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Musings from Arledge: The new USC, an Intimidating Coliseum, and “Strategic Enhancements”

Welcome to a new Musings for a new era. Yes, the rumors of Musings’ demise were exaggerated … but only slightly. It took a couple of weeks to pick myself up, dust myself off, and get back in the game. But here we are, off the ledge and ready to get to work.

Does this mean Musings is done feeling sorry for itself? Don’t be silly, my friends. Musings continues to wallow in self-pity with no end in sight. It’s just that there are times when you must put country above self, and I can’t leave when there are so many Trojans looking for help. With such massive changes in the works, many Trojans don’t know what to expect. Musings is here to be your guide, your mouthpiece, and your therapist. You will need all three in the coming months. So let’s get started.

Remember when you were a child and Christmas morning was amazing When you couldn’t sleep the night before because you were so excited? When you would wake up at 4:00 a.m. and insist that it’s time for the whole family to wake up and open presents? That’s what signing day used to be for USC fans. And not just during the Pete Carroll era, though we had some epic Christmas mornings during Pete’s tenure. It’s been that way for many, many years.

So how’d you enjoy last week’s signing day? For those who still thought USC might pull a rabbit out of the hat, it probably felt like a Christmas where you have to watch some kid down the street named Oregon steal your new bike. But I’m speculating. Because for those of us resigned to football futility, signing day didn’t feel like Christmas at all. It felt more like Arbor Day or Bastille Day. I had some understanding that it was coming up, but I had forgotten about it until the night before, and I wasn’t exactly glued to my
computer looking for updates like in years past. But I did get to walk into my morning jiu jitsu class and have one of my students point out that North Texas finished with a higher-ranked recruiting class than USC, which is nice. I never expected to hear that sentence. But don’t worry. I think this is just one of those guys that Mike Bohn was referring to when he said some people don’t want to admit how good USC’s recruiting class really is. His failure to give us our due is very sad. Sad and widespread, I might add, since the category of people who don’t want to admit the true quality of USC’s recruiting class is roughly the size of China and comprises virtually all pundits, recruiting experts, and college football fans. Nobody wants to give us our due. That’s okay. We’ll show ‘em. Or not.

No word on whether Mike Bohn received a game ball for signing day. Let’s hope so. I’m pretty sure he deserves a ton of the credit.

This is not to belittle USC’s new recruits, some of whom may very well turn out to be fine football players. But it’s important to acknowledge that striking out on virtually every blue-chip prospect in your backyard is not a good thing. And if you dismiss it by saying “We got the guys who wanted to be Trojans” or “We recruited for need not rankings” or “Will Derting was a two star,” you’re whistling past the graveyard. Missing out on the best linebacker recruit to come out of California in a decade when the kid is a lifelong USC fan and covets the number 55? And losing him to the Ducks? Ouch. That’s a new level of failure.

Welcome to the new USC.

USC has officially embarked on a new journey — a new direction for a new time! — and most Trojans will be a little lost at first. Other traditional powers – Nebraska, Pitt – have fallen by the wayside. But USC may be the first major football power since Yale and the University of Chicago a century ago to decide that it doesn’t want to be a football power anymore. USC looks at Notre Dame, Michigan, Texas and other highly ranked universities that are at least still trying to be football powers, and it’s thinking, “Nah, I kind of like what Vanderbilt and Rice have going on. We need to get in on that action.”

What’s wrong with Rice? Nothing, I guess. If you haven’t seen Rice play UC Davis in football, very soon, in our very own Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, you’ll get the chance to see something very much like it. And if that doesn’t excite you, Trojan fans, somebody needs to check your pulse.

This seems strange … unless you’ve watched any teen-coming-of-age movie in the last few decades. Then it makes sense. You must understand that USC is in an awkward stage. USC is a teenager in its first week of high school, and it’s a little bit disappointed by its place in the pecking order. It’s risen so far in the university rankings and it’s brought in truckloads of cash; it shouldn’t be with the nerds; it really should be at the cool-kids table. No, maybe not the Harvard-Yale table with the football team captain and the cheerleaders, but it certainly shouldn’t be stuck with the Alabamas and the Oklahomas. Gross.

If we’re going to get the respect of the cool kids, we’re going to have to jettison some things: like our old friends, our old clothes, that Taylor Swift lunchbox, the childish haircut, and especially our juvenile hobbies. Being known for football success is a little bit embarrassing. That’s for public schools. If you want to be liked by the cool kids – and we do! – we’re going to have to reduce the importance of football. Consider it done.

Maybe if we didn’t go from embarrassing scandal to embarrassing scandal we could have a real football program. If so, who could have ever guessed that USC’s nasty habit of placing criminals and ne’er-do-wells in important positions would come back to bite us?

