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Love him or hate him, hard to refute his prose....
EL PASO — A football season that once swaggered through the warmth of a No. 1 ranking has curled up and expired in a cold, remote desert, buffeted by a chilled and foreboding wind.
The kid coach is bundled in a black hoodie and wearing sunglasses. He is standing 10 yards from most of his team. He is hunched over a play card, huddled into himself, alone.
The kid quarterback is battered by the wind, perplexed by the defense and wandering the sidelines looking for comfort or instruction. He receives neither and wanders alone.
The athletic director who has said he is "150%" behind this mess is on speed dial, but he cannot be reached for comment, which could mean nothing or everything. In offering his unwavering and unconditional support of the most underachieving team in college football history, he, too, could be alone.
Happy New Year's Eve, USC football fans. Are you ready for the mother of all hangovers?
Playing a losing team from a weakened conference in a secondary bowl game Monday, the Trojans did worse than simply lose. They didn't even show up.
In a 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech, Coach Lane Kiffin was distant, quarterback Max Wittek was despairing, the defense was battered for nearly 300 rushing yards, and even their scarf-swaddled fans finally had enough. In the final minutes of the game, Trojans fans rained boos down upon Georgia Tech for having the nerve to call timeout and extend their agony.
This wasn't just one bad game; this was the end of a season filled with bad games, the last milepost in arguably the most unsightly journey ever taken by a football team in NCAA history.
The Trojans went from No. 1 in the country to out of the rankings entirely, the first time this has happened in 48 years. The Trojans went from talk of an undefeated season to six losses, including five in the last six games. The Trojans went from Hollywood to El Paso to a tiny Sun Bowl conference room in which Kiffin tried to explain it all.
"A very surprising day," he said. "Obviously, it starts with the head coach."
Many believe this should be the end of the head coach. Even though Athletic Director Pat Haden assured me on Nov. 17 that Kiffin was returning next season and that he was "150%" behind the coach, many think he could and should change his mind.
Since that statement — oddly coming on the day of the loss to UCLA — the Trojans suffered through questionable play-calling in a loss to Notre Dame and then experienced an awful week here. Georgia Tech walked out of a Sun Bowl banquet because the Trojans showed up late, two Trojans tweeted nasty things about the city of El Paso, and even a giant Trojans thank-you ad purchased for the back page of the sports section of the El Paso Times couldn't fully make amends.
Although USC claimed bowl officials knew about its late banquet arrival, and although USC players aren't the first kids to tweet dumb things, there are no easy explanations about what happened in the week's culminating event. How on earth does a Trojans team supposedly loaded with NFL prospects gain only 205 total yards against a Georgia Tech team that gave up 510 yards to Middle Tennessee State? Or have only two more first downs than punts? Or commit three turnovers, giving them 34 for the season, the most ever for a team with a winning record?
"We had two great weeks of practice. ... I thought our guys were really into it," said Kiffin, shaking his head, showing again the apparent fraying in his connection with his team.
Kiffin later said he was huddled under the hoodie because he didn't want to wear a ski cap. He also said he was wearing sunglasses to hide a tiny bandage, which he said was covering a scrape caused by some horsing around with linebacker Hayes Pullard.
"C'mon, you know that how I looked is not the reason we lost this game," he said.
But all of it contributed to the perception of a coach who is not a strong leader, which is another reason Haden could ultimately change his mind and make a change. This lack of leadership spread to his players, even quarterback Matt Barkley, who began the season as a Heisman Trophy favorite and ended it as a no-show.
Yes, Barkley's season ended when he suffered a sprained shoulder against UCLA. But where was the quarterback on the sidelines Monday when Wittek could have used his counsel? Where was any veteran to support the redshirt freshman when he was clearly lost while completing 14 of 37 passes for 107 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions? And where were the veterans at the start of the fourth quarter, with the Trojans still trailing by only a touchdown, when USC trudged down the field while the Yellow Jackets bounced and danced in unified excitement?
"I never saw this coming," said senior defensive end Wes Horton. "With the talent and coaches we had, I thought we'd have a much better record."
