Tag Archives: Pat Haden

Big Pac-12 Football Games for 2016

Before any football season starts fans and writers take a look at what games look to be considered the big games. Sometimes it’s a non-conference game, but most of the time it turns out to be a few games during the regular season that fans look forward to. It’s time to take a look at what the Pac-12  big games will be for 2016.

September 3: UCLA at Texas A&M. The Bruins are considered by many to be the favorites in the South division and by some to be the favorites to win the conference. However, if they want to live up to those expectations they need to get a win at College Station. Heisman Trophy talk will certainly pick up for Josh Rosen if he can lead his team to a convincing win against the Aggies, so there will be a ton of eyes on this opening game for the Bruins. This is a table-setting type of game for UCLA if they can get the win.

September 3: USC vs Alabama. Head coach Clay Helton has a daunting task in front of him and his team right out of the gate by taking on the defending national champion. Many people consider this game a win for Alabama, but the outcome of this game will have repercussions for both the Pac-12 and SEC for the rest of the year. The playoff committee will certainly have their eyes on this game and it will be appointment television because of the tradition for both of these programs.

September 17: USC at Stanford. This will be the first big game test for the Cardinal and their own quarterback issues for which they still haven’t named their starter. Will Stanford be able to make a statement in terms of the playoff race and conference crown with a win here? Can USC avoid being 0-2 after a possible loss to the Crimson Tide or will they be building off an incredible win? At least we won’t have to worry about Pat Haden coming down from the press box to defend his coach.

October 1: Oregon at Washington State. This will be another one of those statement games for both teams. Washington State is coming off a season in which they had a lot of success. Some of that success was beating the Ducks in Eugene and that is no easy feat. This will be the first big game for new Duck quarterback Dakota Prukop and we will see if he can handle the pressure of a hostile crowd. This will also be a game in which Luke Falk can put his name into some possible Heisman Trophy talk.

October 8: Washington at Oregon. This is a rivalry game that hasn’t been much of a rivalry. The Ducks have 12 straight victories over the Huskies, but I think this is the year that Washington breaks through. The Huskies may have one of the best backfields in the conference and possibly in the country. Jake Browning, Husky quarterback, is looking to stay away from the sophomore slump and prove that he is an elite Pac-12 quarterback. For the first time in a while, the Huskies may have the same amount of talent that Oregon does, so keep your eye on this game in early October. I’m taking the Huskies in this one.

October 22: Utah at UCLA. Once the season rolls around to this game we may be looking at both of these teams being in a spot to challenge for the division title and certainly a conference title game berth. Utah has Joe Williams replacing Devontae Booker this season and Williams proved he is more than capable of replacing the All-American Booker. Will UCLA be able to put the Utes challenge down in a pivotal game at The Rose Bowl?

November 19: USC at UCLA. This just may be the game that decides the Pac-12 South division. Will Josh Rosen have the Bruins primed to crash the College Football Playoff? Do the Trojans come into this game with an undefeated record or with one loss? If the scenario is having both teams vying for a playoff spot or at the very least being in the conversation then the eyes of Southern California and probably the rest of the country will be on this game. I will take the Bruins in this game because I believe Rosen will have the Bruins rolling by this time.

The Pac-12, as always, will be a conference that will eat its own. The 2016 season will be no different and I still believe that the conference is left out of the playoff for a second consecutive season. I hope that I am wrong with that statement, but with a ton questions at the quarterback position, it’s going to be tough for a Pac-12 team to break through.

Image: Creative Commons

USC Trojans Disappoint with Hiring of Lynn Swann

Family is important to most people in society because it provides stability, warmth, and a loving atmosphere. However, does it provide perspective? In Los Angeles where you have to keep perspective on most things USC is sticking with what is familiar and comfortable for them by choosing Lynn Swann as its new athletic director. This choice for the Trojans is being criticized by many and I am no different.

I thought the USC hierarchy would finally go outside the box and hire somebody that actually had some experience running an athletic department, but they settled on yet another Trojan with no experience to run one of the most glamourized athletic departments in all of college sports.

USC failed its fans with this hire. Trojan fans want somebody to restore order for them and to put the Trojan football team back at the top of the college football world. Lynn Swann does not do that in the least. Usually people with previous work qualifications for the job end up getting a huge gig like this. Nope. Not at USC because the only thing that they apparently look at is if you played for USC at some point in the past.

Coming into this job Lynn Swann’s only previous work experience in college athletics would be that he was a sideline reporter for ABC Sports/ESPN over 10 years ago. That’s it. That’s all she wrote folks. Come July 1, Lynn Swann will be in charge of arguably the premier sports department on the West Coast with no more than a microphone worth of experience in college athletics.

Does this make you feel good Trojan fans? I hope not because you deserve better than this. The history behind hires like this for Trojan family does not exactly ring like a sound endorsement for the school.

They hired former running back Mike Garrett to run the athletic department and his gross oversight of the Trojan athletic department led to bowl bans and sanctions for both football and men’s basketball. Garrett, in all his smugness, when he was asked about the troubles in the athletic program at USC merely said that other schools were “envious” of the Trojans. Really? Yeah, I am sure they were jealous of the USC predicament of being kept out of bowl games and not going to NCAA Tournament. The loss of revenue was probably a minor detail as well for these other “envious” schools. Garrett’s last act was to hire former Trojan assistant coach Lane Kiffin. How did that work out?

Pat Haden was supposed to rescue USC, but he did not rescue anything or anybody. He had no more experience than Lynn Swann has. Haden fires Lane Kiffin on the tarmac at LAX after a big defeat at Arizona State, hires Steve Sarkisian and says he didn’t know about Sark’s drinking issue. That was about as big of a denial as Steve Sarkisian thinking he didn’t have a drinking problem. Haden comes out of the press box to defend his coach at Stanford which was a negative for the program. He eventually fires Sark over the drinking issue and that brings us to this week.

Everybody knows that the resources at USC are world class. So, you would think that an institution like USC, given two months to look for a qualified candidate, would be able to come up with somebody that would have the experience to lead the Trojan athletic department for the next 10 plus years. Guess again. This was the best they could come up with.

