For Neil Callaway, 'we' is now USC

Time for attention to detail and toughness when it comes to the USC offensive line with a new boss who has been there and done that going back to his college coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant.

Tyson Helton laughs when asked to explain his brother's repeated description of new USC offensive line coach Neil Callaway.

You've heard it. It's the one where Clay Helton says Callaway's "players will hate him for the first" either 30 or 45 days . . . "and then love him for the rest of their lives."

So what exactly does that mean?

"What that means," Tyson said after coaching with Callaway, the former Bear Bryant lineman/linebacker at Alabama and a longtime Helton family acquaintance through his 37 years of coaching, is simply this: "His door is always open," Tyson says. "Coming into his office is like coming in to talk to your grandmama."

That's in his office and anywhere around McKay Center. "Like any great coach, he has a switch," Tyson says and when he steps on the practice field or arrives for a game, "He carries a big stick."

Expect "his five O-linemen to show up for practice and games mad and ready to knock people around," Tyson said. "But you have to teach them to do that."

It's something Coach Bryant taught him, Callaway says after taking those principles with him as offensive coordinator and O-line coach at SEC schools Auburn, Alabama and Georgia, as well as Houston and the head coaching job at UAB before his stint at Western Kentucky.

What he takes from Coach Bryant, Callaway says, "are several things. The first is attention to detail. Make sure you take care of the little things."

There's also this second basic building block that takes him back to Bryant and Bryant's good friend, USC's John McKay. "Toughness," Callaway says. "That's a big part of football. It's a collision game. But no matter what part of football, or what part of life, it's attention to detail that matters . . . and toughness.

"We want to be tougher than the people we play," Callaway says. "That comes from your day-to-day habits." And those day-to-day doings will matter.

"You're going to have to earn it," Callaway says of the chance to be one of the five guys up front where the offense starts. "If you don't, there's a place on the Scout team for you."

"This isn't going to get done in the spring," Callaway says. He sees "it going right up to the fall." And that's for the whole team. "It starts with us up front and that's just because of the numbers. We have the most on the O-line. We have to develop a sense of one-ness."

And then it's "all about preparation," he says, which "develops confidence instead of anxiety." That confidence at Western allowed the record-breaking Hilltoppers offense to rack up 44.3 points a game last fall. "It's about being tough and smart."

What problems USC had in being consistent blocking both the run and the pass, Callaway won't comment on despite watching a bunch of film since his arrival at USC more than six weeks ago. "We're moving forward," he says, "both in fundamentals and schematically."

He was at Wyoming as a grad assistant with Pat Dye at the start of his coaching career but other than that, Houston was his farthest venture west. So this is a new deal for the 60-year-old Callaway.

"Everybody knows the history of this place," he says of USC. "And looking out his second-story window at McKay, "this has to be one of the prettiest campuses anywhere . . . and everything here is done in a first-class way. This stacks up with anybody anywhere."

As does the man he recruited to play quarterback at Auburn and whom he now works for. "Clay Helton is as good a person as there is in the country," he says.

But then there's this. As much as the talk is getting ready for the spring, getting a new offense constructed from the ground up, in the playbook and on the practice field, there is the schedule.

And the next game just happens to have Callaway, named Alabama's Most Outstanding Athlete in 1977, his senior season, going against his alma mater.

Actually it will be the second time in his career a Callaway team has been involved in the USC-Alabama series. In 1977, top-ranked USC was upset 21-20 by the seventh-ranked Crimson Tide at the Coliseum, missing a two-point extra point try with 36 seconds left. So the Sept. 3 game in Texas reverses that.

But that's not his concern at this time, Callaway says. His focus "is getting these guys ready to play and win at that level and right now, Alabama's program is the best there is."

But no, looking over at the Crimson sideline across the field won't be that big a deal, he says. Nor will it matter that his wife, Karen, is a Tuscaloosa native. "I've been doing this long enough," he says, for that not to be any part of his focus.

And without trying even, he makes that clear. As the Auburn offensive coordinator from 1981-1992, it turns out Callaway was there when we had the honor as director of the national Traveling College Football Hall of Fame Tour to be there for the first Alabama-Auburn Iron Bowl to be played at Auburn.

And as we reminisced about that week and the way that rivalry impacted the small town they call "the loveliest village on the Plains," Callaway had the last word with a big grin.

"We won it, didn't we?" he said of Auburn and indeed the Tigers did, beating his Alabama alma mater.

So when USC lines up at AT&T Stadium in a little more than six months, count Neil Callaway -- and his O-linemen -- as a big part of the USC "we" when the Trojans meet the Tide.

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