In the whirlwind of events surrounding USC football, the emotion Trojan Nation should probably be feeling the least is surprise.
Favored by more than a touchdown in the Emerald Bowl, it should come as no surprise that Southern Cal won its postseason matchup, even if it’s not a BCS game.
Although the Trojans’ tumultuous 2009 season finished on a high note after securing a 24-13 victory over Boston College back on Dec. 26, that brief, ostensibly happy ending would only prove to serve as the calm before the storm.
Given the impressive performances over the course of their respective Trojan careers, the early departures of NFL-ready underclassmen Joe McKnight, wideout Damian Williams, and defensive end Everson Griffen can be rationalized by even the most ardent USC fan.
Factor in additional departures of seniors Taylor Mays, Will Harris, Josh Pinkard, and Anthony McCoy, and Southern Cal has many holes to fill on both offense and defense. Even if McKnight didn’t have the ability to be a draft pick, he may not want to stick around next year regardless.
Observers shouldn’t have been surprised how former head coach Pete Carroll looked almost giddy during his farewell speech at Heritage Hall last week, as if he had just grabbed a seat on the last flight out of Port-au-Prince.
With investigations pertaining to McKnight and Reggie Bush already underway, one feels as if buzzards are circling the USC athletic department when factoring in the basketball issues from the O.J. Mayo debacle.
Mayo reportedly received around $30,000 in cash, clothes, and many other benefits during his one-year stint at USC in 2007-08 from a Los Angeles event promoter. USC, in a pre-emptive attempt to elicit leniency from the NCAA ruling board, has not only forfeited past winnings to the NCAA but has also eliminated itself from postseason competition for this upcoming spring.
Carroll saw the Seattle Seahawks opening as his last possible opportunity to return to the NFL as a head coach before his stock, like USC’s after a disappointing 9-4 season, sank further. Don’t be surprised Carroll got out while the getting’s good.
Without an NFL collective bargaining agreement in place for 2011, the upcoming 2010 offseason may be the first without a league-mandated salary cap in place in 16 years. Under billionaire owner Paul Allen, the Seahawks are likely to go on a free-agent shopping spree to address many deficiencies on both sides of the ball.
Carroll has a spendthrift owner funding his personnel decisions, a loyal Seattle fanbase, a state-of-the-art stadium hosting home games, and is coaching in a city that, unlike previous stints in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles, does not provide as much of a fishbowl-type environment for head coaches.
After signing a five-year, $35 million contract and adding the title of Seahawks’ Executive Vice President to his résumé, Carroll can look in his rear-view mirror without fear of repercussions to his new NFL position.
But what lies ahead for Southern Cal may be one of the most challenging periods ever for Athletic Director Mike Garrett.
Unfortunately for Trojan Nation and the incoming 2010 freshman class, Carroll took the Seattle Seahawks’ head coaching job at the worst possible time from a college recruiting standpoint.
Many prep stars are still undecided about where to attend college, and Carroll’s abrupt departure throws a wrench in USC’s ‘10 recruitment process, shaking the confidence of many top-tier athletes who verbally committed to play for Southern Cal but have yet to sign a letter of intent.
While some elite recruits waver on their loyalty to USC, at least a couple have decided to honor their commitments in spite of changes in the coaching regime.
Running back Dillon Baxter, ranked No. 117 on ESPNU’s top 150 recruits, is reportedly upset about the departure of Carroll and is reconsidering his commitment to Southern Cal. Other recruits like No. 45 Kyle Prater, a gifted 6’5” wide receiver from Illinois, have maintained their promises to come play in cardinal and gold in spite of the movement up top.
For others, USC’s replacement of Carroll with Lane Kiffin only helped to reinforce their commitment to matriculate as a Trojan.
Quarterback Jesse Scroggins, ranked No. 55 on the aforementioned ESPNU list, was the one-time primary target of then-Tennessee head coach Kiffin. Although Scroggins remained fond of Kiffin, he committed to nearby Southern Cal instead.
Now that Kiffin coaches in Southern California, "It kind of worked out for me all the way around," Scroggins said. "I got another coach that I love. And I stayed home. That's the other plus."
While Scroggins seems content with Garrett’s choice of head coach, many Trojan fans and alumni have questioned the hire for several different reasons. They would have preferred a more experienced coach with stronger ties to USC like Tennessee Titan head coach Jeff Fisher, Jacksonville Jaguar head coach Jack Del Rio, or Oregon State’s Mike Riley.
With Fisher and Del Rio under contract and Riley recently having signed an extension to coach the Beavers for the foreseeable future, attention turned back toward Lane Kiffin.
His apologists will laud his passion and his intrepid recruiting abilities, but others point to Kiffin’s lack of seasoning and poise as primary reasons he’s not quite USC head coaching material, at least not yet.
Critics will note that Kiffin lacks sufficient experience and character to flourish as head coach of a high-profile program as prestigious as USC. Pete Carroll unexpectedly promoted Kiffin to replace Norm Chow as offensive coordinator in 2005 when all Kiffin had previously listed on his résumé was graduate assistant, tight ends coach, and wide receivers coach.
Some suspected nepotism when Carroll made then-30-year-old Lane his OC. Monte Kiffin, Lane’s father, had mentored Carroll throughout the early stages of Carroll’s coaching career. Carroll and his wife even babysat Lane when he was a toddler.
Lane’s head coaching career, while very brief, has been peppered with controversy. In February of 2009, shortly after accepting the Tennessee Volunteer head coaching position, he outright accused Florida head coach Urban Meyer of cheating and would end up apologizing for the incendiary remarks only a day later.
Not only was Meyer found to be not cheating, but Kiffin himself was in violation of several other NCAA and Southeastern Conference rules of conduct, which he would end up getting reprimanded for.
Last but not least, Kiffin has demonstrated a lack of loyalty as a coach. He already bailed on USC once before in 2007 to become head coach of the Oakland Raiders before getting fired by owner Al Davis a month into his second season. Davis later admitted to feeling “conned” by Kiffin’s effusive personality in hindsight when he hired Lane.
Tennessee fans and alumni have reason to be upset that their wunderkind head coach abruptly left after one mediocre season that yielded a 7-6 record for the Volunteers. USC’s fanbase will question Kiffin’s allegiance after the Trojans’ 2010 season goes either really well or horribly wrong.
The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions is scheduled to meet from Feb. 19-21, so the timing for Carroll’s departure couldn’t have been more perfect...for Pete Carroll. By the time USC is possibly handed a slew of penalties that occurred during Carroll’s tenure, the new coach of the Seahawks will be more than a month removed from the many messes that Kiffin will have to answer for.
Based on his previous experience in dealing with controversy head-on, Trojan Nation has reason for trepidation when Lane steps to the microphone in defense of USC’s past transgressions.
Nobody really has any idea what 2010 will bring to Heritage Hall, but we do know one thing: Headlines will be made, regardless of whether Southern Cal flourishes or struggles in the Pac-10. In fact, the Trojans, with Matt Barkley in his second season, could improve to a program that again garners double-digit victories,
But given that many of the most sought after recruits who previously committed to USC are now changing their minds to play for conference rivals, don’t be surprised if the Trojans are worse.