In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
The dominoes effect: And as rock and roll legends Sonny and Cher (photo above) once belted out, “The beat goes on, the beat goes on, drums keep pounding a rhythm to the brain, La de da de de, la de da de da.” What a two months of suffering – if not longer – it’s been for USC Trojans football fans, and the beat goes on. It was, is, and continues to be a continuous succession of monthly forgettable gridiron events for the USC President Dr. Carol Folt and her AD Mike Bohn. In early December, there was the incredibly predictable, intense backlash over the duo’s retention of Clay Helton as head football coach. In mid-December came the not-so-unexpected reality check of the early recruiting signing period, which the Trojans finished last initially in the Pac-12, a dramatic referendum on their decision to keep Clay Helton as football coach.
The dominoes effect – Part 2: In late December came the breathtaking 49-24 loss by the Men of Troy to the Iowa Hawkeyes in the SDCCU Holiday Bowl. On to mid-January and last Monday night’s LSU victory over undefeated Clemson in the CFP National Championship Game, a No. 1 Tigers team led by former Trojans’ interim head coach and D-line coaching legend Ed Orgeron. With current Trojans super boosters like Brian Kennedy and Wayne Hughes in attendance along with former Trojans’ quarterback Mark Sanchez and former defensive tackle legend Al Cowlings, it was also surrealistic to see former Trojans assistant coaches and support staff now on the LSU staff – including OL coach James Cregg, running backs coach Tommie Robinson, and support staffers John Robinson and Kenechi Udeze – all wide smiles after winning the national title. And the beat goes on.
The dominoes effect – Part 3: Now comes another mid-January moment as former Trojans linebacker and former assistant coach Joe Barry turns down the USC defensive coordinator position to remain with the LA Rams. This is especially meaningful considering the Cardinal and Gold are heading towards the early February signing period still without a DC. The optics aren’t good, but perhaps a familiar or respected name (former USC DB/NFL assistant coach Kris Richard?) will be contacted/hired to save the day. The clock is ticking and the beat goes on.
The dominoes effect – Part 4: And heading into this past mid-January weekend, it was learned that Trojans’ offensive coordinator Graham Harrell – who had recently signed a three-year contract worth 1.2 million a season and was last seen praising all the good reasons he was returning to Troy (Kedon Slovis, national championships, family, etc.) – was interviewing on Friday for the OC position with the NFL Philadelphia Eagles. Shades of Kliff Kingsberry? And the beat goes on.
The dominoes effect – Part 5: And lurking out there come early next September, of course, is the prospect of opening the 2020 season against Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide, which figures to be ranked in the Top 3 in the country and looking for blood after their “disappointing” 11-2 mark in 2019. Needless to say, all these aforementioned events since the end of the 2019 regular season can be terribly unsettling and upsetting for loyal USC Trojans fans. They deserve better, but will the beat go on?
From the press box…
The good news: Looking for some positive Trojan football news? Clay Helton’s program got it this past week when it was announced that sophomore All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Jay Tufele, standout junior wide receiver Tyler Vaughns, and potential junior all-star offensive guard Alijah Vera Tucker all announced they would be foregoing the NFL draft by returning for another season with Troy. That was especially uplifting considering earlier this past week junior All-Pac-12 offensive left tackle Austin Jackson announced that he was leaving early for this spring’s NFL draft.
The meeting: According to multiple sources, Trojans’ super booster Brian Kennedy, who recently called the USC football program “dogsh*t, met briefly with Trojans’ athletic director Mike Bohn at the recent USC/Cal basketball game in the Galen Center. This could be a very good sign if the two indeed have a formal follow-up meeting. Nobody loves and knows USC athletics better- specifically the football program – than Kennedy, but no one of his stature has also been treated more poorly in recent times – truly eyeball rolling stuff. I can guarantee you that if a meeting between Kennedy and Bohn does take place, Mr. Kennedy will tell it as it is – a come to Jesus moment – to the Trojans’ athletic director, and the Trojans’ athletic director should heed his own advice to “listen and learn.” It might also be prudent to have Dr. Folt at this high-stakes, cardinal and gold pow wow.
