In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
The conversation: So last Tuesday, I got a call from my favorite former USC linebacker, WeAreSC defensively speaking columnist Kevin Bruce, AKA El Capitan, a moniker which I bestowed upon him for his being a captain on the 1975 John McKay Trojans. El Capitan and I were discussing the state of USC football – no surprise there – and our conversation morphed into just how passionate USC fans, former players, and alumni are and how knowledgeable the three factions combined are. It was an intellectual and fact-based discussion, according to our high standards of such interactions. The general conclusion and agreement: Like you can’t sneak a lamb chop past a wolf, you can’t fast-talk a very knowledgeable USC football crowd used to seeing results and not rhetoric.
The conversation – Part 2: In a recent question and answer session with The Athletic, Athletic Director Mike Bohn – perhaps unintentionally – seemed to speak about the USC fan base in a way that he acted like he had been the USC athletic director for the last three decades. That is all well and good except many of the grey hairs go way back to the John McKay era and have seen the highs and lows of USC football. Combined with the "now generation," this massive group has also experienced the Pete Carroll era. In some shape or form, this mass of cardinal gold support along with the legendary football players and coaches that made it all happen didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. The USC nation – jeeze, I really don’t like referring to this pillar of cardinal and gold support as the “nation” or “family” for that matter, have experienced the greatness of USC football; in fact, they have lived it for most of their lives.
The conversation – Part 3: When I listen to former championship players like Kevin Bruce, I hear their passion and how very concerned they are over the current state of the program. I also know that for newcomers like Mike Bohn and USC President Dr. Carol Folt, who are just beginning to learn what passion for USC football means, one doesn't really feel that intense passion overnight. You might think you do, but you don’t. It’s like somebody telling you they know how you feel, but they really don’t. They tell you they've been there, but they really haven't. In time, Bohn and Folt will “really” feel the passion, but it takes time. To be honest, I think Bohn desperately wants to “feel” the passion, but not in the negative way he has been received. He basically said as much in the Q&A session with The Athletic. Mike said he does not want to experience the wrath of the recent past directed at him and Dr. Folt. Like a good politician, he said that he appreciated the USC fan base's passion for the present head coaching situation and how much USC football means to the community. I guess it’s a start, but it’s almost like a junior high student telling a high school senior he knows what it's like to be in high school. You may think you know, but you don’t have the experience yet to really know.
The conversation – Part 4: What incinerates former players, boosters, and fan base in this whole “I feel your pain; we feel each other’s cardinal and gold pain” situation is when Mike Bohn says that he, Clay Helton, and the rest of the decision-makers are just as frustrated as the fans. In essence, we all are feeling the pain and frustration together. Wrong answer! It comes out as if everybody’s hands are tied and it is what it is. Maybe that’s true if you consider that Dr. Folt isn’t going to fire Helton for the time being in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Saying one feels the pain of the Trojans universe isn’t going to endure Bohn or Folt to the aforementioned, although my sense is that Bohn “gets” the present situation and again is doing the best he can within the apparent constraints placed upon him by the university president.
The conversation – Part 5: In my discussion with El Capitan Bruce, I mentioned in The Athletic article that Mike Bohn was again asked what went into the decision to keep Clay Helton as head coach. Like Bohn said previously, that decision was three months ago, and it's time to look to the future. Well, that's the exact type of answer that astute USC fans don’t want to hear. It was a non-answer answer. It’s the type of answer that provokes the passion of USC fans in a terribly counterproductive way. Sure, Bohn is playing politics and probably doesn’t want to say that his boss said this was her decision. After all, don’t you think that if Bohn really made the choice for Helton’s return, he would have at least given a list of talking points to justify the “keeping him” decision? Of course, he would have. Bohn, however, did come up with one talking point in support of Helton. Mike said that in the last ten years, only one USC coach had taken his team to two New Years Bowl of Six games, and that was Clay Helton. Of course, what Bohn didn’t say that in the latest New Years Bowl of Six, Ohio State crushed the Trojans in the 2017 Cotton Bowl.
The conversation – Part 6: After discussing everything under the cardinal and gold sun, myself and El Capitan were in agreement that one’s passion for USC football comes from experiences over the course of time – the good times and the bad times. Unless you feel and understand the passion, it makes it hard to make reasonable decisions. Since the general public has never really been told in depth why Clay Helton was given another season to prove what a majority of fans and former players know, suffice to say, whatever that “reasonable decision” is, we may never know, although we heard the word "integrity" bandied about in connection with Clay Helton. When you first come on a job as a CEO, it’s all about doing your homework or as Mike Bohn continues to say, “I listen, learn, and then act.” Yes, you should learn from your mistakes, and it says here that Bohn and probably Folt deep inside – until told otherwise – probably know they bit off more than they can chew in retaining Helton and suffering the wrath of the Trojans followers. It’s also obvious the majority of the USC general public isn’t accepting Helton’s retention other than administration saying we’re moving on. However, we’ll see how that all translates into season ticket renewals, which deadline is next Friday. If there's one thing USC understands, it's revenue taken in by the football program.
From the press box…
Introductions: New football assistant coaches on Clay Helton’s staff will meet the media on Tuesday morning in the John McKay Center, and it figures to be a very informative session. Stay tuned.
Brother vs brother: As you may know,the Trojans have officially hired Armond Hawkins Jr. as a recruiting representative to enhance the bridge between USC and the high schools. What makes this a fascinating hire is that Armond Jr. is the brother of former Trojans’ DB and captain Chris Hawkins, who went from last season’s Trojans secondary grad assistant to a full-time position with ASU. This should make for some lively discussion at the Hawkins dinner table during the off-season.
