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O/NSO: President to pigskin edition

The Obvious: Coming on the heels of Wednesday’s unveiling that former University of North Carolina chancellor, Dr. Carol Lynn Folt (photo above), will become the University of Southern California’s 12th president, USC head football coach Clay Helton and first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell will have their own unveiling, consisting of Harrell’s highly anticipated version of the Air Raid offense on Saturday morning (10 a.m.) on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Field. Might the first spring scrimmage, open to the public, also bring out the Trojans’ new academic leader?

The Not So Obvious: The announcement of Dr. Folt, who was the first woman chancellor at UNC and will be the first woman to lead USC, is accompanied by a simple USC football fan’s question: What is Dr. Folt’s experience in football and athletics in general? As far as Folt’s football experience, she gave the final approval in selecting College Football Hall of Fame coach Mack Brown’s return to North Carolina as 2019 head football coach. Yes, the same coach Mack Brown whose Texas Longhorns defeated Pete Carroll’s Trojans in perhaps the greatest national championship game ever played. In fact, when Dr. Folt introduced Brown to the Tar Heels’ media, she told her new coach she was also presenting him with his first game ball, and then they both hugged.

Dr. Folt, who was very energetic and optimistic in Wednesday’s USC introductory press conference, is no stranger to basketball and the roundball’s importance along Tobacco Road in ACC country. She had working under her College Basketball Hall of Fame men’s coach Roy Williams. In other words, she knows athletic greatness and is said to be a major fan of athletics, and UNC traditionally takes its athletics very seriously. The O/NSO says it will understandably take her some time to acclimate to all the moving good and not-so-good parts of the current USC athletic situation and department, but once she does, things could get interesting.

The Obvious: The chairman of the USC Board of Trustees, Rick Caruso, made the official announcement of the selection of Dr. Carol Lynn Folt, 68, as USC’s next president.

The Not So Obvious: As part of Caruso’s historic announcement, he wrote in the BOT announcement, “Your input became our mandate – to find an individual with impeccable moral character and integrity, an intense dedication to transparent and transformative leadership, strong academic credentials, experience managing a large, complex organization including health sciences, commitment to the student experience and shared governance, appreciation for the arts and humanities, recognition of USC’s role as a civic and community steward, and a track record of leading strong, successful athletics programs.” It’s that last line, “a track record of leading strong, successful athletics programs,” that is of major interest to USC athletic supporters – not to mention USC head athletic director Lynn Swann and head football coach Clay Helton who were in attendance at Folt’s introductory press conference.

The Obvious: The University of North Carolina went through seven years of battling NCAA investigations, allegations, and the Infraction Committee looked into its athletic department, and in 2017, the Tar Heels received no penalties in what many feel was one of the biggest academic scandals in college history. It should be noted that the allegations occurred prior to Dr. Folt’s arrival at UNC.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans know a lot about the NCAA Infractions Committee. With the Trojans having been in the spotlight last week for admissions and past NCAA sanctions, it should be noted that Dr. Folt, who will officially begin her Trojan tenure on July 1, did get North Carolina through the NCAA and won against collegiate sports governing body. She is no wallflower when it comes to the NCAA and other controversial issues.

The Obvious: There has been some speculation that Trojans’ offensive line coach Tim Drevno would have to learn a whole new blocking system with Graham Harrell’s version of the Air Raid offense.

The Not So Obvious: Asked this week about learning the new system, Drevno said, “It’s not a huge difference. Football is football, there’s not a great deal of difference. It’s blocking and tackling and executing at a high level. The simplicity of this offense and how Graham (Harrell) leads us and the structure of it is a great fit. You can really become great technicians. When you’re playing high-level football, technique will always win for you. It’s something you can really concentrate on where you’re not putting together all these schemes in where you’re running this play and we’re running this technique. You can really get a good feel for all the adjustments. It’s a positive thing.”  

The Obvious: Some were concerned that there might be a tough adjustment in learning a new offensive system.

