if all goes well, it could be a sign not only of strength, but it could also signal the start of the next great era of Trojan football.
If you're intent on calling the plays, at least get some input from your assistants. Continuing down the current path isn't an option, at least not an option that will lead anywhere other than places like El Paso.
Whatever you decide to do, do it soon. We've suffered long enough. It's time for USC to be USC again.
Frustrated in SoCal