In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
The visor returns: The SEC’s Ole Miss Rebels will be making their first visit to the Coliseum in 2025 to challenge the USC Trojans, and the big question will be whether either current head coach – former USC head coach and current first-year Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin (photo above) and USC’s present head coach, Clay Helton – will be walking the sidelines on that Aug. 30 day?
The visor returns – Part 2: Given his history, the return of The Visor (AKA Lane Kiffin) to Los Angeles with his Rebels isn’t a sure thing as the Lane-ster has a habit of wearing out his welcome even with winning programs. After all, having already been fired by the Trojans and later the University of Alabama as offensive coordinator before the 2017 national championship game by Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban tells you all you need to know. And did we mention Kiffin’s firing by the NFL’s Raiders under the late Al Davis?
As for Trojan’s current head coach, Clay Helton, it seems like he has been on the hot seat for forever and a day, but his program is showing some healthy signs for 2020 with a fresh, new energetic defensive staff that has shined in early recruiting verbals. The results from this upcoming season will probably decide Helton’s fate. The good news for Helton is that his team will be picked to be in the Pac-12 title game in Las Vegas.
The visor returns – Part 3: Because of their opposite personalities, one could get into quite a debate if you asked who is more controversial – Lane Kiffin or Clay Helton? Even as an assistant for Pete Carroll, Kiffin was really disliked by most people I know that were close to the program who saw Kiffin as an arrogant, young pompous horse’s behind. That description manifested itself to a whole new level when The Kiffer became USC’s head coach. There was no love lost when Kiffin was eventually relieved of his command.
The visor returns – Part 4: For the record, Lane Kiffin’s head coaching record during his term as USC head coach was 8-5 (2010), 10-2 (2011), 7-5 (2012), and 3-2 (2013) before his firing in the early part of his final season. So, you can say he was a winning coach, but his personality was like fingernails going down a chalkboard. When you add up his days as a USC assistant and then head coach, Kiffin easily wore out his welcome despite winning teams.
The visor returns – Part 5: In comparison to Lane Kiffin, Clay Helton is and always will be a company man, and he’ll never be confused as a boat rocker. We call him Gentleman Clay for a reason. He is polite, never says a bad word about anybody, has no rebel or aloofness in him like Kiffin, and gives the perception as just a good old boy. Helton’s personality and moral compass serves as nonthreatening to an athletic director or university. If there was a personality vote, Helton would win hands down. However, if there was a coaching and program debate, that might be a different story.
The visor returns – Part 6: So why would Lane Kiffin, who was fired by former Trojans athletic director Pat Haden 12 years ago on a LAX tarmac after the Men of Troy were blasted 62-41 by the Arizona State in Tempe, want to come back to play his former employer? Well, that’s an easy one. First, which isn’t necessarily his first reason, nothing would be more satisfying for Kiffin than beating the Trojans.
Secondly, it means that Kiffin can strongly recruit Southern California for the next five years, selling recruiting on the announced home-and-home series with the hometown Trojans.
The Visor returns – Part 7: The irony of it all is that Lane Kiffin (2010-13) hired current USC head coach Clay Helton as his Trojans quarterback coach back in 2010. You have to admit it’s all pretty ironic, and let’s not forget that Pat Haden fired Kiffin and hired Helton and then later resigned his position as AD. What a world, what a world.
From the press box…
The greatest: The Athletics’ Bruce Feldman wrote an outstanding article calling the 1979 Trojans under John Robinson the most talented team ever. He cited a team consisting of “four Pro Football Hall of Famers: Anthony Munoz, Ronnie Lott, Marcus Allen and Bruce Matthews. Seven of their teammates also played in Pro Bowls during their NFL careers: Dennis Smith, Joey Browner, Chip Banks, Don Mosebar, Roy Foster, Hoby Brenner and Charles White. Three others helped teams win Super Bowls: Keith Van Horne and Jeff Fisher with the 1985 Bears and Riki Ellison with three 49ers teams.”
The Feldman article was highlighted by quotes from coaches and players from that 1979 team, which included the likes of head coach John Robinson, offensive line coach Hudson Houck, wide receiver coach Norv Turner, offensive linemen Anthony Munoz and Keith Van Horne, safety Ronnie Lott, and quarterbacks Paul McDonald and Scott Tinsley.