The Not So Obvious: According to Tim Drevno, who sat down with Graham Harrell to learn the new offense, Harrell was a good teacher. “It’s very structured. It’s a Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 instillation. These are the plays, and this is how we do it. This is our personnel groups and the formations. It’s very self-explanatory. He teached me along the way the adjustments and what he wants. It’s been a lot of fun.  It’s easier in terms of scheme, but it’s hard to play the offensive line because it’s a formed habit. When you have a 300-pound man breathing down your neck, it’s a different deal when guys are moving. It’s still hard, you’ve got to be able to block people.”  

The Obvious: One of the key questions regarding the offense line was whether it would be hard for the Trojans’ offensive linemen to pick up the new schemes.

The Not So Obvious: Asked if the new offense would be difficult for his offensive linemen to learn, Tim Drevno said, “No, I don’t think so, I love this offense. I think Graham (Harrell) is leading us wonderfully. The players have really bought in, and they’re hungry. They want to be great technicians and be physical at the point of attack. They want to lead this team as an offensive line.”

The Obvious: Graham Harrell has revealed that the Trojans have only four running plays.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about just four running plays, Tim Drevno said, “There’s not many, but sometimes you can pull something else out to keep people honest. It’s how you block’em, and you can always pull something out of your back pocket.”

The Obvious: A huge point of emphasis this spring is making sure the Trojans’ centers make accurate snaps back to the quarterback, something that was erratic last season.

The Not So Obvious: Says O-line coach Tim Drevno, “It’s been a good competition between both those guys (Brett Neilon and Justin Dedich). Our snaps have been good. We’re tracking those every day. That’s a point of emphasis on snaps every day, taking care of the football. I think they’re doing a good job of communicating. They’re both smart and football savvy.”  

The Obvious: Last week, a number of Trojan players left the area to take advantage of spring vacation.

The Not So Obvious: Trojans’ senior wide receiver Michael Pittman said, “I went to Maui and did a lot of spear fishing. I was planning it all last year and last spring break and saved up the money. I wouldn’t say I am good (at spear fishing), but I am not bad, fair I guess.”

The Obvious: Keary Colbert is the Trojans’ first-year wide receivers coach.

The Not So Obvious: Asked the difference between Colbert and former wide receiver coach Tee Martin, Michael Pittman said, “Coach Keary likes to do the drills with us. That’s really the biggest difference. They’re kind of both similar. They both played pro. They’re kind of similar. Coach Colbert is more active, I guess, and likes to get into the drills with us, and it’s kind of cool when your coach can do the drills too.”  

The Obvious: Like the rest of his receiving unit, Michael Pittman sees some similarities and differences between last season and this spring’s new offense.

The Not So Obvious: Pittman says, “We’re running the same routes, but the offense has been dramatically simplified. We had a playbook that had been compiling for about nine years, a mixture pot of everybody’s concepts from Lane to Sark to Coach Tee all mixed in.”

The Obvious: Clancy Pendergast is the Trojans defensive coordinator.

The Not So Obvious: This spring, has the defense changed through simplifying? Pendergast said, “No, we’ve always been basically a four-down configuration. We’re looking for ways to utilize our personnel a little bit better based on the size of them (D-line), and so we changed some of their alignments. It’s probably 95 percent the same. We still have it (the predator position), we still use it. It just depends on whether we put the predator on the tight end or the open-end side. You’re looking at Olaijah Griffin as a guy, Malik McClain is good, Hunter Echols has done a nice job for us in there, and Nick Figueroa has also done a nice job. We’re also looking at Conner Murphy in there, as well.”  

The Obvious: So what defensively does Clancy Pendergast hope to see on Saturday’s first scrimmage of spring?

The Not So Obvious: The veteran DC said, “We’ll be looking for consistency. We’ve spent a lot of time fitting the running game. We’ve been talking a lot about fitting the running game, walking through fitting the running game. I would say for the most part in practice we’ve done a good job. I want to continue seeing the guys fitting the run better, and the first opportunity when you’re going to go an extended period of time tackling, I am looking for that. I want to see guys playing better situational football.” 

The Obvious: On Wednesday, the Trojans held their annual Pro Day on Loker Field, an exercise that showcases those former cardinal and gold players who hoped to increase their draft or free agent status in front of NFL coaches and scouts.