Statements like that, and games like this, are all damning to Kiffin's cause. But remember, the two things that Haden said he liked about Kiffin are still true. Haden said he loves Kiffin's commitment to academics, and two Trojans were sent home from El Paso for academic reasons. Haden also said he loves Kiffin's recruiting, and the Trojans are still scheduled to have one of the nation's top hauls.
"We'll sign the No. 1 class in the country and go back to work," Kiffin said.
For now, that is true, and I wouldn't be surprised if it remained true. But I also wouldn't be surprised if Haden suddenly changes his mind and changes everything. By now, all shock has been drained from college football's most stunning team, its season ending Monday in the chilliest and most desperate of climes, with an embarrassing loss that was no surprise to anybody.
EL PASO A football season that once swaggered through the warmth of a No. 1 ranking has curled up and expired in a cold, remote desert, buffeted by a chilled and foreboding wind.
Join the fight for YOUR liberty!
One point of disagreement: would be beyond stunned if Haden suddenly changed his mind and changed everything. Nothing in the way Haden has dealt with any challenge since becoming AD at USC suggests he will take decisive action.
I agree on that point! Maybe Plaschke's just trying to give him a nudge (doubtful but it is the Holiday season...)
I have to continually ask where are the coaches?? Yesterday, our quarterback coach needed to be planted next to Wittek after every series coaching this kid. Maybe he was in the booth but Wittek was alone. Heck, even MB7 should have been working with Max and yet he was just watching the game. Coaches need to coach....didn't see much of that yesterday or over the last 6 weeks of the season.
The lack of fire in this team comes from the coach. Lane never shows any emotions and, guess what, neither does the team. A lot of poor tackling throughout the year. Offensive line isn't strong enough to move anyone around. Other than John Martinez, noboby should be safe who is returning. Kevin Graf...still can't handle a rush end and misses open blocks down field. Walker...lost too much weight and seems to be out of position. Do we have an offensive line coach?
I hope Monte enjoys his next gig as he doesn't know what he is doing on a college level. I respect his experience but he was a liability here. I hope we can land a good DC but not sure. Truly a disappointing season that was filled with hope.
I would agree with you, but it's not that Haden won't take decisive action, it's that he won't do it immediately. Kevin Oneill is a mind boggler, but he genuinely wants to give Kiffin a chance and he's not going to fire him after one lousy season.
Good point about Wittek. I don't once recall seeing Kiffin talk to Wittek as he came off the field following an interception, 3 & out, etc. Max literally looked lost.
No it is not- it is Jan 1.
USC is done for the year--maybe the next year as well. Recruits are not stupid, they see the writing on the wall here.
How do you go 7-6 with this talent ?
Well, Haden has been AD for about 2 1/2 years and has there been even one decision on his part that is indicative of decisive action?
Others feel free to chime in here, but per my recollection, the most noteworthy overt actions on PH's part are:
Devoting considerable resources to NCAA compliance inclusive of running a very tight ship to limit access to practices, media, etc.
Reaching out to the NCAA with some touchy feely stuff to show that USC is a cooperative, on-board member with how the NCAA wants things done and having Mark Emmert speak on campus.
- Overseeing completion of the McKay Center.
- Oftentimes when commenting in public, embarrassing himself and/or angering a number of USC alumni and fans when talking about "winning the right way," showering praise on ND, characterizing the NCAA as "fair minded," and of course, "moving on."
Of the highest profile situations where he had the choice of taking a stand or taking action, he has yet to evidence the ability or willingness to act decisively or with conviction. Rather, it has consistently been a deferential, passive or "wait and see" approach.
- Nothing meaningful or decisive in dealing with the NCAA.
- Allowing Kevin O'Neil to remain as basketball coach despite fielding poor teams and publicly embarrassing the university.
- Providing unsolicited assurances LK will be around for some time in the midst of one of the most disappointing seasons in USC football history.
If anything, PH seems far too eager to take options for challenge or change off the table far earlier than necessary (e.g., saying no legal action regarding the NCAA well before the appeals process had played out, the assurances of LK remaining at USC).
Like those who still hold out some hope LK will eventually become a good head coach, perhaps there is similar conviction that PH will eventually act decisively to address elephants in the room with USC's two highest profile sports. But based on the track records for both LK and PH, such would require dramatic change neither one has shown the ability or willingness to make.
