You've known Pete Carroll a long time, talk about some of your earliest memories with him.
"When I was a ballboy back in 3rd or 4th grade for the Vikings he and my dad were coaches together. Pete was a young coach in the NFL always running around and stuff and being a former quarterback and offensive coordinator at UOP he would take me to the side and show me how to throw. When he was with the Jets we were with him there and I was a little older playing quarterback in the 9th grade and he would stay after practice to work with me on drops and everything. That's really my earliest memories, he and my dad worked together when I was real young but I don't remember much from back then."
Talk about how the process worked for you to join him at USC.
"I was at the Jacksonville Jaguars and he called me and said "Hey, I'm at USC. Do you want to come?" and I said "Yep". My dad had called me earlier in the day and told me Pete Carroll might be calling, he told me "remember Pete? remember the type of guy he is? If there was ever a guy you need to go work for as a young coach, to learn how to coach with energy and how to coach fundamentals, that's the guy to go to". I figured I've been listening to my dad my whole life so I listened to him here. When Pete called it was like "all right, let's go". I knew the background of USC and where it had been before. In those years that things weren't so good you were looking at them saying "that's USC, they should be winning all the time". You knew it was a situation here where they could go and get the best players in the country yet they hadn't been winning for a couple years so it was a great time to come. It's one thing to go somewhere when they're on top but you have to maintain that. If you go somewhere where the previous years weren't as good that's a great place to start."
What are the important things you learned from your father about coaching?
"He always talked about being extremely disciplined with your group, your position group. You want to have it to where your position group is the most disciplined on the field. They need to know everything that's going to happen before it happens. You don't want to have them coming off the field asking "what should we have done there?". He said that's the worst thing to happen is to have one of your players do something wrong in a game or in a practice because that means you're doing something wrong. As a coach you try to mentally think of everything that could possibly happen and you want to get your players prepared for those different situations."
Talk about the emotions you felt to see your dad help coach Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl victory.
"I was there in the stands and, for me, it wasn't a Tampa Bay win or anything like that. For me it was for him. We've been to 12 different places since I was born and he's never won a Super Bowl. I knew how important it was to him and to go through the playoffs with such a dominating defensive performance and to cap it in the Super Bowl against a great offense was a wonderful emotion. It was perfect because I knew there was nothing he would change about it. I felt like he got what he had worked for his whole life. To be on top of the world, to win a world championship and to be the best defense in the world. It happened. It wasn't like they were #1 throughout the season and then lost it in the Super Bowl, they went against the #1 offense and came away with five picks. It was awesome."
You recently were offered a job by the Buccaneers and turned it down to stay at USC. Talk about that.
"It didn't get totally deep into it, there was an offer made to come there and part of the decision was tough because of the chance to go and work with a guy like Jon Gruden because obviously he's the best offensive guy at that level. If I'd just gotten here or if I wasn't working for Pete Carroll and Norm Chow then I probably would've went but we've got a head coach here who knows everybody in the NFL and an offensive coordinator who is the best in the history of football. He's set every record there is, he's been named the assistant coach of the year twice. Nobody else has ever won it twice, it's like winning the Heisman twice. When that's the guy you're learning directly from and then you've got a head coach who has this place going it's not like it would be at most colleges where you're jumping at the chance to go to the NFL and Jon Gruden. We've got Pete Carroll and Norm Chow, that's pretty good, and the fact that I was here from the beginning with Pete Carroll has made me feel a part of building what's happening. We've brought these young players in and I don't want to leave guys like Mike Williams, Keary Colbert, Whitney Lewis, Steve Smith. All those flights and all that work to get Mike Williams, he sets every record in the book and now I'm going to leave him? It's too unique what we've done here and what this place can do. We've just started. The Orange Bowl and what we saw last year, in my vision that can be an average year for what we can accomplish when we get this next recruiting class in here and continue building on that. Every year we can get recruiting classes like that. I truly believe that. I didn't want to be sitting somewhere watching on TV as USC wins a national championship and I'm not part of it".
What do you like best about coaching in this offense under Norm Chow?
