In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles
The scene: If you saw the movie The Exorcist, you probably remember when things got so bad with little Regan’s devil infested body that the young girl screamed out, “Mother make it stop!” And it’s safe to say that USC Trojans football fans are praying that new USC President Carol Folt will soon take control and stop the perception of a no accountability athletic department. Maybe Troy’s new president will become USC’s version of The Exorcist’s heroic priest, Father Karras, and cast away all the evil perceptions and realities. At least Trojan fans hope so.
The scene – Part 2: The term “Trojan family” seems to have undertaken a concerted, somewhat organized effort through email to alert new President Folt just how unhappy they are with the USC athletic department. Don’t kill the messenger, but a major amount of emails – as told to me through one very active alum – is well underway and the messages through email all say the same thing: Things need to change immediately, and those in the crosshairs are at the very top of the athletic department food chain. At this point, there’s no question that Folt is very much aware of the toxic problems, and the only questions really are what is she going to do about them and when?
The scene – Part 3: With the FBI investigating athletic administrative employees for the pay-to-play admission scandals (follow the money) and the lawsuits both current and new ones probably on the way, it’s a tangled cardinal and gold web being woven. It makes one wonder if the only way out – before or after the legal system runs its course – is a complete makeover of the athletic administration (some may call it administrative leave). It may take a complete “fresh start” to regain the credibility and confidence of those inside and outside the department (namely the exasperated fans base and powerful alumni) in order to return its rightful place in the L.A. sports community. As things stand today, it’s safe to say that there is little to no faith in the current direction of USC athletics, which is so sad to say.
So here we go again: With Monday’s latest startling – true or untrue – lawsuit accusations by former Trojans’ defensive quality control assistant Rick Courtright, which comes after last week’s stunning downsizing that cost former Trojans head football coaching legend John Robinson top-shelf security czar Rick Carr their athletic department positions, you can come up with your own adjectives like this is all crazy, ridiculous, wild, nuts, absurd, unbelievable, and we haven’t even started training camp for the 2019 USC football season. Welcome to current state of USC athletics, President Folt, a continuous drama inside the John McKay Center and Heritage Hall, looking more like a weekly HBO reality series entitled “As the Trojans World Churns.”
So here we go again – Part 2: So right when we are all trying to figure out what in the name of Tommy Trojan is happening, a $2 million-dollar lawsuit directed at USC by Rick Courtright rears its ugly head. According to the Times, “Rick Courtright, USC’s defensive quality control assistant from 2016 to 2018, said in the lawsuit he overheard graduate assistants Brett Arce and Austin Clark discuss working with defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to pay two students with low-level positions in the program to take online classes for the graduate assistants.” No telling whether this lawsuit actually has legs or legitimacy, but it has enough muscle and bone to once again put the athletic department and the football program in another unwanted national spotlight.
More Courtright: The Times also reported, “The lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court said Courtright later witnessed Pendergast, who is named as a defendant in the complaint along with the school, hand an unspecified amount of cash to Clark. The graduate assistant then gave it to one of the students.” If true, this would be called academic fraud for you non-lawyers. If not, it’s still a barnacle attacked to a department that already has enough of them to fill a swimming pool.
Bayou bound: I guess some good news is that if John Robinson really retired from the University, his retirement didn’t last long as former Trojans’ interim head coach Ed Orgeron hired Jolly John Robinson, USC Hall of Fame football coach, on Monday to be his special assistant at LSU. Seems like Coach O is there to rescue a former Trojan gridiron legend from fading into the sunset. Whether Robinson actually retired or his USC position was eliminated for budget purposes, we can all agree that Robby will be a valued member of the LSU football program, and it didn’t hurt that his wife was from New Orleans. Anyone for a Beignet and a cup of Cajon coffee?
More bayou bound: The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman broke the story on John Robinson heading for LSU. Feldman quoted Robinson as saying, “I’ve missed being around a team. I’m really excited about this.” Does that sound like somebody who wanted to retire, especially from USC?
Last add Robinson bayou: On sealing the deal to hire John Robinson, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said, “I want to welcome Coach Robinson and his wife Miss Beverly to the LSU family. Coach has been a great friend and mentor to me, and he will be a very valuable resource for us in growing our championship culture at LSU.”
Carr wreck: Those in the athletic department also remain bewildered by the elimination of Rick Carr’s position as Director of Athletic Security. Here’s a little prediction: Don’t be shocked if there is a major Carr legal response on the cardinal and gold horizon. Oh boy, another legal issue for new USC President Carol Folt to deal with, and she hasn’t even had a chance to take a cardinal and gold breath.
Helton skelter: Wasn’t that a Beatles song? I digress. Amongst all the debris, Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton must be asking himself when this is all going to stop, and the season hasn’t even begun! You have to wonder how Gentleman Clay deals with all the distractions while knowing he is considered No. 1 on college football’s hotseat rankings. So far, he has handled it with nothing but grace and dignity.