Lynn Swann. Just let it sink in Trojan fans.

Maybe he provides some out of the box thinking that the athletic department sorely needs. However, it may just be some of the same at USC. I don’t see anything, but the same old stuff for Trojans. They are trying to recreate the Pete Carroll era and it’s not working at all. It’s tough to strike lightening twice, even at USC.

USC needed to go outside the box and it didn’t. USC needs perspective and by staying in the family, it lost that perspective.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

*Featured image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Do You Like a Great Storyline? Alabama, USC and Lane Kiffin Have it for Us

Wunderkind: someone who achieves success or shows great talent at a young age.

This is the definition you see when you open up your Merriam-Webster dictionary. There isn’t a profession in the world that doesn’t boast a list of people that are considered to be wunderkinds and the coaching profession is no exception to this statement.

Prior to the 2010 season kicking off, Pete Carroll left the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans high and dry. As Carroll raced up to Seattle to take the head coaching job with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, he left USC in the wake of NCAA sanctions. Who would be willing to take the USC job while knowing that the Trojans would be ineligible for post-season play, that their juniors and seniors would be eligible to transfer without having to sit out a year, and also knowing that there would be scholarship restrictions to manage?

That was easy. In what would be one of Mike Garrett’s final decisions as USC’s athletic director, he chose to hire college football’s 35-year-old wunderkind- Lane Kiffin.

Lane Kiffin’s 2010 team went 8-5 despite only having 71 scholarship players. With wins over conference rivals California and UCLA, the wunderkind’s future appeared to be bright in southern California.

The 2011 season was an even bigger on-field success for Kiffin as his Trojans went 10-2. However, due to the NCAA sanctions, USC was once again ineligible for postseason play and this included the Pac-12’s conference championship game. The 35-year-old USC wunderkind was proving his worth in the face of adversity.

USC hit a rough patch on the field in 2012. Kiffin posted a record of 7-6, however, it was a record breaking year; just not a record any coach would want to hold. The 2012 USC team was the first team since 1964 to start the year ranked No. 1 only to finish the season unranked. The wunderkind was losing his shine.

Things became interesting for Kiffin in 2013. After taking his team to play Arizona State, Kiffin boarded the team plane after a 62-41 loss to the Sun Devils. In what would become one of the more infamous firings in sports history, Pat Haden fired Kiffin at the Los Angeles International Airport. Pat Haden left Kiffin at the airport.

Teams across the country are now preparing for the 2016 college football season. Spring practices have begun, we’re about a month away from the spring games taking place and as fans we’re already looking forward to another exciting season of football. The excitement begins September 3 at AT&T Stadium when Alabama takes on USC.

If you like intriguing story lines, this game has it all. Alabama opens the season as the defending national champion and is considered to be a contender for the 2017 national championship. As for USC, they look to move on from the Pat Haden and Steve Sarkisian eras as Clay Helton sheds the title of interim head coach and begins his official head coaching duties against Nick Saban. Helton’s job of establishing consistency within the Trojan program will begin against a program that has become synonymous with the word “consistency.” And yes, let’s not forget that Lane Kiffin is now the offensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m ready to kick this game off. Let’s roll(Tide)!

This will be the first time that Kiffin has coached against the program that left him stranded at the airport. Haden is no longer the USC athletic director, but USC can’t hold a fond place in the heart of Kiffin. Kiffin coaches his Alabama offense with all of the bravado one would expect. That bravado includes celebrating touchdown catches while the ball is still in the air. Simply put, Kiffin coaches with a swagger that we should expect to be full throttle on September 3.

If Kiffin’s association with USC wasn’t enough, there is also the association between Kiffin and Helton. In 2010, when Kiffin put his first USC coaching staff together, Helton was hired as his quarterbacks coach. And going into that infamous 2013 Trojan season, Kiffin promoted Helton to offensive coordinator. When Kiffin was fired mid-season, Ed Orgeron was named interim head coach and held that position until he quit prior to USC’s bowl game. Take a wild guess as to who coached that bowl game in Orgeron’s place? If you guessed Clay Helton, you would be correct.

Who knew that a wunderkind could have this kind of coaching tree?

Going into the game, I have one request of Nick Saban. Please coach Saban, I’m begging you, make Kiffin available to the media. College football needs the sound bites.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

*Featured image courtesy of Neon Tommy/Flickr

Clay Helton Will Fight On

USC is a brand second to none in the world of college football and with that comes a ton of scrutiny on the program. Over the last few years it has been negative scrutiny that has many people thinking the program is overrated and not as attractive a job as it once was. I have always scoffed at that thought.

College has its blue-blood type programs such as Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State, and certainly USC. Does every program go through some tough times? Absolutely and USC has been experiencing some of those tough times in the last few years. From the Reggie Bush sanctions, Lane Kiffin getting fired at LAX, Steve Sarkisian being an alcoholic, and having Clay Helton take over this storied program mid-season for the SECOND time.

For all these negatives surrounding USC and many questioning what AD Pat Haden is doing, they got one right with the hiring of Clay Helton. He’s an adult. He’s disciplined. The players respond to him. He’s won over the locker room. When players want to play for you and they buy into what their coach is trying to do, success is going to follow you. When I say that Helton is an adult, I mean he’s the coach. He’s the one in control, and he’s there to be the mentor for the young men that have chosen to be under his watch at USC.

The other part of this that people will talk about is the aspect of hiring from within the program. When programs hire from within some people get pretty nervous about that prospect. But if you look within the Pac-12, it has worked out fairly well. Stanford hired David Shaw, Utah hired Kyle Whittingham, and Oregon hired Mark Helfrich. When you hire from within you get the continuity that every program strives for. I get that people believe that the Trojans had a shot of landing any coach that they wanted, but would that coach come to them? I still don’t believe the Chip Kelly rumors about him coming out to USC to coach. Was Clay Helton an easy out? Possibly. Did USC AD Pat Haden have to interview anybody? No, he didn’t. If, in Haden’s mind, he had what he thought was a good fit for the program, then Helton fit the bill for him.

