Big recruiting weekend but not the No. 1 priority for this USC program right now. Not even close.
USC's last-named recruiting coordinator is in Starkville, Miss., so exactly how could it be?
And two of four defensive coaches, the D-line and linebackers position coaches, are either to be named later, maybe moving over from offense or just in limbo. Who knows? The high school prospects coming in this weekend won't. So first things first.
Here's our list of program priorities right now for Clay Helton, who we're not going to describe as a "new," a "first-year" or "rookie" head coach any more.
Clay will be going into his second season -- although with essentially a first-year coaching staff. Which is where the program priorities list must start for us.
*** 1) Finish out the coaching staff stat: The offensive staff -- depending on where Johnny Nansen ends up or if he stays with the running backs after Tyson Helton moves over to quarterbacks, is close. Having Helton and O-line coach Neil Callaway in right away to get with newly elevated offensive coordinator Tee Martin is a big plus.
***2) Do not give in: If you can't -- for whatever reason -- get Ed Orgeron to return as the obvious solution to the D-line and recruiting coordinator vacancies, better get the next best thing. Do not settle here. But if you think CEO is the best answer, do not give up. For a young coach, this is a big test. Are you tough enough and single-minded enough to get it done? Show us that you are. Show your players that you are. It could start here.
***3) Evaluate your talent: USC has enough talent to compete at every level with the nation's toughest schedule in 2016. Get it into a system that works. That's paramount right now. Watch the new guys' Western Kentucky system on video and most USC fans would be happy with that -- if this USC personnel fits. But get it figured out. The players need to know. They need to see it. They need to work to it all winter like Alabama and Stanford will be doing. It has to be clear in a way the USC offense hasn't been in all but a part of one season -- 2011 -- in the last half-dozen.
***4) Discard almost every single defensive concept of the last two years: Another reason why Clancy Pendergast's defensive staff has to be filled out fast. This is going to take some serious thinking and working through. We remember back to one winter day when then linebackers coach Joe Barry had then coordinator Monte Kiffin and the entire USC defensive staff out on Cromwell Field and was walking them through some concepts Joe badly wanted the Trojans to institute. You could tell from the body language -- and Joe's facial expressions -- he wasn't getting anywhere. Well, Clancy has to get somewhere and get his coaches and players on the same "aggressive" page Clay says he wants this team to be playing from. And it has to start ASAP.
***5) Figure out the leaders: Now that Cody, Su'a, Antwaun and Max Tuerk are gone, who's next up? JuJu Smith-Schuster jumps in here, obviously. He's already there. But the next-in-line guys have to be ready to step up. Adoree' won't be here much in the spring so on defense, but there is Cameron Smith as the obvious choice at linebacker even as a sophomore. In the secondary and up front, there is a great deal of young talent but who will it be to take that step? Not sure we know right now but we have to find out -- and so do they. This has to come from them. Max Browne has to be the guy on offense but we want Sam Darnold not to wait his turn. Push hard here. Zach Banner has to lead by example up front, not just with his impressive vocal abilities, and it almost has to be Justin Davis at running back, we'd think. But as on defense, who else? This team needs to know.
*** 6) Get stronger, get bigger, get leaner, get quicker, get faster, get smarter: Everyone else is, especially the Stanfords and Oregons and Notre Dames -- not to mention the Alabamas. USC has no choice. Get cutting edge here. There are no short cuts. We hear so much about what's going on at all those 2016 opponents' programs. Time to hear from USC here. No more excuses. No more just trying to keep up. Bring back the swagger. That thought that no one does it better, no one works harder or smarter, than USC. No one thinks that's been the case in the recent past because it hasn't been. Now it must be -- and it must be obvious.
*** 7) Get the roster worked out: Get the team together. Is there a future for Bryce Dixon? Or Chad Wheeler? What about Scott Felix and Caleb Wilson? Where will a healthy-at-last Jordan Simmons play? What about John Houston's back? And finally figure out how best to use Adoree' Jackson -- for this team and for Adoree'. This stuff matters. Every bit helps here. Get it right.
*** 8) Accept nothing less than the best: From his staff and his players, Clay has to be more demanding than Nick Saban, Brian Kelly and David Shaw to get back ahead of the game against those guys. And has to be tougher than a tough-minded Trojan Kennedy Polamalu will be across town as a coordinator. Maybe USC needs to take the practice plans for the Holiday Bowl prep work and on the first day of winter workouts and use them to start a bonfire that says "Never Again." Never again will "Fresh Legs" be the mantra here. "Fight On" works just fine. Practice harder than anyone and still show up with fresh legs. You can do both. Everybody else who matters does. You want to play "physical" football, you have to practice "physical" football.
*** 9) Get the support staff right: Sure, USC is never going to be Alabama with eight "analysts" as coaches-in-waiting on a 25- to 30-man support staff. But it needs to do what it has to do and know what it has to do and do it. No way any Pac-12 program should surpass USC, even Oregon, in any support area. This is USC. We pay the AD more, by far, than any other program in the nation. No excuses for the rest of the football program.
*** 10) Sell, sell, sell the program smartly and competitively: Use the return of the NFL's Rams as a catalyst to get the $270 million renovation of the Coliseum right on the second try. Take another hard look at it and figure how best to phase it in over the next three to four years. Make it better than a downsized 77,500-seat stadium that will pale in contrast to a new Inglewood facility that will be able to hold 100,000 for the big events not 10 miles away. Or pales in contrast to the renovated 92,000-seat Rose Bowl. And get the stalled naming rights deal done with the winner getting a double hit with the NFL in for the next three years.
*** 11) And finally, figure out an NCAA end-game strategy: As the Todd McNair-to-trial scenario plays out, USC must publicly take back its good name and whatever concessions it can extract from a duplicitous NCAA as it stands up for itself and admits its original strategy of trusting the NCAA and condemning its own people was badly misplayed and deeply flawed. Sure, it will take some humility at the top to come out and say this. But if you care about USC, its good name, its reputation and all the Trojans who made something special happen here, you will stand up for what is right and go after those who did USC wrong.
For all of this, there's really no choice here. Get it done. Get it right. Get it going right now. Or by March, basketball school USC could be rolling so strong to the tournament that people won't be thinking or talking football around here. And as much as we love our hoops, no one wants that.
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