Now we know. And now we start to reap the inevitable rewards.

But don’t worry. It’s not all bad. USC won’t stop playing football. (Okay, maybe we’ll stop playing some parts of football. Like defense.) And USC won’t immediately become a hapless loser like Oregon State, Rutgers, or Chip Kelly-led UCLA. We’ll still win some games and maybe even score a 9-3 Rose Bowl season occasionally. Like Stanford under Ty Willingham. Hey, wait a minute: win a few games this year and maybe the Irish will come calling.

Did anybody hear Mike Bohn’s excitement over the new Coliseum? He can’t get over how intimidating the place is when it’s sold out. And that’s cool, I guess. I’d certainly hate to rain on his parade after all he’s done for us. I just have one question: How does he know?

Did he attend a big Rams game? Did the Stones play there in the last few weeks? Because I’m pretty sure the Coliseum wasn’t sold out for any USC game in the few weeks Mike Bohn has been around. Far from it. USC’s ticket office is currently sending servants onto the highways to invite anybody and everybody to come to the feast.

That comment makes Mike Bohn seem like one of those guys that wants to tell you how amazing Woodstock was when you know there’s no way he was actually there. Dude, you should have heard the crowd when Jimi came on stage….

I actually got a call from a live human being in the ticket office asking if I wanted to buy USC-UCLA tickets. It was awkward; junior-high dance awkward. I was embarrassed for both of us. We’re now forced to cold call people on the mailing list to beg people to attend a rivalry game? Growing up, that game was sold out even when both teams sucked. Now USC has to enlist work-study student employees to beg somebody, anybody, to buy a ticket. I half expect to get an email about a new joint venture between USC and Wayne Hughes making seats available in the Coliseum for your home-storage needs.

“I’ve got like a couch and a couple of old end tables. How much space do you think I’d need?”

“I think if we give you Section 17, Row 88, Seats 1-4 you’ll have plenty of room.”

Sold-out Coliseum, Mr. Bohn? That’s funny. Equally funny, Carol Folt used “winning the right way” in her public statement recently. Was she intentionally trying to give me a stroke? I don’t know how else to explain this. Did she conclude that the best way to deliver news that 95% of the fanbase will hate is to plunge into the archives to find the most infuriating, anger-inducing phrase you can use with USC fans so she can hit us with that, too? I guess she just wanted to back up and run over us a second time.

Why not tell us that Paul Dee was a national treasure while you’re at it? Why not name Paul Hackett as the new offensive coordinator while the mic is still live? Why not petition the NCAA for additional Reggie Bush sanctions? Did she just run out of time?

Finally, in his public statement …. Wait. I need to apologize first. I hate to start backsliding so quickly. I’m supposed to ignore the public statements. I promised. But Michael Corlone-like, I get sucked back in. There are some things you just can’t ignore.

In his public statement, Clay Helton says that it is now clear that the football program has the support it needs to succeed. “It is abundantly clear that we now have the support, resources, and tools to build a championship team.” We now have the support? Last month support was lacking?

I’m sorry, but I just love this statement so much. I was getting bored with the youth and injuries excuse — youth and injuries being so unusual in a violent game played by 18-21 year olds. What was Helton lacking before? Was his penalty-reduction program put on hold last year because of budget cuts? Did he fail to practice squib kicks because of a directive from the Board of Trustees, which has only now been rescinded? Was he required to keep Neil Callaway because the general counsel was concerned about an age- discrimination claim?

I used to get angry when I would hear things like this. Not anymore. I laughed this time. How can you not admire the chutzpah in this guy’s public statements? So much unfounded optimism. I half expect him to break into the chorus of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” when Alabama pulls ahead 42-3 in Arlington next season.

But the best news, Trojans, is this: next year’s team will have a ton of returning starters, and a budding superstar returning at QB. With all that, and Clay’s admission that he now has everything he needs to win championships, I guess that means no more excuses next year.

Let’s close with this. I, like many others, saw an email from Mike Bohn in which he declared, “We are committed to ensuring that our football program competes at the highest level.  We are focused on strategic
enhancements that will fuel competitiveness, player development and results.” These sorts of promises should mean something, right? So I’m keeping any eye out for those “strategic enhancements.” If anybody comes across any, please send that information here to Musings, so we can thank Mr. Bohn for keeping his promise.

Carthago delenda est.

Chris Arledge

Chris Arledge is a graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law and is the co-founder and managing partner of an intellectual property law firm. Chris’s forgettable football career started at Elsinore High School, where his Tigers defeated Kyle Wachholtz’s Norco squad for the league title (Bring on Brad Otton’s team, too!), and ended at William Jewell College, where Chris was a team captain and an all-conference defensive back.

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