Old Trojans don't die, they just move to Newport Beach. Wealthy alums here venerate a winning USC football tradition. Houses hang USC banners and flags, Cardinal and gold colors are everywhere. I am grudgingly tolerated as a Cal-Berkeley alum. A whole lifestyle revolves around SC football in Southern California.
The alums here were furious at the performance of the team this year and the direction they felt the program. Alums here make major gifts to the Athletic Department, and the disgust felt with Lane Kiffin made it certain that his days as head coach were about to end.
Athletic Director Pat Haden was a major star at quarterback for the football team back in the 1970's. He epitomizes the spirit of Troy. He was successful as a pro player, as an attorney/investor, as a television analyst. He is whip smart and as he watched the team get blown out at Arizona State, a defense that gave up 61 points, it was the final straw. And he pulled the plug mid-season.
USC has always benefited from its location in Southern California when it comes to recruiting. 14 million people live within a couple of hours of the campus and enough football talent plays at the HS level here to stock multiple programs at the highest level. Recruiting had fallen off this year, and as the disasters piled up it was likely that recruits would shy away and pick other schools. Kiffin did not create the restrictions on depth, which came from prior NCAA sanctions. Watching WR Marquise Lee, their best player, participate on special teams showed how thin that depth really was. SC has virtually unmatched tradition, a wonderful campus, state of the art facilities, great weather, and when they can't recruit well it doesn't make sense.
Lane Kiffin appeared to lose the confidence of the players. He could not decide on a starting quarterback all summer. That is a position that requires the most learning and reps possible. He insisted on calling plays and the offense was conservative and unproductive. This is much of the same team that was rated #1 in preseason polls in 2012. SC has had a long tradition of halftime adjustments that allowed them to dominate in the second half. But this year they seemed to play worse as the game went on. This is the school that produced Heisman Quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer, and should have a reservoir of talent at the position waiting their turn to start.
Kiffin unnecessarily had an often contentious and secretive approach towards the press in Los Angeles. He had a series of incidents that reflected on the integrity of the institution. It is not easy to follow former Coach Pete Carroll, who became an icon in Southern California, but weak people skills will not work.
There is a heavy classic rivalry between USC and UCLA. Trojan fans watched Coach Jim Mora completely turn around a UCLA program, which had years of losing. That program is on the rise, with a Heisman type quarterback and great defense. Although UCLA has had great players and success in the past, Los Angeles was an area dominated by SC football and UCLA basketball.
Massive revenue flows from a winning football team. Not only does the athletic program benefit from alumni largesse, it seems to motivate overall giving to the school. Success on the gridiron affects television and radio rights, marketing and sponsorships, memorabilia sales and the ability to fill the Coliseum with higher priced seats.
Ed Ogeron is the interim replacement but SC needs a charismatic figure who can handle the team, the press, alums, recruiting and everything that goes into a program. A college football coach has more ability to shape a program then any other type of coach. He has to go out and sell to produce his roster. Football, with over a hundred players, is an organizational challenge. He has to recruit young men still in adolescence, and project their developmental curve over four years. These are young men, often not totally mature, in large numbers, they have to be students to stay eligible. The ability to relate to and motivate, one of Pete Carroll's strengths--is critical.
Has the head coaching job at USC lost it's allure and desirability? No. Sanctions will ease over time. The resources available to support the program are stunning. The new coach does not need to compete with Carroll's shadow. And USC along with Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, Notre Dame and others is still a mecca for potential football greatness. Trust athletic director Pat Haden to make a wise choice that restores the SC heritage.