The meeting – Part 2: No doubt Brian Kennedy will reaffirm his perspective on the current state of the Trojan football program, but Kennedy will likely give his powerful opinions on what’s needed to correct the current situation, as well. If he hasn’t already, Kennedy will also get the real scoop on the decision to retain Clay Helton. It is also the hope here that Mike Bohn can mend fences with boosters like Brian Kennedy, fences that should have never been torn down in the first place. Kennedy and other big hitter boosters have supported USC football for decades, and they know their stuff, having been successful businessmen both in Los Angeles and internationally. It would be a crying shame not to take advantage of their love for the Trojans and what they have to offer within reason.
Winds of change: By now you’re aware of the dismissal of longtime athletic department officials Steve Lopes (CCO/CFO), Ron Orr (TAF senior associate AD), and the lesser known Steve Jacobson (associate AD). The changes for some or all could allegedly be tied to the Varsity Blues admission scandal. You may not have known that much about Lopes, but he was instrumental in so many areas of the football program and had his hand in many of the more controversial football head coaching football hires and ensuing firings. However, what does this all mean for the football program? Probably not much in the immediate future. Clay Helton remains the head football coach, and who knows how that will unfold into the 2020 season?
The confirmation: If you read LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke’s last Tuesday column, “Mike Bohn’s plan: Clean up USC’s athletic department before tackling football,”Plaschke wrote that Trojans’ athletic director Mike Bohn has a design to first spick-and-span his athletic department and then deal with the football tenure of Clay Helton. The sense here is that Plaschke must have talked with somebody at the highest level of the university to relay this perspective to the Southern California community. Plaschke’s “Bohn plan” was so specific that it made you sense that the inside information was provided by either Bohn or Dr. Carol Folt or both, although neither is directly quoted in the column.
The confirmation – Part 2: The whole Plaschke column was more dispersing of info of an athletic department masterplan than providing the columnist’s personal point of view. That masterplan presents a design that goes with the theory that a future football coach will be more effective if first the athletic department has been sanitized, which could result in better head coaching candidates when needed. If Plaschke was given the information from the inside, we couldn’t disagree more with the athletic department strategy. Firing Clay Helton would have been the easiest and most popular decision he and Dr. Folt could make with expediency. A no-brainer, really. Then again, maybe it’s really all about the money and a buyout. So things do get down to money, and this could be no exception.
The confirmation – Part 3: The Plaschke column makes it look like Bohn can’t walk and chew gum at the same time – a one-step-at-a-time footprint. It’s hard to fathom that a high-powered football coach who wanted to be the Trojans’ head football coach – at an agreed upon salary – couldn’t have come in and changed the culture and the philosophies without the distraction of the ongoing changes within the athletic department. If anything, a head football coaching change would have injected a shot of much-needed hope, restoration of athletic department credibility for both Folt and Bohn, and may have even brought a peace bridge between the athletic department and some of the Trojans’ most historical and cherished boosters.
The confirmation – Part 4: As if there was any doubt that Bill Plaschke’s Bohn column wasn’t the columnist’s own personal point of view, Plaschke concluded with “OK, so I still say Bohn could have made a coaching change and found someone special and the new guy could have endured a little chaos and eventually enjoyed the assistance of a revived athletic department. But this way could work too.”
The post-game show…
The Zinger: Did you notice ESPN’s national title game telecast and play-by-play announcer Chris Fowler mentioning at the end how USC and Pat Haden, whom Fowler named specifically, passed on Ed Orgeron as head coach of the Trojans?
Go Titans: If you need a reason or reasons to root for the Tennessee Titans against the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s NFL AFC title game, the Titans have the likes of former Trojans DL Jurrell Casey and DB Adoree’ Jackson, both of whom have had a big hand in the rise of the Titans.
MIA: Aside from the Tennessee Titans, there are no former Trojans currently on the remaining three playoff teams, which includes the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, and the San Francisco 49’ers.
NFL trivia: When was the last time the two Super Bowl opponents didn’t have a former USC Trojan on their roster?