Brother vs brother: The Armond Hawkins Jr. hire is a big deal for the Trojans because Armond Hawkins Sr. is one of the directors for the traveling 7-on-7 team known as Ground Zero, which is stocked with outstanding recruits.
Congrats: Former Trojans standout linebacker Uchenna Nwosu has received the LA Sports Council’s inaugural Mayor’s Community Athlete Award!
Moving up: Former Trojans’ placekicker and University of Alabama staffer Joe Houston is set to become an assistant special teams coordinator with the New England Patriots. Joe is really on the fast track in the world of coaching.
The good guys: On Presidents Day, three Trojans football players — OLB Malik McClain, WR Munir McClain, and DL De’jon Benton - gave back to the local community. The trio went to the Skid Row area in downtown L.A., a large area of the homeless, where they gave out food, clothing, shoes and personal hygiene kits to individuals living on the streets. The Trojans prayed with many of the homeless individuals and learned some of the difficulties they endure on a daily basis.
The good guys – Part 2: Upon the experience of visiting the Skid Row area, Munir McClain said, “The most important message they shared with us were to take care of our families to always listen to our parents. I enjoyed my experience of giving back to the less fortunate because it's also an experience for me to learn at the same time.”
The post-game show…
Action Jackson: According to a number of NFL mock drafts, former Trojans offensive left tackle Austin Jackson still remains a late first round pick. Austin is currently participating in the all-important NFL Combine, which could solidify his positioning as a first rounder, and all reports say that Austin is performing at a high level.
More Jackson: One NFL franchise that may be an option for Austin Jackson to be drafted in the first round is the Minnesota Vikings, who are quite familiar with USC offensive tackles. The Vikings most famous USC draft pick is legendary All-American offensive tackle Ron Yary, who was the overall No. 1 pick in the 1968 draft. And down the road, the Vikings eventually selected first-rounders Steve Riley (1974) and Matt Kalil (2012).
The new bowl: In case you missed it, there was the official announcement this week regarding the new Southland post-season bowl game, the LA Bowl, which will match the Pac-12’s No. 5 selection against the Mountain West’s No. 1 selection. The game will be played in December at SoFi Stadium, new home of the Rams and Chargers. Of course, the big draw is a chance to play in the highly touted NFL stadium.
New bowl – Part 2: Attention Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott: Can you imagine the egg in the face the conference will get if the No. 1 Mountain West team beats the Pac-12’s No. 5 selection? Of course, what does it say for the Mountain West Conference when it’s playing a No. 5 selection from a conference even if it’s from the Pac-12? Who got the better of that deal?
Taking a stand: I wonder what USC AD Mike Bohn’s position will be when it comes to the potential Pac-12 Network’s plan that some future games may kickoff be at 9 am (PT)? Hopefully, Bohn will flex his muscles and reject the idea completely. You can be sure that the Big Ten's Ohio State and/or Michigan – if the tables were reversed – would make that idea dead on arrival.
The call-in show…
Caller No. 1: Greg, since you’ve been around Trojans football for quite a while, what is a major difference between today’s USC football players and those of yesteryear? The players from the previous century were really into playing for old USC and had a real rah-rah win-it-for-Troy attitude. Today’s players, IMHO, seem to see USC football more as a potential steppingstone into the NFL.
Caller No. 2: My friend, do you remember the first time you attended a USC football game? Absolutely. My first game was in 1962, and the Trojans were hosting the Duke Blue Devils, a game the Trojans won, 14-7. I’ll never forget how beautiful the Coliseum grass looked from Tunnel 20, and how awesome the colors of cardinal and gold were on the home uniforms. As an added note, the opening game of that season – believe it or not – was played in late September (Sept. 22) with a whopping 26,400 in attendance.
Caller No. 3: Katz, Of the many games you attended in person, what was the worst loss in terms of your emotions that you remember? I’ll never forget when UCLA came back with two late touchdown passes in 1965 to beat the Men of Troy, 20-16. I still get a lousy feeling in my stomach thinking of the winning 48-yard touchdown pass from UCLA QB Gary Beban to wide receiver Kurt Altenberg. Still sickening.
Caller No. 4: GK, do you think the Coliseum should switch to artificial turf? No way. Our climate doesn’t demand it, so why change? When the Coli grass is kept up, it looks great. Of course, the best football field grass anywhere is the Rose Bowl, the best I’ve ever seen, a true putting green.
Caller No. 5: Sir, Nike or Adidas? Well, I once ran an all-star summer basketball league that was sponsored by Adidas, and it was a good supporter of the league. Away from the summer league, I was all about Nike. If I had to make a choice for tennis shoes or wearing apparel, I would probably go with Nike, although I realize that Nike is also the lifeline of the Oregon Ducks, and Uncle Phil (Knight) has its corporate headquarters up in Oregon. For the record, USC is a Nike school while UCLA is an Adidas school. It figures. And by the way, you know what Adidas stands for? It’s an acronym for “All Day I Dream About Sex.” Just kidding, just kidding, a little humor from my late teenage years.
The Final Word: When linebacker Kevin Bruce was one of two captains on the 1975 USC Trojans, who was the other captain? Okay, if you’ve read this far down the column, I’ll give you the answer. If you said DB Danny Reece, you are a winner. BTW, where did Danny play his high school ball? If you said Wilmington (Calif.) Banning, you get the bonus points.