USC football is steeped in tradition and proud of its history. However, the most effective way athletic director Pat Haden can honor that lineage in his hire of USC’s next head coach is by steering away from it.
Haden’s midseason firing of head coach Lane Kiffin set the tone for USC’s ongoing coaching search.
The timing of Kiffin’s ouster was unexpected, as was the reported manner in which it occurred. Haden may need to have more of the unexpected up his sleeve in the coming weeks.
Betting odds website Bovada posted figures for the next USC head coach almost immediately after Kiffin’s firing became public knowledge. Coaches with a heavy dose of NFL experience—Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman—topped the list.
Going the NFL route certainly makes sense. NFL-tenured Pete Carroll was the architect of USC’s glory days of the last decade.
USC is also a program that prides itself on a decidedly pro ethos. The Trojans employ a pro-set offense—big, burly blockers up front, plenty of tight ends, a power run game and a dropback quarterback behind center.
However, what USC did in the past may not be congruent with what it needs for its future. The game is changing, and the next Trojans head coach must keep up.
Synonymous as USC has been with a traditional NFL style, the pro set hasn’t equaled pro success for USC quarterbacks—the position upon which the Trojans' offensive reputation has been built more than any other.
Matt Leinart was the face of USC football at its pinnacle. Leinart then went on to be the poster child for a player whose NFL production fell well short of expectations.
Two other former USC quarterbacks have met a similar fate. John David Booty is out of the league, and Mark Sanchez's rocky play leaves his NFL future in jeopardy.
Carson Palmer, the 2002 Heisman Trophy winner and former No. 1 overall draft pick, is still in the NFL and starting. However, he is also second in interceptions thrown with 13.
The difficulties “Quarterback U” has had living up to its moniker will only continue if it doesn’t modernize.
The seismic shift in quarterbacking philosophies is evident in USC’s own conference. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is among the top NFL draft prospects—B/R draft analyst Matt Miller has him trailing only Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater among this year's potential quarterback class.
|2014 NFL Draft Quarterback Projections|
|Proj. Draft Order||Player||School||2013 Passing Stats||2013 Rushing Stats|
|1||Teddy Bridgewater||Louisville||154-214, 2213 yards; 20 TD, 2 INT||25 carries, 44 yards; 0 TD|
|3||Marcus Mariota||Oregon||123-197, 2051 yards; 19 TD, 0 INT||49 carries, 493 yards; 9 TD|
|5||Brett Hundley||UCLA||133-199, 1661 yards; 13 TD, 6 INT||72 carries, 247 yards; 3 TD|
|9||Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M||159-217, 2289 yards; 18 TD, 7 INT||85 carries, 486 yards; 6 TD|
|15||Tajh Boyd||Clemson||140-222, 1939 yards; 16 TD, 4 INT||80 carries, 195 yards; 5 TD|
It’s also evident right in USC’s own backyard—where UCLA sophomore Brett Hundley is generating considerable buzz—operating out of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s spread system.
The attention Hundley has garnered is in stark contrast to USC, where quarterback play is one of this USC team’s gravest concerns.
UCLA and head coach Jim Mora provide USC an interesting case study. The Bruins tapped into their NFL tradition for a leader, while also integrating a new-school offensive touch.
A like-minded candidate may not excite the traditionalists surrounding the USC program. However, with the sport moving in that direction at all levels, it’s necessary to return the Trojans to the upper echelon of college football.
Roman was offensive coordinator at Stanford from 2009 through 2010, two of the three seasons Andrew Luck started there at quarterback.
Luck was the real-life version of an NFL GM’s video game create-a-player: savvy in the huddle and at the line, outstanding field vision, a strong arm and unflappable pocket presence.
Luck is also a rarity in today’s landscape, both collegiate and professional.
Roman coordinated the most celebrated pocket quarterback of the last few decades at Stanford. But now he oversees Colin Kaepernick, who came to San Francisco from Nevada, where he operated out of the unorthodox Pistol formation Chris Ault made famous.
Roman’s flexibility with quarterback play was evident in Luck, too. Though Luck had general managers salivating with his prototype, pro-set play, he was an outstanding ball-carrier at Stanford.
Even Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks now run with Russell Wilson behind center. Wilson is perhaps more indicative of the new offensive wave than any other starting quarterback in the NFL.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.