USC football will always be one of the top jobs in the country, but for the Trojans to wait would have been a mistake. Clay Helton went 5-2 over the course of the season. He destroyed cross-town rival UCLA on Saturday. He has USC playing for the Pac-12 Championship against Stanford. And he knows the culture of USC/Los Angeles area. Knowing how things run at a university is an important part of running a program and if the Trojans hired somebody else who didn’t know the culture of the school or city, it could have been a disaster for the program. Continuity can be one of the understated parts of running a program the size of USC.

The amount of talent that USC has is immense and the amount of talent that they will continue to acquire will be much the same. The kind of talent that is walking around the field at USC is the type of talent that can win national championships. National championships are the reason players go to USC to play football. They’re a big part of the program’s long, storied past.

What do the Trojans have in Clay Helton? They have a kind of vanilla, boring type of guy. He’s certainly not the media darling Pete Carroll who created a huge monster when he was in control of the Trojans in the early 2000’s. Helton gives boring answers to the media, doesn’t really talk about himself, and gives the attention to the players instead of himself. More importantly, he’s NOT Lane Kiffin or Steve Sarkisian who brought drama to the program almost weekly. Most people don’t know much about Helton, except that he is getting things done on the field and that his players love him. For USC Trojan fans, that is exactly what they should want out of their football coach. For as many people that wanted or thought that USC should go out and get a big name coach, maybe, Clay Helton is EXACTLY what they need. Pat Haden believes so.

“Clay was not hired because his team defeated UCLA on Saturday. He was not hired because many current and former players voiced their support for him. And he was not hired because he is a Trojan. He is our choice because we believe he can win Pac-12 and national championships here.” Said Pat Haden in a statement on Monday.

For those who question this hiring, let me remind you of a USC hire that had many people scratching their heads. The hiring of Pete Carroll led many to question if USC had lost their swagger in the world of college football. We know how that went. Carroll brought back the brand of USC. Why can’t Helton do that? He can. Plus, he has more talent on the roster than Pete Carroll had when he took over.

We will get an early impression on what may be coming for him and the Trojans because USC is in the Pac-12 Championship game against Stanford. It is a game that USC is fully capable of winning. Imagine all the talk that would come from that victory. It’ll get talk started on what he may be able to do in their bowl game and in their first game next year against Nick Saban’s Alabama team.

In the end, USC got this hire right. Clay Helton provides continuity for the football program. He knows the Los Angeles area for recruiting. He knows the pressure that being the head coach of USC brings. He’s a Trojan. And he has the players buying into what he is coaching them. For all the negative that has surrounded this program this year and all the questionable things that Pat Haden has done in the last few years, Haden got this right. Good job USC and Fight On.

Five You Must See: Week Eight

#20 Cal (5-1) at UCLA (4-2) Thursday 9:00 PM on ESPN

To start off your weekend, flip over to this west coast battle between teams trying to bounce back.  Cal suffered a minor setback two weeks ago, turning the ball over six times and losing by six points at Utah.  You can bet Sonny Dykes used the Bears’ bye week to draw up some new schemes to throw at the Bruins.

After looking like the team to beat in September, UCLA is in danger of dropping their third straight if they’re not careful.  Injuries on defense are catching up to them quicker than they’d hoped.  The Bruins have lost a key member to each level of their defense, most notably linebacker Myles Jack who is no longer with the team because he has declared for the NFL draft.

Speaking of the draft, you’ll want to take advantage of a rare opportunity to see Cal quarterback Jared Goff.  Many are touting him as possibly the first QB taken this April.  Jim Mora had better find a way to get more out of his defense or Goff will take advantage.

UCLA needs a fast start to win this game.  Josh “chosen” Rosen has proven to be capable of a lot of things you wouldn’t expect from a true freshman quarterback.  Leading a comeback against a conference opponent is not one of those things.  If Cal scores the first two touchdowns they’ll probably run away with it.

Tennessee (3-3) at #8 Alabama (6-1) Saturday 3:30 PM on CBS

As I’ve said before, there aren’t many weekends where I’m not interested in the SEC on CBS game of the week.  Few things say fall quite like hearing Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson go back and forth, drooling over how impressive this guy and that guy are.  I watch because even the bad matchups are made entertaining by those two in the booth.  Unfortunately, we’ll have to rely on Verne and Gary this week as well.

(Photo: USA Today Sports)
(Photo: USA Today Sports)

Frankly, I’m not giving Tennessee much of a chance in this one.  Alabama is just too strong.  The Tide offensive line has been commanding the line of scrimmage since slipping up in the loss to Ole Miss.  Running back Derrick Henry has been the main beneficiary.  The workhorse is up over 900 yards on the season with 12 rushing touchdowns.  He averages over 20 carries per game, and at nearly six yards a pop that makes for a long day if you’re lined up on the other side.

We can’t discount the Vols’ resiliency though.  They’ve lost three games to Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas by a combined 12 points.  Last time out they were down 24-3 in the first half against Georgia, only to come storming back to win 38-31.  Quarterback Josh Dobbs leads his team by example.  The kid plays every down with a toughness that’s rarely seen in quarterbacks.  It’s refreshing to see, and he’s going to need it with the Bama defense chasing him around all afternoon.

Alabama needs a win to set up that epic showdown with LSU in two weeks.  First, let’s see how they handle a team with nothing to lose at this point.

#15 Texas A&M (5-1) at #24 Ole Miss (5-2) Saturday 7:00 PM on ESPN

Here we have another matchup of two teams coming off losses.  A&M was put in their place by Alabama in a game that was never really close.  Meanwhile, Ole Miss was beaten convincingly by a Memphis team that everyone had not taken seriously enough.

Interestingly, this will be the Aggies’ first true road game this season.  In retrospect, it’s easy to see that we all probably gave them a bit too much credit for their “neutral-site” win over Arizona State in the season opener.  That alone was enough to catapult them from unranked to #16.  Since then Kevin Sumlin’s squad hasn’t done anything more than we would have expected them to.  This is their opportunity to show everyone they’re for real this year.  I’m not sure they are.

