Clay makes the call

Sunday's dismissals of four USC assistants were calls that had to be made . . . and made now. No time to waste if you're truly going to change the culture to a championship one. It had to be done. But getting it done Sunday was absolutely the right way to go.

The thought on the drive south from Santa Clara Sunday, between trying to get a couple of podcasts produced, was to get ahead of where USC football had to go.

And offer our advice, the kind of thing that in the past six years of hiring the smartest playcallers in all the land had clearly gone in one ear and out the other -- if it even got that far -- with anyone that mattered for USC football.

So there was a rush, here, we thought. The Holiday Bowl, not until Dec. 30 and with very little travel time, offered some serious catchup time. An early spring start for a team that needs one badly.

A chance to get all fundamental for a young team. A chance to do much more than talk about changing the culture, but to actually start to change the culture.

But no way to do that with the staff who, maybe through no fault of their own, were in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong idea -- from the top down -- about how to build a championship football program. With no clue as to what really matters.

And sure, some will say that the person who will have to change the cuture has been part of it, working under two head coaches who clearly didn't have the right answer for USC football.

So there we were, ready to help out. Time to put it in writing. Here's what Clay Helton must do, we were thinking, point by point.

The first was not to waste any time. Get to it. Do not say you'll wait until after the Wisconsin game. Or after the holidays. Or when the winter program gears up. Or before spring football.

That's way too late. Every day counts. Every word is important. Every indicator matters. People are watching. More importantly, your players are watching. Is this serious? Or just more tap dancing by guys way over their heads in handling a USC football program that matters more than any one guy lucky enough to get the job.

It's not about you, we were going to say. Or what makes you, or the people who hired you, look good for the short run. It's about doing what's right for USC football. And doing it now.

But by the time we got back to Southern California, we knew the coaches were meeting with Clay. And before Ryan had the Tesla hooked up to the supercharger, the staff had already been reconfigured.

And even though three of the four dismissals were on defense, the most important move -- with that Stanford game imprinted on our brain as if we still have Kevin Hogan's virtual reality headset on -- was for the offensive line.

You can't be a "run first" team without being a "block first" team. And if you're overweight and undisciplined, don't get the snap count, miss critical assignments that give up touchdowns in both the Oregon and Stanford games, can't keep your pad level down, don't get off the ball quickly and in unison the way Stanford does play after play after play in games and day after day after day in practice, it doesn't matter what you call yourself, you won't be it.

You have to know you are going to be able to do all those things. And your running backs have to know that as well. Maybe even more importantly, your opponent has to know it.

And for those who want to see this team throw deep, how do you do that with pass protection that is so -- literally -- hit and miss? You don't. Right now, when Cody Kessler drops for a deep look, the defense may have as good a chance of scoring as the USC offense.

And a team with four O-line coaches the last four years is up against it when it comes to getting this right. Now comes No. 5 in five seasons. But it had to happen. Change, and the message of it, was the first imperative.

Now comes strength and conditioning and nutrition as a package. At least three of these Trojan starters need to lose 25 pounds or so. And get stronger and quicker. You should be able to tell something by Dec. 30. Watch these guys walk onto the field. Watch them move. Look at how they pick up their feet. See if they do it together.

Do they look like Stanford or Alabama? Or like those great USC teams? They'd better.

Start there, we were going to say. But Clay beat us to the punch. When we mentioned that to him on his conference call Sunday night, the quick start USC needs for the bowl game, Clay said they started on this eight weeks ago -- started with the additional Monday developmental practices for the young guys.

So far, so good. Clay's ahead of the game here.

Then we go to defense. And the talk of having an "extremely aggressive" approach. Those two words alone pretty much eliminated a defensive staff that played "extremely hesitant" much of the time, waiting in place, hoping to avoid mistakes, it seemed.

An "extremely aggressive" defense would not have allowed Christian McCaffrey to do his thing for 461 yards as if he were some unknown rookie from Idaho rather than the greatest all-purpose runner, receiver, passer and return man in NCAA history.

Who's that No. 5, USC coaches must have been asking themselves between their in-game screams from the booth?. Stanford sure seems to rely on that guy. Maybe we should have paid more attention to him.

So now we'll see how this all plays out. Some of the names bandied about as candidates, fanciful and otherwise, we know and know well. No reason not to shoot for the best here.

Will any of those work out? No way to say. There will have to be a balancing act on all sides of this coaching staff with coordinators' duties -- shared or otherwise -- up for grabs on offense, defense, recruiting and special teams.

A lot of moving parts there. Some serious juggling with the interplay important. And as much as Clay talks about what it means to head this USC football program and taking his time to get it right, it was also just as important to act, and act decisively, Sunday and then communicate that with his players Monday.

Things are going to change, Clay's message made clear. And change now. And already have. We plan to win championships again and you will have a championship attitude and dedication because nothing else is acceptable, he's saying. And you will be coached by sober people able and willing to dedicate all their efforts to winning championships again for USC football.

This is a new program striving to be the old USC program. Listen to Marcus Allen and Ronnie Lott tell you what it takes.

Talent alone isn't enough. Stars from high school need not apply because they do not apply. What you do today, tomorrow and every day through Dec. 30 and then every day in 2016 until the Alabama game is all that counts.

Everything is up for grabs here. After Sunday, that couldn't be more clear.

For someone whose teams have trailed at the end of every first quarter in the eight games he's coached this year, Sunday was the fast start this USC team -- and this program -- needed.

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