Sense of urgency: Whatever the fate and future of head football coach Clay Helton, if 2019 changes are needed during or after the upcoming football season, the Trojans’ athletic department hierarchy better have all its ducks – no plug for the University of Oregon – in order. If you want real chaos, imagine a besieged and perhaps lameduck athletic director being the point man in the selection process of a new football coach for USC’s storied program. Would that scenario be reassuring to a top shelf head coaching football candidate?
From the press box…
True confessions: I now cringe every time my phone rings fearing the latest shoe to drop, and I’ll have to write another reality (some call negative) article about a university and football program that has been a big part of my life for more than two generations. Ah, for the glory days of McKay, Robinson 1, and Carroll. Those were the days, my friends.
Brotherly love: Next week, Trojans’ left tackle Austin Jackson will donate bone barrow to his little sister, Autumn, who suffers from Diamond-Blackfan anemia. Certainly the best for Autumn and Austin in the ultimate in family love. Certainly the best of luck and everything else to Austin and his sister.
So long Pauly: One of the nicest sports information people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with at USC is Paul Goldberg, who has left the department to join his wife, an attorney, who has a new job in the Mile High City of Denver. A 23-year employee of USC, everybody liked Paul and had great respect and affection for him. Current Trojans’ sports information director Tim Tessalone couldn’t say enough good things about Paul’s tenure in his department, and I can support Tim with his highly positive comments.
So long Pauly – Part 2: In praising Paul Goldberg, Tim Tessalone said, “I’ve never met anybody that didn’t like him.” Amen to that, brother. Good guy and he will be missed. Tessalone did add that Paul will still be helping in some writing capacity during the fall, so his work with the Trojans will still be on display.
Getting well: Word is that Trojans’ football radio analyst John Jackson continues to recover from a major stroke suffered this past winter. Out of his original hospital and rehab center, JJ is hopeful to not only watch his football playing son, Trojans’ WR John Jackson lll, run out of the tunnel in the opener against Fresno St., but he hopes to be in the broadcast booth to help call the season opener with play-by-play golden throat Pete Arbogast. We’re all rootin’ for ya, JJ.
Mano a mano: If you follow offensive line recruiting for the Trojans, you are now probably aware that 4-star linemen Drake Medcalf (Bellflower Calif./St. John Bosco) and Myles Murao (Santa Ana, Calif. Mater Dei) committed to Stanford and Washington, respectively. What makes this significant is that most of Drake’s family attended USC, with highlights being his mother and his grandmother having had season tickets for years. According to Drake, grandma has a house that resembles Heritage Hall in décor. As for Murao, playing for a USC feeder school like Mater Dei and his quarterback Bryce Young being a Trojans’ verbal, most thought he was a near lock to wear cardinal and gold. So, to announce for Washington came as yet another high-level offensive line recruiting setback.
The post-game show…
The hopefuls: A select number of Trojan recruits performed this past week at The Opening in Frisco, Texas. The Opening, once held on the Nike complex in Oregon, is now performed at the Dallas Cowboys training center and brings together the top returning prep football players in the land. Yes, Trojans 2020 QB verbal Brice Young was pitching there and drew raves. Young was also doing his share of recruiting, hoping to get into the ear of 2020 All-World inside linebacker Justin Flowe (Upland, Calif./Upland).
The hopefuls – Part 2: Corona (Calif.) Centennial defensive end Korey Foreman (6-4, 245) was awarded The Opening Finals defensive MVP, a good sign for the USC recruit. Foreman, a former teammate of current Trojans true freshman DL wunderkind Drake Jackson, is considered by many to be California’s premier recruit for the Class of 2021.
Cushioning the blow: The new Coliseum replacement seats – a major part of the Coliseum renovation – are almost completely installed. You’d think the new seats would be more comfortable than the old ones, but again the Trojans are again offering a cushion for your 2019 seat that includes padding for your back. The original seasonal cost for the six-game home schedule cushion was $48. However, there is a catch. If you didn’t order the cushion set by last Monday, July 1, the cost increased to $53 dollars per seat. Missed the first two deadlines? You can still it get done, but after Aug.1 the cost will increase to $55.
Take a seat: Speaking of seats, stuff is really happening in the renovation of the Coliseum. Take a look at the latest real time Coliseum renovation camera view: https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation
Stanford’s Rose Bowl: It’s doubtful that many of you are aware, but Stanford friends and alumni put together a fundraising campaign to name the Rose Bowl’s Tunnel 17A the Stanford Tunnel in honor of the past Cardinal teams and player greats who have performed in the New Year’s Day classic in Pasadena. A nice ceremony and ribbon cutting was held below the newly named tunnel entrance, which is one of the few tunnels in the Granddaddy of Them All to lead directly onto the field. The ceremony was attended by some of the Stanford past greats like quarterback Jim Plunkett. We all know what USC fans think about its private school rivalry with the Cardinal, but if you’re UCLA playing home games, the last thing you’d want would be some of your recruits walking down the Stanford tunnel onto the field.
The last word: Some more good news. There is just under four weeks until the start of USC football training camp.