"What's really unique about Coach Chow is that he tells us what to do as the coordinator but then he lets us run with it for our position group. It's really a great deal because he lets you put the receivers where you want to put them, stuff like that, and he really lets you learn to be a coach instead of just telling you what to do all the time but if he sees something he doesn't like he'll tell you how to do it. That's really helps you to encounter a lot of things that, if he was always telling you what to do, you would never encounter on your own."
What do you like best about the x's and o's of coaching receivers in this offense?
"Number one, the best part of coaching receivers at USC is that you can go and get the best players every year here. It's not like the NFL where the first round has 32 picks and each team usually gets one pick from those top 32 players. You've seen this recruiting class, you know who we're bringing in, we've got probably 6 or 7 of the top 32 players in the country so it's like being in the NFL and having 7 first round picks. That's what we just did and that can happen every year here. It can't happen in the NFL and it can only happen at 3 or 4 universities in the country but this place more than any other has the backyard to do it. To have the power and tradition of USC with the backyard we have in Southern California and now you have a head coach that the players want to play for, that's why we're going to have 7 of the top 32 every year. At that point, how are they gonna beat you when you have Norm Chow as your offensive coordinator and Pete Carroll as your defensive coordinator? You're going to out-scheme everybody and now you have better players than everybody else. I imagine that's what it was like in the late 60's and early 70's here. That's why I came here."
What are your long-term goals as a coach?
"I'd obviously love someday to be a head coach, to become an offensive coordinator and then move on to being a head coach. I would really like to stay in college if it's the right university. I would never want to be in college just to be in college. It's got to be at a place with what I was just talking about, a place that has the ability to get better players. If it's not at a place like that then there are a lot of reasons to go to the NFL but when you're at USC you can't tell me you can go somewhere else and bring in better players."
Let's talk about your receivers. Start with Mike Williams.
"What's been great about Mike is that he was very raw when he came here which might be kind of hard to understand since he caught 81 balls and had 14 touchdowns. He was raw though because he didn't catch very many balls in high school, he didn't play in a pass-oriented offense and he was still catching up to his body. He came in at 6-4, 205 so he was a little lengthy at that point and he hadn't lifted very much. He relied on being a great basketball player a lot to carry over into football. What's happened since he got here last summer for workouts and through the end of the season, what he's been able to do from the Orange Bowl until now, it's a different person. He's 6-5, 232 and he's caught up to his body because he's so big and so strong. He's playing faster and he has more confidence. Our trainers downstairs have worked on his hands so much with tennis balls and his hands are so much softer. If he stays healthy there isn't a better player in the country."
"The great thing about Keary is he takes the game so professionally and so serious every day in everything he does. He's always in there studying and he could play every position for us, he could play fullback, he even jokes that he could play quarterback because he knows the offense so well. He makes himself better. He's not the most physically gifted player, he's not as gifted as Mike, but he's gotten better every day since he got here. His numbers have improved and you've seen it on the field every year."
"Phenomenal acquisition. Coach Carroll, it was his idea, he came to me before camp and said "hey, let's take a look at Justin over there" and he's been dynamite. If you go back to his high school films he played quarterback and nobody could tackle him. People say "well, he's only 5-9" but the guy at Arizona State last year, Shaun McDonald, he was only 5-9 and he was one of the most dynamic players in the conference. Justin has just taken off with it and he's more than we imagined he could be at this point. You think about it he's had 11 practices at wide receiver and the first few he was playing a lot of DB. He's got an incredible ceiling from where he's at now to where he can be and from the minute we got him over here we've been putting him in there and feeding him the ball because we think he's got a chance to be more unique than any of our other guys in terms of what he can do. He's more of a run-after-catch guy than anybody on our roster. He can do more things after a catch than any of them. What helps with him, Mike and Keary is that they're smart kids, they're really smart football-wise so they can play the different receiver positions. That helps a lot, it helped Mike last year and it's always helped Keary here."
How are the other receivers coming along?