Are you kidding me: At halftime of the national title game on Monday night, College football announced its greatest 11 football players of all-time. It was mindboggling to see that Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, ranked as the No. 4 player ever at the collegiate level. Please, Griffin was good, but was he better than Ricky Bell or Anthony Davis? The answer is no. Was he as good as O.J. Simpson? Plezzz. Was he as good as Marcus Allen? Forgetaboutit. Was he better than Reggie Bush? Different styles, but Bush was at least as good. Griffin was a two-time winner for his time with a gentlemanly personality, and it didn’t hurt playing for an icon in Ohio State coaching legend Woody Hayes. Griffin faced the Trojans in three Rose Bowls where his team was 1-2 against the Men of Troy.
The call-in show:
Caller No. 1: Mr. Katz, are you at all concerned about Clay Helton and Mike Bohn taking their time in naming a defensive coordinator? Caller No. 1, given the few blue-chip recruits left on the Class of 2020, I don’t think this is a make or break situation for recruiting purposes. What can be affected with the delay is the drive for the Class of 2021, which now becomes quite pivotal. But, no, I am not all that concerned for the current class. The optics of Joe Barry staying with the Rams doesn’t look good, but that doesn’t mean the Trojans couldn’t come up with an acceptable hire. Names still out there are former San Diego State head coach Rocky Long, former Trojans and NFL coaches Kris Richard and Dwayne Walker. Walker could be especially interesting.
Caller No. 2: GK, do you think that JT Daniels has a realistic shot at unseating Kedon Slovis as quarterback? Honestly, no, but that doesn’t mean that JT couldn’t end up being the quarterback by the end of the 2020 season. Of course if Graham Harrell leaves the Trojans for the NFL it could change the dynamics of the competition. With next season’s Trojans’ offensive line really a question mark with the loss of both starting tackles along with youth and inexperience, that translates to the in-game health status of Kedon Slovis. Kedon showed last season that he can get knocked out of games, which isn’t shocking if you’re going to throw the ball 40 times a game, so Daniels might get his shot through Slovis’s misfortune as did Slovis with Daniels misfortune. At this point, I don’t think that Daniels can beat out Slovis unless maybe Graham Harrell leaves and the new guy calls for legitimate competition in spring ball.
Caller No. 3: Katzman, what’s your take if OC Graham Harrell bolts for the Philadelphia Eagles? Well, Caller No. 3, if Harrell goes, I suppose Clay Helton has some options. He could elevate running backs coach Mike Jinks to the offensive coordinator position, given that Jinks knows the offense. Of course, the last time Jinks was an OC was at Robert E. Lee HS for three seasons (2002-03-04). Then there is the other option of Clay Helton running his version of the air raid. Or Helton could try and find somebody in the coaching industry that knows the air raid. Bottom line: If Harrell takes the Eagles job, fasten your seat belts.
Caller No. 4: Coach, do you think that the Trojans will make use of the NCAA Transfer Portal for next season? I have no doubt that the NCAA Transfer Portal will play a part in filling spaces in the Trojans’ roster openings and depth chart, especially along the offensive line. The Trojans got help last portal time when they acquired OT Drew Richman (Tennessee), who ended up – not surprisingly – as the starting right tackle. With this week’s announcement that starting offensive left tackle Austin Jackson is leaving for the NFL, it would seem that the Trojans would be dipping in the NCAA Transfer Portal for offensive tackles.
Caller No. 5: Sir, with a new defensive coordinator coming aboard at some point, do you think the new guy will request some staff changes? It’s certainly possible. There is a lot up in the air considering there are contracted coaches presently on the staff. However, I do think that there will be changes, but how many would be the question.
Caller No. 6: If you could bring back a chain restaurant from the past, who would it be? LOL, I think we’re digging deep now. However, I will answer since you asked. For nostalgia sake, I wouldn’t mind having Bob’s Big Boy come back and ordering a burger combination and a chocolate sundae for dessert. Ah, those were the days when I wouldn’t gain weight.
The Final Word: The final AP Top 25 was released last week, and USC wasn’t – not surprisingly – in that group. It was no shock considering the SDCCU Holiday Bowl, an Iowa 49-24 victory over the Trojans. FYI, the Hawkeyes finished No. 15 in the final AP poll. Season ticket renewal notices should be arriving soon.