The Rebels’ standout defensive end Robert Nkemdiche suffered a concussion while carrying the ball on offense last week.  Suddenly, people don’t seem to think it’s such a great idea for Hugh Freeze to be using one of his best players on both sides.  Nkemdiche’s availability this weekend is still in question.  Not having him in the lineup would be a huge blow to the Rebel defense.

These two seem pretty evenly matched so the game will come down to who can limit their own mistakes and capitalize on their opponents’.  We should be looking at a full sixty minutes here.

#3 Utah (6-0) at USC (3-3) Saturday 7:30 PM on Fox

USC has a lot going on right now.  Head coach Steve Sarkisian is long gone.  Athletic Director Pat Haden collapsed on the sideline before last Saturday’s game at Notre Dame.  Not to mention, the Trojans are staring their fourth loss right in the face with the powerful Utes coming to the Coliseum.

Utah might be the best overall team in the nation right now.  They’ve got an expert possession-style gameplan courtesy of head coach Kyle Whittingham.  And if you do happen to knock them off their game somehow, the Utes can handle it because there aren’t many things they don’t do well.

I’m looking forward to watching Cody Kessler, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree Jackson challenge Utah’s defense.  If those three can take advantage of the Utes’ one perceived weakness, their secondary, then this game will become much more interesting.

If not, we could see Utah make another big statement by blowing out a conference opponent on the road for the second time this fall.

Washington (3-3) at #10 Stanford (5-1) Saturday 10:30 PM on ESPN

The night cap should be a decent enough watch this week.  Even if it’s not, you’ll want to see this revitalized Stanford team.  Since losing to Northwestern to open the season, the Cardinal have scored 31, 41, 42, 55, and 56 points in their last five games, winning by an average of 22 points.  That’s wonderfully uncharacteristic for a team that’s used to handling opponents but only winning by two touchdowns.

(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports)
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports)

Quarterback Kevin Hogan is doing exactly what he needs to, completing easy passes (65.9% completion rate) and taking care of the ball (12-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio).  The rest is as simple as turning around and handing the ball off because running back Christian McCaffrey has been feasting on Pac-12 defenses.  In four conference games McCaffrey has yet to fail to reach 100 yards, rushing for 200+ twice.  Last Thursday against UCLA he racked up four touchdowns on the ground, averaging nearly 10 yards while carrying the ball 25 times.  I’ll be shocked if the Cardinal don’t keep feeding him.

Washington may look like a pushover, but like Tennessee, they make for entertaining games by keeping themselves within striking distance.  The Huskies have lost to Boise State, Cal and Oregon by a combined 15 points.  They don’t stop the run or the pass exceptionally well.  They just keep their opponents out of the endzone.  U-Dub comes into this one ranked sixteenth in scoring defense, allowing just 16.8 points per game.

Washington might be the only Pac-12 team left on Stanford’s schedule that can stop this sudden offensive explosion.  I never thought I’d say this, but the higher the score is the more I like Stanford here.

Game of the Weak

Troy (1-5) at New Mexico State (0-6)

Big shoutout to Aaron Creguer for suggesting that I feature this atrocious matchup in a new “Game of the Weak” segment that will highlight the worst game on the schedule each week.

These two abominable programs have accounted for just a single win this fall.  That one came when Troy beat up on Charleston Southern of the FCS.  The Trojans have played in some tough road games, travelling to NC State, Wisconsin and Mississippi State.  But, it doesn’t seem to have done them much good since they’ve dropped games to South Alabama and Idaho as well.

New Mexico State, for my money, is the worst team in the FBS.  The Aggies have collected two SEC paychecks for getting embarrassed by Florida and Ole Miss.  They’ve lost to Georgia State and Georgia Southern, a feat that I can’t imagine any FBS team has ever accomplished.  And they’ve already chalked up an L next to their biggest game against rival New Mexico.

If for some reason you’re interested in watching this futility you can stream the game on the Watch ESPN app Saturday night at 8:00pm.

Which Direction Should USC Go?

Getting past any distraction is the key for any college football program. But when the football team loses its coach in the middle of the season it creates a scenario that nobody surrounding the program wants to deal with.

Welcome to the current world of USC Trojan football. By now we all know what has happened to the premier college football program on the West Coast. Steve Sarkisian was put on a leave of absence and less than 24 hours later Sarkisian was terminated as the Trojan Head Coach. Clay Helton has been named the interim coach for the remainder of the season, but after that, what should the Trojans do with their search for a new head football coach?

First of all, we have to realize that Pat Haden isn’t going anywhere. Personally, I think he needs to go, but realistically he won’t be fired anytime soon. The fans, alumni, and the big money boosters who want him gone are going to have to wait on that possibility because the powers that be at USC, especially the USC President Max Nikias, gave Haden the vote of confidence.

“I look forward to working with Pat Haden as our USC AD for many years to come.” USC President Max Nikias said in statement on Tuesday.

Now, onto the bigger issue of a head coach for the Trojans. Where do they go? Does Clay Helton even have a chance at getting the head coach job? Do they go outside the “Peter Carroll” tree?
These are all questions that are being asked since the firing of Steve Sarkisian on Monday. It is my belief that the USC brass need to go outside anybody that is connected with Peter Carroll and anybody that is connected with the university. With that being said, Jack Del Rio and Jeff Fisher, two ex-Trojan players, should not be on the list, but in reality, they are not leaving the NFL to come back to college anyway. I don’t believe they would have any interest in going back out on the recruiting trail to get players to come to USC.

The name that was brought up almost immediately was Chip Kelly, former head coach at Oregon and current Philadelphia Eagle Head Coach. Chip is not going anywhere, he’s not leaving the pros right now. He just signed a $35 million dollar contract a couple of years ago and leaving this soon after coming from the college ranks would be an admission of failure. I don’t think he’s ready to leave Philly at this point. The other aspect of hiring a guy like Chip Kelly is that he is not a “shaking hands, kissing babies” type of coach. He wasn’t well liked by alumni and boosters at Oregon because he wasn’t kissing their backsides in terms of giving them the time of day, so I don’t think that would play well with the big money people at USC.

