Callaway: Helping tide turn for Trojans

One of Bear Bryant's guys will be in Cardinal and Gold when USC and Alabama open 2016 in Texas.

Next game: Alabama. Sept. 3, 2016, in Arlington, Tex.

Next thought about that next game: USC will be far better off heading off to the kind of cross-country showdown that has made the Trojan program one of the nation's most historically significant through the decades with one Neil Callaway coaching here.

One of Bear's boys, a former top assistant at Alabama, Auburn and Georgia and head coach at UAB, for the 60-year-old Callaway this is a chance of a lifetime -- as it is for a USC program badly in need of a jump-start.

Watching Callaway's former Western Kentucky team execute over and over again on offense, pick up blitzes, protect the quarterback and run the ball against a fifth-ranked LSU team in this video from late October is encouraging. Despite being significantly out-talented, WKU's performance should give USC fans a sense that the Trojans O-line, after eight months of Callaway, can get to a place it hasn't reached in years.

LSU tried everything and WKU just kept executing in a 48-20 loss much closer than the final score. Just the way Callaway coached them. "A bunch of good guys that want to compete and want to do what's best for Western Kentucky," Callaway called them, "and they enjoy each other's company and I think they enjoy playing the game and they enjoy winning."

WKU head coach Jeff Brohm said he couldn't be happier for Callaway and offensive coordinator Tyson Helton moving on to USC after a record-breaking 12-2 season ending with a Miami Beach Bowl win: “Anytime you have success, people are going to think, ‘How are you doing it, and what’s going on?’ “ he said, "and the one thing we’ve preached around here is each and every person is equally important . . . it takes everybody to get the job done. I think normally when that happens, people are going to reap the rewards, and that’s great. I hope all of our guys get a chance to advance their careers as much as they want."

But Callaway will be missed, and not just as an excellent on-field teacher of O-line techniques.

"Both assistants commanded respect from WKU’s prospects," writes Bowling Green Daily News assistant sports editor Zach Greenwell. "Helton was viewed as a strong piece of the offensive attack, and virtually no offensive line commit discussed choosing the Hilltoppers without mentioning Callaway, a veteran of many renowned programs."

The lone Hilltopper O-lineman surely headed to the NFL, 6-foot-4, 300-pound redshirt junior left tackle Forrest Lamp says he can't believe how far he's come in the last two seasons under Callaway. He attributes some of that improvement to Callaway's grading formula that factors in "effort, assignment and the completion of the task at hand."

But it wasn't just him, Callaway told the paper. “We got some older guys that are doing a good job being mentors and leaders to the young guys . . . We have others that need to do better.”

As to some specifics USC fans might consider interesting and pertinent considering this past season, “It all starts with the snap,” Callaway says. “It all starts with having a good center-quarterback exchange. Then, out the line of scrimmage, we all have to make calls and do things, but it all starts with the center.”

Here's a video clip of Callaway in coaching mode this fall.

And here's how he previewed the Conference USA regular season showdown against a 9-2 Marshall team. USC fans take note.

"It's always important you start fast and get the momentum and set the tempo which is to say, from an offensive standpoint, to get the jump on them," Callaway said three days before that game "And then you do have to sustain it and finish. This'll be a 60-minute game we'll have to play to the end."

Let it be noted that WKU scored in 44 seconds, then added 28 second-quarter points on the way to a 49-28 win, just as Callaway said they must. A USC team that's started out behind the last nine games under Clay Helton should try it.

As a three-year starter for Bear Bryant and the outstanding senior athlete for the Tide and then an assistant there, Callaway has this take on his legendary coach: "Coach was a great man obviously, a great coach, a very powerful coach. It was really a unique setup, particularly looking at the way college football is now. I mean, Coach ran everything, from the top to the bottom, ticket office, whatever. If there was a decision to be made about anything, he made it."

And in his first hiring decision for USC, Clay Helton hired one of Bear's guys for a team that will next be headed to play the team that Bear made famous.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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