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IMHO Sunday: The hat in the ring

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.

The 800-pound gorilla: Ever since USC athletic director Pat Haden announced his June 30th retirement date, the process of selecting a new athletic director and all the candidate hypotheticals have somewhat overshadowed the real approaching excitement, the opening of spring football practice on March 8.

Taking it to the Max: If you think that there’s pressure and scrutiny on a USC athletic director to select a USC football coach, don’t kid yourself, there’s immense pressure and scrutiny on USC President Max Nikias (above photo on left) not only to make a prudent selection regarding Pat Haden’s successor but to justify it, as well.

The calendar: According to Max Nikias, it will take “months” to finally go through the process of an outside firm’s vetting and “due diligence” process. If anything, the long timeline will fuel even further scrutiny on the final outcome.

IMHO: It would appear that by the time Pat Haden calls it quits, the process of vetting potential athletic director candidates will probably still be ongoing, which means that an “interim AD, in all likelihood, be put in place. If that is the case, I’d expect that Steve Lopes, current USC Senior Associate Athletic Director, to be the Max Nikias choice for the “interim” position. This would, no doubt, enhance Lopes position to be the next USC Athletic Director, so help me Clay Helton.

The education: When he first was hired, Max Nikias was – at least publicly – not considered an athletic department or sports aficionado. Fast-forward to today and Nikias has assumed chairmanship of the College Football Playoff’s board of managers. So it’s safe that his “sports” education has now put him in a power position.

The pattern: Every USC athletic director until Mike McGee, in 1984, had previous ties to the school.

From the press box…

The candidates: Max Nikias is on record as declining to say who is on the USC search committee for the AD position. Well, it’s only a matter of time before the names are either voluntarily or involuntarily made public.

Names on the inside: If you read WeAreSC.com publisher Garry Paskwietz’s piece on potential athletic director candidates with USC ties, you’d at least have some food for thought. GP listed three possible candidates in USC Senior Associate Athletic Director Steve Lopes, former Trojans football student-athlete Jeremy Hogue, and current President of the NFL Hall of Fame David Baker. Each has a unique platform to make a case for being a prime candidate for the AD job.

The Steve Lopes option: Probably the biggest obstacle for Lopes is that he is currently part of the USC athletic department establishment. There is a segment of the Trojans population that wants an outsider to bring in fresh ideas and to “cut ties” with the “business as usual” perception. Well, that shouldn’t be a reason not to hire Lopes. He is well liked, respected, has paid his dues to the university, and he has a background in college sports as a small college All-America offensive lineman at Linfield College in Oregon. His son, safety Matt Lopes, is a well-respected player on the Trojans football team. Most folks I know would welcome him as the permanent athletic director if Max Nikias chooses to stay in-house.

The Jeremy Hogue option: If you’ve ever had a chance to talk with Jeremy Hogue or even listened to a WeAreSC podcast, you quickly realize he is more than just a former standout USC football player. He is articulate, intelligent, well spoken, highly educated, and has run a successful private business. Would he make a good USC AD? If you’re looking for somebody that knows the inner workings of the Trojans personalities in the athletic department, especially football, he would have to be intriguingly considered on that merit alone. If he could make it to the interview process, he could make things interesting despite having no previous AD experience.

The David Baker option: This potential candidate has a diverse administrative and athletic background in sports. He has run professional athletic entities like Arena football, is currently the President of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was a standout D-1 basketball at UC Irvine, and is as charismatic as they come. Having been around David enough times, he would make, IMHO, a wonderful choice and is a real people person. Fundraising would not be a problem and he understands big time college sports. You probably know he is the father of former USC three-time All-America offensive tackle Sam Baker, so he fully understands the USC football culture.

IMHO: While there will be an extensive “search” for a new USC athletic director and more names will be bandied about – both internally, externally, locally, and nationally – when it’s all said and done, the strong feeling here is that Max Nikias will select Steve Lopes, which won’t come as a shock or surprise to anybody.

The post-game show…

The rooster may crow again: FWIW, I am hearing that there is a real possibility that regular fall practices will again be conducted in the early morning. From a media standpoint, most folks I know would prefer the late afternoon practices.

It’s official: Trojans head coach Clay Helton has publicly announced the return of Austin Thomas, the 2015 FootballScoop Player Personnel Director of the Year, as the Trojans Director of Player Personnel and NFL Research. Sounds like Thomas will have a lead hand in future recruiting and NFL inquires. It will be interesting to find out what the differences in responsibility will be between Thomas’s new position and that of new recruiting coordinator Johnny Nansen, who will also double as the Trojans new linebackers position coach.

In the Herd: Popular radio sports talk host Colin Cowherd has his opinions on the 2016 USC Trojans. Cowherd says, “They have a first time offensive coordinator, a first time head coach, a brand new quarterback and their offensive personnel is fantastic, it’s national championship level. And the Pac 12, outside of the SEC, is probably the second deepest conference (in college football).”

In the Herd – Part 2: Of the 2016 Trojans, Cowherd added, “I think USC is an 8-4 football team with losses against Alabama, at Stanford, at UCLA and to Notre Dame. I’ll give them a win at home against Oregon and at Washington. Washington’s probably going to be a Top 15 team next year.”

The new cycle: The beginning of the new recruiting cycle hit full stride next Sunday, Feb 28, with “The Opening” Los Angeles Regional Camp at Redondo Beach High School. There figures to be plenty of “names” that will be identified as potential Trojan recruits. The big prize, of course, is for standout participants to be invited to the nationally acclaimed “The Opening” camp during the summer in Oregon. The Opening brings together the best from each of the Nike Regional Combines throughout the country.

The combine: This week is the NFL combine and seven Trojans are participating in the event. For those fans with interest, you can watch the proceedings and commentary on the cable NFL Network.

Moving up: In case you weren’t aware or didn’t notice, former USC grad and former FSN West/FSN Prime Ticket reporter Lindsay Rhodes (Soto) is now playing a prime role on the NFL Network. Rhodes has come a long way since being a sideline report on the local prep game of the week.

The last word: In a letter to potential Rams seasons ticket holders, Rams head coach and former USC defensive back Jeff Fisher wrote, “From playing high school football in the (San Fernando) valley to playing college football at USC, this is a wonderful opportunity for me (to return), and I can’t wait to lead our team out of the tunnel at the Coliseum.’’

Greg Katz
Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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