The Not So Obvious: The weather conditions, namely the rain, held up for the various drills and speed times, and there were some interesting observations. First, and perhaps most importantly, Trojans’ blind long snapper Jake Olson had 17 reps on the bench press to raise funds ($48,000) for restinoblastoma, which took his eyesight. Speaking of snappers, former center Toa Lobendahn benched 225 pounds 36 times, which put him second in the benching pressing competition. Linebacker Cameron Smith was pleased with his Pro Day performance saying, “I think I tested better than most people thought (I would). 

The Obvious: USC band director Dr. Arthur C. Bartner will conclude his illustrious band directing career this coming 2019 season.

The Not So Obvious: Dr. Bartner attended spring practice this week with a smile on his face. Of course, that smile was made bigger with the fact the band section in the peristyle end of the Coliseum has a new name: The Dr. Frank C. Blair & Ruth C. Blair Family Band Section. The Blair family has “generously” named the Trojan Marching Band section at the Coliseum. The backstory is that Frank, who loved music, is no longer alive, but his wife, Ruth, and the balance of the family thought it would be great to honor Frank’s memory and support the Coli renovation by naming the band section.

The Obvious: The Coliseum continues its renovation, working quickly to be ready for the 2019 Trojans and Rams season.

The Not So Obvious: You will be happy to know that there will no longer be “bench seating” in the Coli, and all seats being put in will have seat backs and cup holders. Yes, even in the peristyle end.

The Obvious: Assistant athletic director-recruiting and player personnel Eric Ziskin is leaving his position at USC.

The Not So Obvious: Ziskin says he wants to spend more time with his family and pursue a different line of work. Eric has a long history of participating in Trojans’ football, having spent 11 total years, which included four years in his recruiting position that encompassed all facets of cardinal and gold recruiting. No replacement has been named, but Clay Helton says he has some candidates in mind and hopes to have a replacement in the coming weeks. Helton says that filling Ziskin’s position is as important as filling an offensive or defensive coordinator’s position.

The Obvious: The Trojans are known to have one of the smallest recruiting staffs compared to other national powerhouse contenders for the national championship.

The Not So Obvious: In a story in the Los Angeles Times by Trojans’ beat writer J. Brady McCollough, both Eric Ziskin and another former recruiting coordinator, Alex Rios, were quoted on the lack of manpower inside the John McKay Center. Rios said, “It gets exhausting, because you have to compete with the best when you are severely undermanned. To say that I was burnt out would probably be an understatement.” As for Ziskin, Eric said, “It obviously doesn’t help to have fewer people than everybody else, but the culture of college football is that even if we had a thousand people, every single one of those thousand would be finding something to do for 130 hours a week. Because that’s what it is. I am more content than happy.”

The Obvious: The Los Angeles Rams announced they have agreed to terms for a two-year deal with former Trojans and Green Bay Packers’ linebacker Clay Matthews who has been with the Packers since 2009.  

The Not So Obvious: Matthews, one of the most famous walk-on success stories in USC football history, was a six-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker with the Packers. Matthews’ return comes as no shocker as Clay is from Agoura High in the San Fernando Valley. 

The Obvious: From all accounts, it appears that the Trojans are leaving KNPN (710-AM) and will have a new radio home in time for the 2019 season.

The Not So Obvious: The word is that one likely landing spot for USC football broadcasts could be KABC (790-AM). It’s an interesting move away from the Los Angeles ESPN radio affiliate, but then again with USC basketball being bumped to other stations for conflicts, it’s a business move. However, whether KABC can provide the type of all-sports coverage like KNPN provided could be problematic.  

The Obvious: And finally, Ed Orgeron is a former interim head coach for the Trojans and is the current head coach of the LSU Tigers of the SEC.

The Not So Obvious: It’s being reported that Coach “O” is up for a two-year extension to 2023 and a $500,000 pay raise to $4 million annually, plus incentives. This is a proposal drafted by the LSU’s athletic department. Need the O/NSO comment?

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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