What about Brian Kelly, Head Coach of Notre Dame? Kelly’s coaching style will be on display for USC this upcoming weekend because the Trojans are playing Notre Dame on Saturday. Would he leave the Irish and go coach for one of their long-time rivals? He might. He has said that coaching at Notre Dame is something you can do for 15 years. He’s in year six with the Fighting Irish and if the Trojans bring an open checkbook I could see him listening at the very least. The other part of what might make Brian Kelly attractive to USC is that he has a classy persona and that persona is rooted in coaching discipline to his players. He’s a possibility for the Men of Troy.

Somebody mentioned Jim Mora, Head Coach at UCLA. How crazy would that be? Leave the Trojans’ crosstown rival to go coach USC? I don’t see that happening at all. Mora has a great thing going with the Bruins, is raising money like a madman for the program, and everybody associated with the program LOVES him. UCLA has plenty of money to keep Mora away from anybody and they would not let a Mora move to USC happen. To me, Mora is off the list.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah Utes Head Coach is getting some mention as well. What he has done at Utah the last few years and having his team currently ranked in the top five in the polls will catch the eyes of the hiring committee at USC for sure. He’s also in the same conference and the same division as USC, so I would think people around the program are talking about him already. It’s no secret that Whittingham has had some difference of opinion with administration at Utah in the last couple of years, so he just might pick up the phone if the Trojans call. Some people might ask “Why would he leave?” People leave jobs because it’s just time for a new challenge. Is Utah going to be Alabama or Ohio State? Probably not, so a new challenge or a change of scenery might be something Kyle Whittingham wants in his life at this time. Imagine what he could do with the talent the USC brings in on a yearly basis? Just let that thought sink in.

Finally, what about Kevin Sumlin? Currently, he is overseeing the program at Texas A&M and has done some great things with facility upgrades and raising money at College Station. Before Sarkisian was hired, Sumlin was contacted by USC to be their coach two years ago. Nothing got done between the two parties back then, but could it get done between Kevin Sumlin and USC a second time around? I think it could. With the amount of money that USC could bring to the table and the talent they can bring to the field, why wouldn’t Sumlin take the call? I think Kevin Sumlin should be near the top of the list, if not at the top of the Trojan wish list. He’s young, innovative, runs a spread type of offense, he can recruit, has shown that he can handle the media pretty well. And to survive in Los Angeles you need to be media savvy.

The problem at USC is not lack of talent, that’ll never be an issue for them. The Trojans can go anywhere in the country and get the type of talent they are accustomed to getting. The issue at USC is there administrative leadership. They have allowed things to get out of control with their decision making.

“USC has four and five star athletes, do they have four and five star leaders?” Former Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti questioned the other day on ESPN.

That’ll be the question that any prospective coach will have going forward with USC. If they want to get somebody like Kevin Sumlin, Brian Kelly, or Kyle Whittingham to come to USC then they have to show that they have their act together. Right now it’s the leadership at the top that is not together, so until that happens the Trojan program will suffer.

Steve Sarkisian is Fired By USC

College football is a high pressure business with high pressure expectations from everybody involved. The media, administration, fans, alumni, and the big money donors all have their ideas about how their football program should be run. The head coach has to be the guy who has to be the face of the program, but can sometimes be put into a situation where the ability to deal with the pressure is too much.

At USC the pressure is immense. They are a national “brand” in college football and when Head Coach Steve Sarkisian came on board a couple of seasons ago, people thought he would be putting the Trojans back on the map, leading them out of the sanctions that were put on them by the NCAA. He still may be THAT guy, but for right now, there are other problems he has to deal with.

Sarkisian had been asked by AD Pat Haden to take an indefinite leave of absence from the program, but when Haden had some more time to consult with other administration officials, he ultimately decided to terminate Sarkisian.  Assistant Coach/offensive coordinator Clay Helton has been named interim head coach. Sarkisian was asked to take a leave of absence after he showed up in “no condition to work” according to sources close to the program.

“After careful consideration of what is in the best interest of the university and our student-athletes, I have made the decision to terminate Steve Sarkisian, effective immediately.” Pat Haden said in a statement.

Earlier in the year, Sarkisian was asked to apologize for his behavior at the Salute to Troy benefit in August. He was reportedly dropping f-bombs while addressing the crowd at the event, and other people also said that he was slurring his speech and acting intoxicated while at the event. Questions soon followed about possible alcohol problems with Sark. Shortly after the event Sark announced that there would be no more alcohol in the coach’s office, but it seems that there are larger issues here.

Having seen the Trojans in person when they came to Arizona State, I saw a couple of things that disturbed me about Sarkisians behavior. I was down on the field when USC came out of their tunnel during pre-game announcements and when the team came running out onto the field, they were followed by Sarkisian.

Most coaches take the field with a fairly reserved type of demeanor, Sarkisian did not. He was fired up, yelling at the student section of Arizona State, trying to goat them into a response and he got his wish. Students were yelling obscenities back at him and he seemed to be taking a decent amount of pleasure from it. However, what happened next was even more embarrassing for him and USC. He was giving the students the middle finger as he made his way to the Trojan sideline. In this age of technology where everybody has a camera, why do something of this magnitude in the public arena? You are asking for trouble.

It was after seeing that display of unethical behavior that my own thoughts about his drinking issue became more solid. From the time we all heard about his behavior at the Trojan benefit in August I thought there was a larger issue with Sarkisian, and indeed there is now.

Sources are coming forward saying that there was a time during that Arizona State game that the other coaches had to pull Sarkisian away from the players during a timeout because they thought he was intoxicated.

If that is true, Pat Haden, (USC’s AD) had to have known. If he didn’t, then there has been a huge cover-up for Sarkisian, or Haden was in some extreme denial about his coach. Does Pat Haden need to be fired as well? Yes. In my opinion, Haden should have taken this much more seriously. He hitched his wagon to Sarkisian when he came down from the Stanford press box to defend his coach after a controversial play during the game. Pat Haden has failed Steve Sarkisian, much like Sarkisian has failed Haden. You have a coach and an athletic director who have been the face of the program and the coach has an apparent drinking problem while at the same time it appears that the school had it’s face buried in the sand about it.

“They would not let him come to practice.” A source told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.

