"Practice is everything," Pete Carroll preached. It's all you have, really, after you've done all your recruiting.
Better make it count. That was always the difference for me watching USC football up close the last dozen years. Practice mattered more than anything -- when it was done right. And why shouldn't it have been: You have complete control.
You just have to have the right coaches, the right ideas, the right handle. Get off track, as happened so often for so many reasons in recent years, and talent won't save you.
In fact, the talent will determine that practice doesn't matter or doesn't help. And then where are you?
One of the lasting memories of covering the Trojans during those glory years, the building back up and staying at the top, was the pride the players took in the way they practiced. To a man, they would tell you that the practices were more competitive than the games. And that sense of things developed a confidence that, especially in big games, sustained them.
Which is why a USC team going back to a collegiate model of competition, enthusiasm, high energy and a tempo that at least matches game speed is more than a little encouraging from what we've seen so far in USC's first four August practices.
It's all back. It's fast. It's competitive. And while the top end talent never really went away despite the NCAA-limited numbers, the approach to practice did.
Just not too much enthusiasm at the wrong time. "That's not our problem," Steve Sarkisian said after stopping practice an hour and 45 minutes in Thursday at the Coliseum to line his players up -- offense on one half of the field and defense on the other -- for some sideline-to-sideline running after the non-tackling 11-on-11 work had gone from "thud" standing up and stopping to takedowns and tackling.
"Uh uh," Sark said. 'At times, a little too high," Sark said of the overenthusiastic approach in shoulder pads and shorts. Full pads would come Friday. And the tackling with it.
"We have to learn to practice," Sark said. And when they forget how, that's what coaches are for -- to teach them. Which is why that was an important moment. Stop it, Sark said. Be smart. Do it the right way. No going off just because you're all fired up.
But that was just a small part of what happened Thursday in the Coliseum. This wasn't just about the players, it was about Sark, coming back to the Coliseum. As a head coach. Calling plays in a big stadium.
It's something he did every day at Washington in Husky Stadium, he said, where his team practiced. But he'd only been head coach a couple of times at the Coliseum. So here he was, practicing himself along with his players.
As to play-calling, it's becoming an expanded universe as you watch this team evolve on offense on a daily basis. With two talented running backs in the backfield, matching up Buck Allen with Tre Madden,, or maybe freshman Adoree Jackson, and sending them in opposite directions, or maybe even handing it off to Jackson up the gut.
Looks like fun for an offensive staff populated with three former college quarterbacks in offensive coordinator Clay Helton, wide receivers coach Tee Martin and tight ends/fullbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo who, with Sark, give USC four former play-callers in the offensive team meetings.
"A very creative staff,' he calls his guys, "talented and tough-minded . . . I'm very fortunate."So are his offensive players, who are coming to practice realizing that instead of standing around in what often looked more like NFL walkthrough under Lane Kiffin, or being buried on the depth chart, whether they're a veteran with MVP credentials like Allen or a newcomer in Practice No. 4 like Jackson, they're coming your way with new and interesting wrinkles.
"We're just trying to play to the strengths of our players," Sark says. All the players not just one or two. Get Allen and Madden with the ball in space -- "They're tough to tackle,' Sark says. Pretty simple stuff.
Or just get the ball to Adoree somewhere and see wht he can do. Not really so simple. He's a freshman. It's his first week in college. And he's playing defense. And returning kicks.
And yes, there's a worry about overloading him. And yet there he is, where he's supposed to be, on both sides of the ball. "He's prepared . . . he's excited . . . he's making plays," Sark says of Jackson.
Which is what this is all about, as it was with Pete. It's about players making plays. It's really that simple. But it's up to these coaches to figure out exactly how to do that -- in practice -- as they get them ready to do it in games.
From what we're seeing, it looks like they're headed in the right direction.
Pat's doubled-up duties
AD Pat Haden was here looking over his football team and the slightly different looking Coliseum as it prepares to get a whole new set of field-level suites in front of a reconfigured end zone -- "for the band and their friends" is how Pat describes the new elevated look.
But that wasn't the talk for this day. Two other items were: Pat's duties as one of the 13-person College Football Playoffs selection committee -- and the just-approved autonomy resolution for the NCAA's 65-team Power Five conferences.
Quick takes on both:
*** Pat has lots of work to do on the selection committee which promised three in-person meetings (all in Dalls) and now is up to No. 4 with a three-day in-service seminar coming up for members to learn how to use all the state-of-the-art computer systems that Pat says are still in a box in his office. As to whether the four-team will expand to eight as many predict before the 12-year agreement is up, Pat says he's not expecting that. "I don't think any university presidents -- and they're the ones who vote on this -- are in favor of that."
*** As to the autonomy that is coming for the Pac-12, SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Big 12, Pat says it's about being able to better take care of student-athletes, something USC has long been in favor of. "We'll continue to do as much as we're allowed to," he says of the new food allowances and full cost of attendance.
Although some of the proposals coming down the pike, like paying for players' parents to go to away games, remind one of the alleged "crimes" for which USC was crushed by the NCAA just four years ago. But not with any sense of irony, Haden says.
"I don't ever think of irony when I think of the NCAA penalties and the doghouse we've been in," Haden says with a shake of the head. The athletic directors will be meeting Aug. 19 in San Francisco to discuss what Haden hopes is a plan for "how to domore for kids."
Trojans practice in full pads for the first time today at 2:30 p.m. then have the day off Saturday and return to practice at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Howard Jones Field and then back Monday for their first double session at 8:45 a.m. and 7 p.m. with only the morning session open . . . Kevon Seymour in gear but not doing a great deal although he managed some running and some drills . . . Su'a Cravens in pads and much more active after his strep throat . . . Bryce Dixon (cramping) and Devian Shelton (ankle) were back and practicing . . . Jordan Simmons )knee) was still limited along with Aundrey Walker (ankle) and Lamar Dawson (knee).
For a complete wrapup of Thursday's Coliseum practice, check out THURSDAY DAY 4 USC GHOST NOTES.