The greatest – Part 2: Regarding the 1979 coaching staff, Ronnie Lott said, “That whole staff that Coach Robinson had was outstanding. Each one of those coaches went on to do some really amazing things. Our offensive line coach, Hudson Houck, was probably one of the greatest offensive line coaches in all of football, period. He went to coach the Dallas Cowboys. Norv Turner is one of the best offensive minds ever. The staff really complemented the talent.”
The greatest – Part 3: Regarding legendary offensive line coach Hudson Houck, Anthony Munoz said, “Hudson was so on the cutting edge of what he was teaching us. We were using our hands at USC, punching with the hands. We played Alabama at home my sophomore year, we got a few illegal use of hands penalties because when you have a split crew they weren’t used to seeing us coming out and punching with the hands and extending. That’s when all of that was starting.”
The greatest – Part 4: Adding to the respect for Hudson Houck, offensive tackle Keith Van Horne added, “Hudson Houck is the whole reason I was able to start in college and made it in the pros. He is the best football coach I’ve ever had in my life.”
The greatest – Part 5: Looking back at that 1979 team, Ronnie Lott said, “That was a great team. Coach Robinson would say we could go play the Rams any day and we’ll kick their butt. And you know what, I think we could have. I’m telling you. I don’t know if we would’ve beat them, but we would’ve competed. The worst team in the NFL, we would’ve beat them. Don Mosebar and Bruce Matthews were backup offensive linemen. We had some great players.”
The greatest – Part 6: On his recruiting to USC, Anthony Munoz, who attended Chaffey High in Ontario, California, said, “I knew I was gonna stay in LA. I was a big USC fan. So, when (John) McKay started recruiting me, it was a pretty done deal. All they had to do was offer me. In that whole process, McKay leaves for Tampa Bay so UCLA was kinda in the mix mainly because a lot of my friends were taking trips there. I ended up taking a trip to UCLA. But then Dick Vermeil went to the Eagles and (Terry) Donahue was hired. As soon as USC showed a lot of interest, I turned down all the other interest.”
The greatest – Part 7: On his recruitment to USC, Ronnie Lott said, “I was a big John Wooden fan. I wanted to go there (UCLA) just because of him. I wanted to go play football and thought maybe I could make the basketball team as well. Terry Donahue said, “We don’t play freshmen.” I said, “What?” He said, “Yeah, we don’t play freshmen.” I came home and told my dad. I talked to Coach Robinson, “Would you play freshmen?” He said, “This is about competition. If you can compete, we’ll give you a shot.” Sometimes in life, somebody can say a couple of words and those words really resonate with you and those words become the inspiration of your journey.”
The greatest – Part 8: On his recruitment to USC, former QB Paul McDonald said, “(Trojans QB coach) Paul Hackett sat in my living room. He didn’t say a lot. He took out a piece of paper and drew five circles. He wrote down the height and weight of the names next to those circles. I remember it was Brad Budde who was 6-5, 265. Anthony Munoz who was 6-6, 280. Keith Van Horne and he wrote down 6-7, 245. I said, “OK, I’m coming.”
The greatest – Part 9: Looking at the 1979 Trojans defense, Mike Shanahan, former University of Minnesota offensive coordinator, said, “We had just put in the run-and-shoot, Mouse Davis offense. We did some pretty good things on offense. We played good against Ohio State and had like 400 yards at halftime on them. I thought we might have a chance (against USC) but then I turned on their film and thought otherwise. We got behind so quick, you think, this was really about just surviving and not losing half our team for the rest of the season. (Safety) Dennis Smith was just so long and he hit so hard, and Ronnie Lott was exactly the same way and so powerful. I joked with Jeff Fisher (former Trojans D-back and NFL coach) years later, how the hell did you get on that football team?”
Note: To read Bruce Feldman’s entire story in The Athletic on the 1979 USC team, click below:
The post-game show…
Sears to Boise: After a whirlwind of college opportunities, a tweet by Boise St. on Twitter announced that former Trojans QB Jack Sears is a Bronco. Boise State is a big-time program, and he’ll fit nicely there. It’s all very exciting for Jack, Boise State, and the Broncos’ fan base. The only person probably not excited by the arrival of Sears is current freshman starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier, who had a fine freshman season. Sears didn’t come to Boise to sit on the bench, and you can argue that Sears didn’t get a fair shake at USC. However, that is now all water under the bridge, and it will be interesting to see how Jack handles his new challenge.
