Coach's Corner: Jim Carlen Looks at OM Game

Jim Carlen was successful everywhere he went as a football coach, winning big at West Virginia and Texas Tech before coming to Columbia, where he won 45 games as the head coach of South Carolina from 1975 to 1981. He'll share his coach's perspective of each week's USC game in a chat with publisher Doug Jolley, beginning this week with a look back at the Ole Miss game.

A personal note: Coach Carlen and family lost his son-in-law Steve Caswell to cancer Saturday, and the funeral is today at 4 pm at Shandon Baptist Church. Steve was only 46, and was married to Coach Carlen's daughter Melanie. They have five daughters. Steve graduated cum laude from USC in 1984 with a degree in mechanical engineering. At the time of his death, he was the President and Chief Operating Officer of W.O. Blackstone & Co., Inc., a mechanical contracting firm in Columbia, where he had worked alongside his father and brother. He was a member of Spring Valley Country Club and Shandon Baptist Church.

Jim Carlen is now 75, but he still keeps up with the game. He talks to coaches all over the country on a regular basis, including Houston Nutt and Ron Zook among others. In regards to analyzing the game, he says, "People ask me if I know anything about coaching. I say no, I just took twenty years of it in college. I'm not knocking anybody. When I evaluate, I don't care to hurt somebody's feelings." With that said, here's his analysis of the Ole Miss game:

"Ole Miss has good talent. The coach that was there before did a superior job of recruiting. They're well coached; next year they'll even be better. Houston Nutt is a good coach; he was at Arkansas and did a fabulous job there.

"I was impressed that we stuck with one quarterback. (Chris Smelley) has come a long way. He was at a private school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and private schools generally don't play the level that public schools play. And he's in Tuscaloosa, and you generally don't think a great player comes out of Tuscaloosa that they don't keep at Alabama. Steve has brought him along to where he is now. He only made one bad throw that was intercepted. Steve will correct that. Steve will outcoach you on receivers and quarterbacks. He didn't make any fumbles, he got tackled for a loss occasionally, but that goes back to the offensive line. I think that has been a major area of concern this whole year and last year.

"At George Rogers' 25th anniversary celebration of his winning the Heisman, I went up to speak at that, and Steve Spurrier came in, and I sat and talked to him. His feeling was he had just signed one of the best quarterbacks he had ever signed, from a private school in Tuscaloosa. I think he has helped (Smelley) mature. He looks better, he looks more confident. You're not going to make him a scrambling quarterback, that's not his cup of tea. Garcia is a good player, but he's only a freshman. He's going to have to wait his turn.

"Steve wants a quarterback that's going to do what he wants him to do. Very simple – don't turn the ball over, throw to a zone, and if you're penned up, run and protect the ball. Smelley proved to me that he can play on a foreign field against a good football team, and come from behind. I think he came of age this game. The biggest thing is, the quarterback played every down. Players win games. Coaches can make a difference, but not as much as people think.

"I think he has four good receivers, and when you put McKinley back in there, that changes the whole complexion, because the other team knows he's going to get open. I think the receivers have come on extremely well. McKinley is a heck of a receiver. What he does, when he's not open, he's got a bunch of people tagging on to him, and those big ol' tall youngsters are catching the ball real well. I'm impressed with the receivers, but that doesn't shock me. Steve does an excellent job with them. Steve Jr. is a better football coach than many realize. He's very thorough in teaching.

"Defensively, Ellis Johnson is a good friend of mine. In my opinion, he's one of the best defensive coaches in college today, and he's shown it everywhere he's been. He's not a personable, bubbly, warm guy, but he is a coach. He gets with the program, and you can tell those kids are playing harder. I was just impressed. They got behind, and they got back up. To play at Ole Miss against the talent the previous coach left them, it's a big win."

What does this win mean to the team now?

"I think it gives them confidence in Smelley as quarterback. I've said all along that the offensive line has got to improve, they have to keep getting better. In pass blocking now you can nearly tackle the guy. The real major, major change since I've been out of coaching is allowing the offensive linemen to hold. I think that has made it very different than it used to be. You have to blitz, and that leaves somebody uncovered in the passing game. The reason we beat Georgia in Athens (in 2007) is because our people went to man coverage. It's tough to teach college defensive backs how to play man coverage. Their tight end was open all day long with us playing man coverage, and their quarterback coach Bobo was up in the press box and never picked that up. When you blitz, you're leaving somebody open.

"I think they've come a long way with discipline at Carolina, and that's a big issue. Youngsters today are not disciplined. It's a 'me-me' world, it's not a 'we-and-us' world. Ellis Johnson has initiated a bond with his players, a bond of correcting what they did wrong, firmly. And firmly is a big issue this day and time."

Coach Carlen concluded by talking about the big play of the game, to him:

"Ole Miss is getting ready to get a touchdown on us, and what do we do? Our defender (Emanuel Cook) picks the ball up and returns it 52 yards. Our defense is not only playing pretty good defense, they're also getting a few turnovers. I never had many defensive linemen or linebackers pick up a ball and return it for a touchdown."

Stay tuned next Monday for Coach Carlen's take on the Gamecocks' matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats.

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