Marcus Allen: USC Football Legend Talks Running Backs, College Football Future
One of the benefits for writing for Bleacher Report is the opportunity for an exclusive interview with your favorite football player. I recently talked to USC football legend Marcus Allen about the USC Trojans and college football and he gave great insights as expected.
We talked for an hour and addressed so many topics that it will take several articles to cover it all. This first one will address his thoughts about what makes a running back great, the importance of the rushing offense and defense and the future of USC Trojans and college football.
Subsequent articles during the next few weeks will include Marcus' thoughts on Lane Kiffin as coach of the Trojans, tailback by committee, benching players who fumble, NCAA sanctions, reasons college players take money, his reasons for picking USC and what it means to be a Trojan.
Marcus also discussed his association with Heisman House football legends and the Nissan fan Heisman Trophy ballot. That story is here.
He is one of the greatest football players in history and a terrific role model. Some of Marcus Allen’s accomplishments include:
- Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award – 1981
- NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year – 1982
- Super Bowl MVP — 1983
- NFL Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP – 1985
- NFL Comeback Player of the Year —1993
- College Football Hall of Fame Inductee — 2000
- Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee – 2003
Here is what Marcus had to say about running backs and the future of USC and college football.
Running Backs Must Practice Hard Every Day to Be Great
USC Coach John Robinson helped Marcus Allen become a Heisman Trophy winner and prepare him for the NFL
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Marcus Allen credits USC coaching and learning how to practice as preparing him for the NFL.
He said he thought he was tough but practicing hard every day against the best athletes was key to his future success.
Marcus talked about the importance of practicing hard every day:
“I talked to the [USC] team at the last [spring game] practice and I impressed upon them the value of practicing. You know the statement that Allen Iverson made. That may apply to one in 1000 guys that a guy doesn’t have to practice and he plays well.
Most of us have to work at our craft. Most of us have to refine our skill. Most of us really have to give 1000 percent and I did that at practice."
He also said that it is important to practice against the best players, which is why USC is such a great football program:
"I learned how to play at practice against a Ronnie Lott, against a Dennis Smith. If I could beat those guys in practice, I could beat anybody in the game. It wasn’t easy because to his credit, and he is my best friend, Ronnie Lott tried to kill me in practice. And that is one of the reasons he is a great player because he practiced hard and so the game naturally was that way when he played.
As I look back I was telling them that I won the Comeback Player of the Year in the NFL, won the league MVP, Super Bowl MVP, Rookie of the Year; and I told them, ‘guys, I won that in practice at USC.’ I ran for 16 years in the NFL and I still would still run the ball for 40 or 50 yards down the field [in practice].”
Marcus credited his USC coaching to help him understand football and the position changes [defensive back to tailback to fullback and then back to tailback] that were keys to his future:
“The coaching of John Jackson and John Robinson helped me understand football and what it is all about. It is a physical game. I tell people that the running position is not about just yards. It is the only aspect of the game where you can physically dominate and impose your will on an opponent.”
At USC, Marcus became the first player in NCAA history to rush for over 2,000 yards while rushing for 2,342 yards and a total of 2,683 offensive yards. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1981.
Marcus Allen’s Advice to Every Great Running Back
USC RB Marc Tyler runs hard and and has improved the mental part of his game this year
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Marcus Allen feels that a great running back, or any great player, must practice hard every day.
So the advice that he gives them addresses the mental part of the game which is what separates the truly great players from good ones.
Here is what Marcus says to every great running back:
“The advice I would give regardless of who you line up behind, whether it is Joe Montana or John Elway, there is nobody, absolutely nobody, on the field that is better than you. That is the mentality that you must have.
I don’t care how many titles or awards you have earned; there is nobody on the field better than you. There is nobody tougher, more physical, smarter or wants it more because it is always 11 guys trying to destroy your will every single time.
So there is nobody on the team or the opposing team better than you. Yes, Matt Barkley gets all the attention. Robert Woods gets all the attention.
But the RBs play the hardest position because we are required to do more than anybody on the field.
That has always been my advice. There is nobody better than the RB and that is the mentality required to play the game at the highest level.”
Marcus played 16 years in the NFL with the Los Angeles Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. He gained 12,243 yards rushing, 5,411 yards receiving and scored 145 touchdowns. He had the record for rushing touchdowns at 123 when he retired.
In 1995, he was the first NFL player in history to rush for over 10,000 yards and catch passes for 5,000. He also completed 12 of 27 passes for six touchdowns in his career. In 2003, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Importance of a Rushing Offense and Defense in College Football
Oregon's short yardage rushing failed them against Auburn
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Marcus is concerned about teams passing too much, the absence of a four minute offense and short yardage rushing, especially for spread offenses like Oregon.
He also knows that it is the defense that wins championships.
Marcus said that USC used to emphasize the run first and it was the epicenter of what they did, which is why the play-action pass worked so well.
We discussed the inconsistency in the USC rushing offense this year due to the inexperienced offensive line and he emphasized the need for balance.
He understands that the Trojan coaching staff believes in a balanced offense and they are recruiting to strengthen the offensive line. The defense is already improving this year.
Marcus believes that every team must have a strong lead back for short yardage situations which is a weakness of some spread option teams like Oregon:
“I remember when the Indianapolis Colts were playing the Patriots and there was a red zone situation down near the goal line. They didn’t have a traditional short yardage offense. They had their single back. And I remember Willie McGinest from USC tackling Edgerrin James for a loss on fourth-and-one and the Patriots end up winning the game.
I equate that to Oregon’s loss against Auburn last year because down in the goal line situation they did not have a lead back. It is important to have a lead back whether it is a tight end or an offensive guard or a linebacker you bring over.
You must have a lead back in short yardage situation. I think that is critical whether it is the jumbo package, two TEs, three TEs, extra offensive lineman, at some point you have to be able to run the ball to score.
Especially in short yardage or goal line situations you are really outnumbered in my opinion.
That is why Oregon had chances to beat Auburn and short yardage killed them. You can run the spread if you want, but I don’t understand why you don’t have a short yardage offense.”
Marcus also believes that a strong rushing offense is critical for ball control:
“You must have a four minute offense to kill the clock if you are ahead and you don’t want to throw. That means you have to grind it out and get first downs. That is why you get nervous about those particular spread offenses. Are they capable of doing that or do they have to put the ball in the air?
Sometimes you pass protect so much now that we forget to come off the ball and play on your opponent’s side of the line of scrimmage.”
Finally, here are his thoughts on the importance of a strong defense:
“I know everyone talks about the offense but defense wins championships even though offense gets all the credit. Who you are is really determined by your defense. When they are tough they always keep you in the game. That is the difference with a great defense.”
The Future of College Football
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Marcus Allen is optimistic about the future of USC and college football even though he is concerned about the NCAA and super conferences.
He is very positive about the future of USC football and told me:
“I think it is going to be great. I think the new facility is going to reap huge rewards for the kids who come in and they should be excited about that.
But I have always felt that there is only one program that stands taller than any other. For all the reasons that I stated earlier [subsequent article will include them], I think that there is only one program in college football that is the best. “
Marcus also feels that the future of college football will be healthy despite the NCAA and potential super conferences:
“I’m trying to determine where the super conferences are going. I’m sure it will be healthy. I don’t know if it will turn into playoff system or not but it is going to be exciting. The bowl system may be damaged if they do that so we will have to wait and see.”
Stay tuned to Bleacher Report during the next few weeks for Marcus Allen’s thoughts on Lane Kiffin, NCAA sanctions and reasons players take money and the reasons he loves being a Trojan.