Another player told ESPN’s Shelley Smith by text message that Sarkisian “showed up lit to meetings again today.”

Once the dam breaks on a subject like this, all sorts of other incidents pop up around somebody like Sarkisian. Reportedly there are documents showing his use of alcohol at Washington as well as players from Washington that have said they could smell alcohol on his breath during meetings while he was the coach there.

The firing of Steve Sarkisian will hopefully be the catalyst for him to start a life of sobriety and repairing the obvious damage done to his personal and professional life. I believe that Steve Sarkisian is a good man deep down inside his soul, but like many people, he has demons. He has to find way to get past these issues because if he does, our society is all about second chances for people who hit the proverbial rock bottom with their lives.

In the end, this is a part of Sarkisian’s life that he needs to figure out and get some serious help with, so football should be an afterthought for him. He needs to get sober and realize there are some things in life that are bigger than football.

Coaches on the Rocks and Coaches who Saved Their Bacon

Some quick thoughts on a bunch of things from this past weekend’s college football action.

Texas should pretend every opponent is Oklahoma

This is arguably the biggest game on Texas’ schedule every year and they came out and dominated the first half. The second half was a bit shaky, but it was still solid nonetheless. I think we can silence all of the fire Charlie Strong talk for the rest of this season. The Longhorns’ second half schedule is a lot more manageable with only Baylor currently ranked.

Back to Charlie Strong. I don’t know him, but it’s obvious this was the biggest win of his career. You can talk about all the other stuff before Texas, but he needed this because as Seth (@Smerenbloom) said to me during the podcast the other day, lose this and the fire is all the way up. I’ve been the leader of the give Strong more time train, and I still think that no matter what, he gets this year and all of next before Texas considers a change. I don’t think it’s fair to give him less than four of his five years and I don’t think it’s fair to whomever the incoming athletic director is to fire him without giving him a fair evaluation.

So, no matter who the players (boosters) that don’t like Charlie Strong are, I hope you’ll get off of him and let the man do his work. There wasn’t a lot at Texas when he got there and as we know now there are plenty of Mack Brown’s players who aren’t fans of Charlie Strong’s players. This happens everywhere and this is why Charlie Strong deserves four years.

And…Texas ISN’T that important. Listen to the podcast and you’ll know why.

Everything is coming up Vols

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky rather than good. Tennessee was super lucky against the Georgia Bulldogs this week and ya know what, that’s ok. That’s good enough to maybe take a little bit of the pressure off Butch Jones and put it squarely on Mark Richt. Georgia was rocked by Alabama last week and lost to an unranked Tennessee team this week. Not a good look. Sure, Nick Chubb was injured and that’s a big deal, but Tennessee has been basically listless the first four weeks of the season.

Losses to Oklahoma, Florida, and Arkansas make things seem bleak for Jones, but in reality the only one of those losses that meant anything to the season was the Florida loss. Beating Georgia changes everything.

The Vols are off next week then head to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama. Whatever. I mean, they aren’t in the division, so even if they lose it really isn’t a big deal. The goal is to show meaningful progress week to week no matter who the opponent is.

Tennessee and Butch Jones are fine, and together.

On Randy Edsall

Randy Edsall was fired on Sunday. I live in Big Ten country and I know very little about Edsall or Maryland. I’m not a fan of living in the past, but I’ll say this, Maryland shouldn’t have fired Ralph Friedgen. The move wasn’t popular at the time and it makes less sense now a few short years later. I can’t say if Edsall was in over his head, if Maryland just isn’t a great place to play football, or if being in the Big Ten East is the worst thing to happen to a new entrant in the conference.

All that said, I have a ton of respect for Edsall by standing up to a silly question from a reporter about shaking hands with his players after his defeat versus Ohio State on Saturday. When rumors emerged Thursday that Edsall was on the hot seat, I admit I was more than surprised. I don’t know what the expectations are at a school like Maryland when that team has to face Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State every year. Sure, this is Maryland’s second year in the conference and it sounds like Edsall’s teams have been in underachievement mode for a long time, but what is really going to improve?

Trouble at Southern Cal with Steve Sarkisian; Pat Haden

I promise not to pile on and my issues aren’t really with Steve Sarkisian. People have problems and it sounds like these problems have been well-known for some time. I think it’s safe to say Sarkisian won’t return to coach football at Southern California, and if he was indeed under the influence a few weeks ago versus Arizona State then that makes complete sense. I also know that because these issues may have been well known, the reason he hasn’t been terminated (for cause) is because the American with Disabilities (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) Acts protect him, which is a good thing.

My immediate issues are with the coaches who may have known he was under the influence at Arizona State and didn’t say anything, and if they did who did they say it to? Everything indicates athletic director Pat Haden didn’t know he might have been intoxicated before or during the game, but now that he’s been put on indefinite leave assistant coaches are leaking information they knew he was drunk.

I understand, you don’t want to be the one who throws your boss under the bus, but at what point are you not being a friend by not speaking up? If there are coaches and staff who knew he was at work drunk then those people should be dismissed immediately. If Haden didn’t know, then I don’t directly fault him, but as the head administrator of USC athletics everything falls on his shoulders.

Everything.

If there is any indication that Haden knew anything of Sarkisian’s alleged drinking problems at Washington and hired him without running that information up the flag pole, then he should be dismissed without question.

When USC officially dismisses Sarkisian (and it will happen), Haden should leave with him. He made Sarkisian his first priority when he arrived at USC and has hitched his wagon to him. It would seem that for a time Haden was the calm in the storm after Mike Garrett, Lane Kiffin, and all the Reggie Bush related sanctions. But based on what’s going on with Sarkisian it could be time to move on.

Where Southern Cal goes from here is anyone’s guess, but the first and most important step is to make sure they do right by Steve Sarkisian. Football will continue somehow, but in the long run that’s the least of their worries.

What I left out

My original thoughts on Randy Edsall’s presser on Saturday included two Les Miles videos, and I would be remiss if I didn’t include them. Full disclosure, I thought Edsall had done enough to at least postpone his firing until the end of the season. But I am also of the same mindset as Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, “What should be done eventually, must be done immediately.” So, in that regard, I’m glad Edsall won’t be sort of lame duck coach until December.