"Chris McFoy is young, he has gotten better and it was good for him to redshirt to catch up to the speed of the game here. He catches the ball very well. Greig Carlson has very good work habits, very consistent, catches the ball as well as anybody on the team. Jason Mitchell has come a long way, he came from junior college and was playing for us against Auburn and Colorado but then he got hurt. That really set him back a lot and now he's trying to come back again, he's way behind but he's working."
Talk about the incoming freshmen Whitney Lewis and Steve Smith.
"Whitney Lewis has a chance to be the kind of guy you read about like an Andre Johnson or even Mike Williams in a sense because they're physically different than everybody else. There's only 4 or 5 guys around the country where they just have different bodies. The other day Whitney weighed in at 227 pounds and he hasn't even graduated from high school. He was clocked with two different watches on grass at 4.35, that would make him faster than any player on our roster and he's 227 pounds. What will be the issue is the jump in competition, that's going to be the challenge for him. The good thing now is we're to the point at SC where we don't need him to catch 81 balls like we needed Mike to do last year. Steve Smith is so fine-tuned, he's been a receiver for a long time, he set the state record for receptions. Very smooth. Great hands. He's got to work on his physicalness, he's starting to lift now that basketball is over. He always played basketball and he's never had a chance to really hit the weight room because he's involved in other sports."
You're in charge on national recruiting for the Trojans. How do you begin to narrow down the recruit list?
"Different ways. We start off with a bunch of lists, kids send us film, we've got certain coaches who know certain areas like Coach Orgeron in Louisiana. It all comes down to film though. We've look at the various lists, the top 50 or top 100 lists, we don't go by the lists but you've got to get names from somewhere and we don't always have a coach who knows every area. In the end though it comes down to watching the film and making our own evaluations. By May we'll probably be at around 40 out of state guys so we'll do a little more research. First of all, he has to be unique for us. Last year there were two terrific receivers in our own backyard so we didn't need to go after 6 receivers across the country. We went after one down in Florida (Andre Caldwell). Coach Carroll says they have to be first-round draft picks, if we're going to go out of state they have to be first round draft picks. If we're going to fight what we have to fight to get an out of state guy he'd better be good and he'd better be different than what we have in our backyard. Right now we feel anybody in our backyard we can get so if we're going to put in the work the out of state guy needs to be pretty unique. Next we've got to get a feel for their interest. If we hear signs when we're talking to them like "my family really wants me to stay near" that's not what we want to hear. We need to hear a specific interest, a relative in the area, the fact that they visited LA before and really liked it, a player from another state who was born here, something like that. There has to be a little draw because they have to go through a lot of schools to get here. We're not going to worry about going all out for a TE from out of state who is supposed to be the best in the country if he's not giving us any signs that he wants to come here. You've got to figure your hours and where you're going to put your time because chances are we've got someone pretty good in our backyard. What we also started to see last year is that they're starting to come to us a little bit. With the Orange Bowl, the Heisman Trophy, kids across the country know who Carson Palmer is, they know where Mike Williams goes to school and where he came from. It makes it easier for us to talk to a player about coming here because someone else has walked that walked before. When we recruited Mike we didn't have a guy on our roster from Florida so he had to go out on his own and do it. We've got guys who have done it now, Dominique Byrd from Minnesota and Mike Ross who's also from Florida, so other schools can't point to us and say we're only going to play California kids. This team will never be stacked with out of state kids because of our backyard but if we get one or two great ones a year we'll be fine."
With the out of state players, what is the perception of USC right now?
"SC right now has become a Top 10 team in their minds. When they think "where do I want to play?" and they write down a list of 10 schools USC is on that list. When we first got here it wasn't that way for out of state guys, it was that way for in-state guys because they grew up with it but out of state it wasn't. They knew of Marcus, Junior and Keyshawn but then they'd ask "who has it been lately?". Now they know Carson, Troy, Mike Williams. It's getting back to the point of saying "to go to SC you've got to be something special" or to hear people say "you're being recruited by USC, wow". In the past when you went out of state it wasn't that way but it is now."
Lane Kiffin (r) watches Saturday practice with Pete Carroll and Tim Davis