Great observation on Kiffin's demeanor. He is like a statue. He shows no emotion. This is great if you are a poker player or a golfer.... not so much as as football coach. The team will follow the lead of the coach as far as emotion is concerned. If the coach shows no emotion, how is the team expected to show any. This one thing seems pretty evident. IMHO
Maybe poker is Kiffin's calling, Bill. Hmmmm.....
Even the Pros show emotion. Not the head coach or the team. You have to win with emotion that is uniquely the college game. CPC showed a lot of emotion and the guys seemed to get fired up and had fun playing for him. Maybe we need more Polynesian players who get fired up.
CLK wants to evaluate every aspect of his team?? He needs to start with himself, then oline coach, strength and conditioning coaches, linebackers coach. Even special teams let us down this year. Missed field goals, poor coverage....and a Head Coach who likes to keep himself under control. Saban looks in control but isn't afraid to lay into people who play poorly. Every position needs to be open to competition. And players need to improve not regress.
I see a lot of coaches on the sideline.
You mean during the entire game no coach talked to Max?
No coach talked to Max?
I don't believe it.
Lane has his own personality and obviously he is not a Pete or a Brian Kelly in his demeanor on the sidelines.
That does not mean he cannot be effective in his own outwardly calm manner.
The Kansas State coach awarded one of the nationally recognized Coach of the Year honors for 2013 is a relatively calm coach during games.
Bill Plashke loves to chafe the hide of USC coaches, ask Pete about that.
His article is melodramatic and I believe exaggerates the aloofness of Lane.
He got dinged playing with a LB for crying out loud ... that is not aloof.
Everybody just take a deep breath.
Keep things in perspective.
Max was confused by the 8 defenders in pass defense.
He was throwing high in his nervousness and probably trying to put too much on the ball to counter the wind blowing 40 MPH at times.
The OL is where the biggest issues are hampering the offense and those can be addressed between now and next year.
Just keep Max Tuerk at LT and put Aundrey or someone else at LG ... don't know why they started with this in the game and then switched these two? Stuff like that is where I have to ask, WTF?
But, the melodramatic Bill Plaschke looking to stab another USC coach in the back portraying Lane as aloof is stupid.
There are issues in how players are being utilized, development of players and scheme: not so much coaching personality IMO.
Dumping a coaching staff in the middle of these sanctions is not the solution.
Lane and staff must get it right beginning with tackling at least to some degree on a regular basis in practice.
DL does some dumb shyte too, so even Coach Orgeron IMO has some introspection to do.
So, as I understand it...Max was struggling mightily and he got no help and nothing changed and youre okay with that result?
Georgia Tech played the run game successfully with 4-6 in the box and Kiffin made no adjustments to change that but you're okay with that?
Paul Johnson recognized his QB was having trouble and made a change which resulted in a win.
Kiffin's QB was having trouble and did nothing resulting in a loss.
...and youre okay with that?
I can't speak for Outsider, but no, I'm not okay with that.
Hell NO I'm not okay with any of that!
LOL .. talk about melodramatic
You must think I am a Lane backer no matter what ... hardly.
I just try to be fair and objective.
Plaschke was not writing about any of what you said, he was portraying Lane as being cold and aloof which is not fair IMO.
You must not read the part of what I said about their are glaring issues and I listed a bunch of them.
Just being my fair and balanced self.
I am not happy with the Sun Bowl performance, but I can see issues with a young QB, 40 mph wind & by the way the force of wind is exponential as the mph go up, not linear, which I am familiar with windsurfing and now kiteboarding.
The run game was spotty depending on the effectiveness / ineffectiveness of an OL, that outside of John Martinez who has been solid all year, has been erratic.
So, Lane had a young QB in gale force winds, an erratic OL, a team not really happy to be in the bowl to begin with and looked flat the entire game, two RBs fumbling at critical times, interceptions at critical times.
In short, a cluster f**k.
It is what it is.
Now we see how Lane, the assistant coaches and the players respond to this.
"You can't handle the truth" ...
Seemed to fit, maybe not?
LOL .. you speak well enough for both of us ..
Touche, Outsider. Well played!
Fight on Spirit ..
I love you guys. Sniff. [nohomo] So don't get any ideas...
Always good to be clear ...
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