You know the world has gone off its axis more than just a bit when on the Thursday morning drive in, listening to 790 AM, you hear this: "looks like Russia is invading the Ukraine and this could mean war, but first, the USC scandal with the LA Times' Gary Klein. He'll be here to break it down for us."
And yet in one of those only-at-USC moments, by the middle of practice, the Josh Shaw story drops down a notch for those who discover the Instagram post from a disgruntled Anthony Brown calling Steve Sarkisian "a racist."
No longer on the team after quitting last Thursday, Brown was still listed on the depth chart at running back as the coaches tried to talk him into returning. He was thought to be injured and rehabbing his hyperextended elbow.
"Can't play for a racist man," Brown posted on Facebook as well as Instagram, "treating me like a Slave in his office."
"That's ridiculous," Sark said when he came down to the media room to talk to the beat reporters after the post-practice scrum, which may have been the one break USC caught today. The media here for the Shaw story hadn't heard about the Brown charges.
"You guys know me," Sark said of Brown's accusation. "Quite honestly, I'm shocked."
After nine months back home for Sark, all we can say is "Welcome to LA . . . and USC." It's different here. You're never far from stepping on a landmine even if things have gone as well as, or better than, anyone could have possibly hoped for to this point for the new coach.
No scandals. No arrests. No charges. After today, no arrests at least. But which way to turn if you're paying attention to these things, which after a closed Thursday practice is about all you could talk about on a day when no players were available to the media and the media was unable to watch practice.
So the couple of dozen TV cameramen and sound crew guys and gals, some of whom had staked out their spots for what looked like hours with chairs and umbrellas and propping themselves up against the tunnel wall to McKay Center and in the gravel outside Goux Gate to get the first shot when it opened after practice, had no other focus.
But even before the gates open, we get our first official reaction from a USC official on Brown. "He's crazy." It was the exact same response we got from a coach, an African-American by the way, after practice. "Everybody plays the race card," he said.
And while no one at USC felt the need even to defend Sark from the charges, a couple of defensive starters jumped in on Twitter and even TMZ picked up on them. Antwaun Woods said: "Coach Sark is a great person/Coach! Please disregard comments that have been made by someone." Scott Felix tweeted, "Coach Sark is a great coach and even better person. Accusations like that couldn't be more untrue."
Then former USC and NFL player Terrell Thomas added this in a tweet: "Shark was probably the only reason I went to USC, no way he racist...I played for him for 5 years and he was always a players coach!"
And so it went. At least for a time, and for some people, they weren't talking about Josh Shaw. But Sark would be, after talking football for a bit, the first question was about Shaw. And the second and the third and so on.
But, as Sark said, "we'll start with football first." And he did, describing the 90-minute practice and prepractice walkthrough in helmets, shorts, no pads, as "awesome." That's the third "awesome" this week. "They were flying around out there" and with "great attention to detail," Sark said.
"We had a great week of work," he said despite all the potential distractions. And now there's a game "in 48 hours." He said this team is "really trying to keep things separated," and there's no question this is a serious team from the players' faces as they exit Howard Jones Field. No horseplay. No giggling and punking one another. Looks like an NFL team going to work.
The one bit of news advancing the Shaw story was that there's a definite opening for him to return. "Potentially," Sark said. "I've known Josh for six years," from when he was recruiting the USC senior for Washington.
So maybe, Sark seemed to be saying, "when the time is right." Or if it ever is. The door is not closed despite all the negative publicity that has come this USC program's way after Shaw's story about spraining both ankles rescuing a seven-year-old nephew from drowning that he admitted Wednesday was "a total fabrication."
But no more real talk of Shaw and his story, Sark said. When they met with Shaw Wednesday, he was with his attorney and those are questions for him, Sark felt. How Shaw actually got injured? Sark said he didn't ask and didn't think, because of Shaw's attorney's presence, we "were privy to asking that" and so he didn't.
Sark did answer one other question, on the decision to release the rescue story on the USC athletic department Ripsit blog. he said that was "a group decision.
"We regret the fact that we released it . . . it was everybody involved," Sark said, of the Monday decision to put it up on the blog before the story took off, becoming the top story in college football to start the first game week.
He said he "wanted to get out in front of it," and knew people would see "Shaw in a wheelchair with both ankles sprained" and be asking why and how.
And now, on ESPN's SportsCenter, USC was called "a clown college" by an anchor Wednesday evening. "I didn't watch ESPN," Sark said of his typical game week viewing, "and for all the right reasons," it appears.
As to where this team is, Sark says it's in a good place, he thinks. And that's a credit to a team that has had experience with these sorts of distractions and leaders like Cody Kessler, Hayes Pullard, Nelson Agholor and Leonard Williams as reasons why. "They do a good job compartmentalizing things," he said, much as they had to last fall.
The hope was they wouldn't have to do that this season but after nine good months, here we are. As Sark said, he's got more than 100 other football players to think about and he's not going to let the actions of one -- and now two -- change that.
Thanks to Publisher Ryan Abraham's relentless pursuit of the math here, but with the suspension of Shaw and the defection of Brown, on top of the losses of Jabari Ruffin, Kenny Bigelow, Jordan Austin, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and the not-back-yet-status of D.J. Morgan, USC appears to be down to 62, counting DJM, originally recruited scholarship players available for Saturday's Coliseum opener against Fresno State (4:30, Fox) and that's counting Khaliel Rodgers, Tre Madden, Cody Temple, Jordan Simmons, Aundrey Walker and Morgan, all in various stages of rehab/return.
For a complete wrapup of Thursday morning's closed practice, as much as we can do that, check out THURSDAY'S NOT-SO-QUICK & NOT-SO-GHOST NOTES.You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at email@example.com.