The first is honestly my favorite Les Miles moment. Remember when he was to supposedly leave LSU to coach Michigan? His response in 2007:

The second comes at the end-of-season presser in 2010 when a retiring reporter asks Miles about being interviewed by Erin Andrews:

Podcasts you should listen to

Last week I had the pleasure of talking with our own Bird LeCroy (@Autull) who is the co-host of the SEC 411 about his five favorite SEC college football stadiums, and five college football stadiums I’ve never been to.

Later in the week, I talked with Campus Pressbox’s Managing Editor Seth Merenbloom (@Smerenbloom) about a wide range of football topics including which coaches (other than Edsall) are on the hot seat, college football’s super powers, and salaries of college coaches versus their president and provost bosses.

E-mail Damien at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @damienbowman.

Legacy Links – 10/6/15: Conference Play Sets Tone

Editors note: Hollis Oliver McLain, III (@HollisOliverIII) will be publishing a series of articles throughout the season on some of college football’s most storied programs. This year, we’ve selected Alabama, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas, UCLA and Virginia Tech. On Tuesday’s you’ll get important links about each program (Legacy Links) and on Friday’s you’ll get important story lines and a game preview of one team (Legacy Lines). Follow each of these stories here , and get your latest news when you need it.

Alabama Crimson Tide

The Tide Rolled over Georgia last weekend, and in his press conference yesterday, Nick Saban became fed up with the narrative that the media have forced upon the team and their fans. In what will go down as a classic Saban rant, Nick responded to a media members’ question by going on about the fact that the Alabama players don’t play for the media, but instead, should be playing for themselves and each other. If you haven’t heard some of the quotes, they are well worth your while and might make you crack a smile, as long as you aren’t a Tide fan.

LINK – http://www.al.com/alabamafootball/index.ssf/2015/10/heated_nick_saban_to_media_if.html

Throughout the natural course of a football season, everybody gets caught up in wins and losses on the field, while other, more important stories become pushed to the wayside. Here is a story about a young Alabama defensive back named Minkah Fitzpatrick who has been through more than most people could even imagine. From not having enough money to eat lunch at school to Hurricane Irene, this kid and his family have been through a lot. He is a humble, hard worker who has become a vital part of the Tide’s secondary. This is a must read.

LINK – http://www.al.com/alabamafootball/index.ssf/2015/10/from_the_peanut_butter_room_to.html

Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State thought they would have a breakout season this year. Struggles on both sides of the ball, as well as injuries have plagued this team and pushed them off course. With their top two running backs out for last week’s game and possibly more time, James Franklin has to rely on his young players to get him through the season.

LINK – http://www.collegian.psu.edu/football/article_d22be4b0-6af7-11e5-aeef-b75fc17e684d.html

Everyone loves a heartwarming story, and Immanuel Iyke is happy to oblige. Iyke recently walked-on to the Penn State program, but the circumstances in which he did so are the real story. Iyke is a 27-year-old former U.S. Marine who served five tours of duty overseas, and now, he is playing defensive tackle for the Nittany Lions.

LINK – http://onwardstate.com/2015/10/06/former-u-s-marine-runs-on-to-penn-state-football-roster-2/

Tennessee Volunteers

After a disappointing start to the season to say the least, the Volunteer fan base is looking to all the coaches for answers. Although the Vols still have a lot of football to play, the fans are livid and jumping ship left and right. At a local, frequent event, position coach Willie Martinez said that the team must rely on the foundation they built and the competition of the players to keep this season afloat. Things are going downhill in Knoxville fast, and coaches are going into damage control mode.

LINK – http://www.knoxnews.com/govolsxtra/football/willie-martinez-says-culture-will-rescue-struggling-vols_15618088

If any of you were following college football in the late 80’s and early 90’s, then you most likely have heard the names Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors. Both former coaches in Knoxville, Fulmer succeeded Majors as head football coach of the Vols after questions that Majors could continue coaching the Vols hit center stage. Ever since the coaching change, Majors and Fulmer have disliked each other so much that they couldn’t even be in the same room together or on campus together. Late last week, a picture of the two shaking hands on campus went viral. Many Vol fans thought that a “curse” had been lifted, but as we saw against Arkansas, the Vols are still the Vols.

LINK – https://www.seccountry.com/tennessee/two-former-tennessee-coaches-bury-the-hatchet

Texas Longhorns

The Longhorns have been flat out unwatchable this year, and that is something that shouldn’t happen to Texas football. The current caretaker of Texas football is Charlie Strong. Strong has not had an ideal tenure so far as the Longhorn coach, and everyone thinks that they see Strong getting pushed out soon. Well, according to the Texas boosters, Charlie Strong’s job as head coach is secure right now. Take this piece for what it’s worth though, because you can never trust what the boosters or officials come out and publicly say.

LINK – http://www.si.com/college-football/2015/10/05/texas-longhorns-charlie-strong-job-security-boosters

After a Texas player retweeted a tweet during the TCU blowout Saturday that was directed towards him transferring to A&M, the Texas team has resorted to attacking each other on Twitter. The Twitter trouble continued to plague the team over the weekend and it is clear that neither the upperclassmen nor Charlie Strong have this locker room under control. Will things get better in Austin?

LINK – http://www.usnews.com/news/sports/articles/2015/10/05/at-1-4-texas-players-now-pointing-fingers

UCLA Bruins

Following a season ending injury to Myles Jack, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden sent the young man an encouraging letter and well wishes on his recovery. Haden talks about his admiration for Jack’s play in the letter. It sure is nice to have something positive to talk about when the bad news is what usually gets put in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

LINK – http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/eye-on-college-football/25328848/look-usc-ad-sends-uclas-myles-jack-a-letter-following-knee-injury

UCLA was taken down last weekend, and it simply took the air out of the sails of this team. Once seen as a solid playoff contender, the Bruins have played their way to the bottom of the polls, and the future looks bleak if they can’t get the ship righted soon. The Bruins failed to play the mistake free football that they had so far this season, and because of it, they are watching their season slip away. Hopefully they can get things together and play well throughout the rest of conference play.

