USC: A Fine Mess

Update: Forget about everything I wrote below. Reportedly, Lane Kiffin is leaving Tennessee for USC. Apparently the Trojans are determined to suck. Brutal.

There is precisely one thing that, in my eyes, USC absolutely couldĀ  not afford to have happen – have the first coach they offer the job to turn it down. That’s just what appears to have happened today, though. Jack Del Rio is reportedly sticking around with the Jacksonville Jaguars for at least another year. He’ was a star linebacker back in the day for USC, and he even won a Rose Bowl MVP, so he has ties to the program even if he doesn’t have college coaching experience. He’s not actually saying that he was offered the job, but the rumors are plentiful enough and strong enough that we can assume he was.

So, why can’t USC afford to have anyone say no? Well, as soon as someone does it starts to add fuel to the argument that this is going to be a tough job to fill. Pete Carroll has run an amazing program since ha arrived, but there are definite chinks in the armor right now – a down year, recruiting issues caused by Carroll’s departure at a key recruiting time that could make next year less than a great year as well, and two NCAA investigations into two high profile players and the illegal considerations they may have received. The new coach is potentially stepping into a pit of snakes, and with the progress that teams like Oregon and Oregon State are making every year there is no guarantee that dealing with those snakes is going to be worth the grief. USC needed to be sure to nail the hiring process first time so that it appeared that they were still the most desirable possible job, and so that there was no reason for fans and financial backers of the team to start to worry. Michigan fumbled their hiring process badly two years ago, and Rich Rodriguez still has to deal with the repercussions of that today. Now that Del Rio isn’t interested, the precedent has been set and we could see a string of coaches turning them down. That would cause panic in the recruits and strip the incoming class of some of its’ shine.

There is another side to this, though – I don’t think that Del Rio was the right choice in the first place. Carroll came form the NFL and did a truly brilliant job, but he’s the exception to the rule. For every guy who does well coming from the NFL there are a large handful that struggle badly. For every Pete Carroll there is five Charlie Weis’ (there’s a joke there about how one Charlie Weis is the physical equivalent of five Pete Carroll’s, but I won’t stoop to that low). As a big college football fan I am frustrated by the perception that guys from the NFL can step right into college and succeed even though it is widely accepted that guys struggle going from college to the pros. Learning how to manage a roster full of teenagers, and how to recruit to keep that roster strong and productive is a different task than dealing with rich babies in the NFL, but it is no easier. USC would, in my mind, be far better served by finding the best up and coming college coach out there and giving him his shot at the big time. That’s what Florida did and it didn’t exactly go badly for them. USC is one of the small handful of premium jobs in the country, even with the uncertainty surrounding it, and it needs to start approaching this search like they know that and believe it.

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