Yes Governor: California Governor Gavin Newsom has basically given professional sports teams in the state the green light to have a season, using their home stadiums. Can college sports be far behind? However, let’s remember that pro sports are a different animal than college teams especially in Cali. Let’s see what decisions happen with the UC systems and private schools. Being a biologist, it will be interesting to see what USC President Carol says when it comes to making a decision as it regards to her Trojans sports teams playing through the coronavirus.
The attendance: As we all know, if pro sports do open up, it is anticipated that stadiums and arenas will not have fans in attendance. With that in mind, that will also be a major theme for colleges in the state, as well. However, college teams will probably have to emulate major league baseball or in the case of football how the NFL plays games are played without fans. The big winner – pro or college – will be television advertisers, who figure to jack up the costs for commercials.
Keeping a line: A lot of attention has been directed towards Trojans’ offensive line coach Tim Drevno. At the moment, the Trojans O-line coach has hauled in a number of recruits ranging from three to four-stars. His most recent catch is 3-star offensive tackle Saia Mapakaitolo (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany). Some say this kid (6-6, 280) is another Drevno diamond in the rough project. Question: BTW, when was the last time the Trojans signed a 5-star offensive lineman?
Keeping a line – Part 2: A number of USC fans are not exactly enamored with Tim Drevno as an offensive line coach, although his most recent product, Austin Jackson, was selected in the middle of the first round of the recent NFL draft and the coach deserves credit. Some Trojan fans are pointing to Oregon as getting quality offensive linemen that are ranked higher than recent Trojans signees.
Keep in mind that Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal is a former college offensive lineman, who continued his post-playing career as an O-line coach at Miami, Alabama, and Oregon. As Clay Helton likes to remind us, he is a quarterback coach by trade. Teams reflect the personalities and mindset of their head coach.
The call-in show…
Caller No. 1: GK, after hearing from Governor Newsom, do you now think the Trojans will play Alabama in Texas on Sept. 5? Until I hear one way or another for sure, I still believe the game will not be played. It really depends when the Trojans will be allowed to begin training camp as a team. It figures that Alabama will open training camp somewhat on time, but the Trojans’ training camp opening date is very much in the air. In other words, time may be against the Men of Troy to be able to get in enough conditioning and training days to play the Crimson Tide on time.
Caller No. 2: Mr. Katz, do you believe that deep down Clay Helton will be relieved if his team doesn’t have to play Alabama? One would think going into his fifth season as USC coach that Helton probably saw 2020 as a year his team would be ready to play and defeat Alabama. However, based how things have transpired the past two seasons, deep down Helton probably won’t shed many tears if his team doesn’t play its opener with Nick Saban’s powerhouse program. However, Helton will, no doubt, go on public record as being terribly disappointed and that his team was really looking forward to playing the Crimson Tide, which is probably true.
Caller No. 3: Grego, what has surprised you the most with all the changes in the Trojans football program? That’s a softball question. No doubt, the most surprising thing to me is just how effective the new defensive hires have changed the face of the USC recruiting fortunes. I think the effort and results of the current recruiting momentum in the face of the uncertainty of the current head coach is commendable.
Caller No. 4: Sir, I noticed in Friday’s O/NSO, The USC Mount Rushmore series, you said that next Friday you will unveil your top four receivers of the modern era. I noticed you have already named your top four head coaches, quarterbacks, tailbacks, and next week wide receivers. What happened to the top four fullbacks on your O/NSO Mount Rushmore? Funny you should ask. Following the upcoming release of the O/NSO wide receivers, the following week we’ll unveil the all-time USC fullbacks. Need I tell you who one of those fullbacks will be?
Caller No. 5: Greg, when you were really a little kid, what 1950s morning television shows did you watch? Ah, the really early TV years. I would watch shows many of you probably never heard of unless you’ve heard of Howdy Doody. Among the other shows I watched were Thunderbolt the Wonder Colt, Winky Dink and You, Ruff and Reddy, and Felix the Cat.
The final word: Stay safe, be well, and keep the faith!