LINK – http://www.bruinsnation.com/2015/10/3/9447675/bruins-fall-flat-again

Virginia Tech Hokies

For the first time since 09’, the NC State Wolfpack is traveling to Blacksburg to face off with the Virginia Tech Hokies. With conference play in full force right now, this ACC matchup means a bunch to both teams. The Hokies have been decimated by injuries, but are hopeful they can do enough to win the ball game when it matters.

LINK – http://www.hokiesports.com/football/recaps/20151005aaa.html

The Virginia Tech football team got some great news this week prior to their game with NC State. Their starting quarterback, Michael Brewer has been cleared to play after an injury he suffered during the first game of the season against Ohio State. There is still a decision to make as to if Brewer will get to play, but it’s positive that he can play after some tough weeks without him. On the other side of the coin however, Marshawn Williams is out for the season after the team found out that he needs even more surgery to repair his knee.

LINK – http://www.dailypress.com/sports/virginia-tech/dp-spt-virginia-tech-football-game-week-presser-1006-20151005-story.html

 

The Pipeline – August 29, 2015: A Firing, some Fines, and a new Television Deal

1. Illinois Fires Tim Beckman Seven Days before Season Opener

Our top news story in this week’s Pipeline comes from the University of Illinois.  (Never thought you’d read that, did you?)  Yes, the Illini have attracted national attention, at least for a couple days.

Head coach Tim Beckman was fired Friday afternoon just seven days before Illinois opens its season against Kent State.  Director of Athletics Mike Thomas dismissed Beckman due to the findings of an external investigation into the mistreatment of players.

Beckman is alleged to have deterred the reporting of player injuries, and pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and play through injuries.  There are also some questions as to whether or not seniors were treated fairly with respect to their scholarship status during the spring semester once they were done playing.  He has, of course, denied that the allegations are accurate, setting the stage for a future lawsuit.

These are very serious accusations.  And there must have been quite a lot of damning evidence to substantiate these claims for Thomas to can Beckman so close to the season opener.

Bill Cubit will take over for the 2015 as interim head coach.  He joined the Illini coaching staff in 2013 as offensive coordinator.

The issue of player safety became real for us last fall when Brady Hoke and the Michigan training staff failed miserably in protecting quarterback Shane Morris.  Excuse the video quality, but you should hear how Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham brought this to a live audience.  Now that a coach has been fired for mismanaging his players, it’s officially a hot button issue.

2. Fining College Football Players?

On Wednesday, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said some things he shouldn’t have about the possibility of fining players.  Athletic director Whit Babcock was quick to shut the idea down, saying Tech would be doing no such thing.

On Thursday a list of all finable offenses is spotted outside the Tech locker room.  A picture is taken.  The picture makes its way around the internet.  And Foster’s words are legitimized, proving that there was a plan in place to fine Hokie players for misbehavior.

Then, Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville seconds Foster’s motion.  The AD in this case, UC’s Mike Bohn does not squash his coach’s idea, but instead agrees with him.

There’s some confusion about whether this is legal.  NCAA rules state that taking money from a student’s scholarship is impermissible.  However, there is supposedly some language in these financial aid contracts which states the school may subtract aid if the violations go against department policy or the student code of conduct.

I’m no legal eagle.  I’ll let the lawyers decide what exactly the contracts allow schools to do with players’ financial aid.  I can say that this will undoubtedly add another convoluted layer to the already complicated cake that is the controversy over compensating college athletes.

3. Pac-12 Network on DirecTV

As our own Mike Wilson wrote last week, west coast football fans might be able to relax soon.  After years of not carrying the Pac-12 Network on their cable package, DirecTV will finally give fans out west what they want.

DirecTV, which was recently bought by AT&T, began testing on Friday that appears to be the first step towards bringing the Pac-12 Network to their customers’ television sets.

Imagine the frustration of paying for sports packages you’re not interested in while your favorite conference’s network is unavailable to you.  This is what some fans have been dealing with since the Pac-12 Network’s inception in 2012.

Luckily for them it seems to be coming to an end just in time for the 2015 season.

4. Sarkisian Apologizes for “Inappropriate” Behavior

Steve Sarkisian addressed the media on Tuesday concerning his “inappropriate” behavior at a USC donor event last Saturday.  Apparently, he had too much to drink and had taken some pills he was prescribed.

The press conference was short, but notably odd.

There were unnecessarily personal questions about specifically what medication Sarkisian was referring to in his statement.  Rightfully, he declined to disclose that information.

When asked if he had a drinking problem, Sarkisian said, “No, I don’t believe so, but through Pat [Haden] and the University, I’m going to find that out.”

“I don’t know if I even need rehab,” Sarkisian said.  “That’s part of the process, and I credit Pat Haden for this, that he has put things in place for me to have meetings to figure that out.”

He was quick to ‘swear off’ drinking for the rest of the season, and clarified that while there was never any alcohol in the players’ locker room, it will now be completely banned from all USC football facilities.

The USC players had their coach do a set of down-ups, just as they would have had to do for breaking team rules.

The team has moved on and so should the media.  This was a big mistake, but it was not an accurate reflection of Sarkisian’s character.

5. Vernon Adams Wins Oregon’s Starting QB Job

Anyone who was following the quarterback battle at Oregon knew there was a good chance Vernon Adams would end up winning the job.  The Ducks’ week one depth chart was released on Friday, and sure enough Adams was at the top.

This is news mostly because it wasn’t news to those of us who were paying attention.

Adams is a graduate transfer student who played three seasons at Eastern Washington.  He put up the type of numbers you see from Oregon quarterbacks, throwing for 10,438 yards and 110 touchdowns while with the Eagles.  With Marcus Mariota gone to the NFL and the rest of the team in place, the Ducks needed a new quarterback who could step in and preform immediately.  In Adams, they’ve got just that.

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Interestingly, Adams will make his first start against his alma mater next weekend when the Ducks host the Eagles.  That’s right, just three weeks after graduating from Eastern Washington he will take the field against his former team.

Ahh, what a glorious loophole in the NCAA’s transfer rules.