Move Those Chains: Off-Season edition

You'll never get me to say that I'm excited about the departure of Lane Kiffin. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, but while Kiffin was here, USC won. They won big, and they won often. But with all of that said, I'm very excited about Steve Sarkisian taking over sole possession of the offensive coordinator position.

Beyond The Sark: You'll never get me to say that I'm excited about the departure of Lane Kiffin. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it, but while Kiffin was here, USC won. They won big, and they won often.

But with all of that said, I'm very excited about Steve Sarkisian taking over sole possession of the offensive coordinator position. Hopefully, Pete Carroll will have enough faith in him to give up all control of the offense and let Sark really establish his own rhythm.

After watching the National Championship game between Ohio State and Florida, I started wondering if the Trojans were missing something in their offensive arsenal. Obviously I don't think Mark Sanchez should come in every seventh snap to run a quarterback draw up the middle. But how would you, as an opposing defensive coordinator, react to defending a pro-style attack for 2+ quarters, only to look up before one play and see Vidal Hazelton lined up at quarterback with C.J. Gable and Chauncey Washington flanking him in the backfield? Call a timeout? Throw a white towel on the field? Just plain throw up? I'm guessing at least one, and maybe all three of those.

Lane Kiffin was a firm believer in the idea that he had the best players on the field and if he ran his offense for 60 minutes, chances are, your defense wouldn't be able to stop it. Only once in two years did that plan not work.

But next season, why not have a little fun with the offensive personnel the Trojans are blessed with? I'm not asking to put 11 running backs on the field and run a quintuple reverse. Although…

Whether it was lining up in the I-formation or giving extensive playing time to true freshman, the Trojans have been visionaries of college football in many respects. But sometimes, it's not a bad thing to borrow from other schools.

With all that said, it won't bother me at all if Sarkisian decides to let John David Booty take every snap from under center and run the same plays that have been successful for the past six years. But I won't lie. If Booty drops back into the shotgun and then motions out to a wide receiver spot once or twice this season, I won't be the least bit critical.

Another addition to the coaching staff that has me really excited is wide receivers coach John Morton coming over from the New Orleans Saints. What he did with those Saints receivers this season was unbelievable. Granted, it probably wasn't 100% his doing, but developing a seventh round pick from Hostra into a guy who could seriously be considered for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, has to be worth something. And when you bring in Joe McKnight, a guy who is being compared to Reggie Bush, it's probably not a bad thing to also bring in a guy who spent the last year helping Bush become that dual threat out of the backfield.

As Excuse To Mention Mitch Hedberg: With the recent firing of Chargers' head coach Marty Schottenheimer, there will no doubt be another media feeding frenzy surrounding Pete Carroll. They'll talk about how he is a perfect fit for the job. He is a defensive minded guy who loves the offensive ground game, two things that the Chargers rode to a 14-2 record this past season. It's also a job in Southern California, a place Carroll seems to enjoy very much.

Sure, the media will play up his less than impressive past NFL record. They'll use words like "failure" and "disappointment" when talking about his tenures with the Patriots and Jets. But they'll be wrong on almost all accounts.

Carroll coached in the NFL for four seasons. Only one year did he have a losing record. He's a fine NFL coach. There have been hundreds of coaches who have been worse. "Failure" is an incredibly unfair word to describe his success in the NFL. He made the playoffs in two out of the four years and he finished with a winning record.

Mitch Hedberg was a stand-up comic. One of his jokes went something like, "When you're in Hollywood and you're a comedian, everybody wants you to do other things. ‘All right, you're a stand-up comedian, can you write us a script?' That's not fair. That's like if I worked hard to become a cook, and I'm a really good cook, they'd say, ‘OK, you're a cook. Now, can you farm?'"

That's exactly what this situation is like. Sure, coaching in the NFL and coaching in college seem similar. They both, after all, center on winning football games. But in the end, you need an entirely different skill set to excel in each one.

The truth of the matter is that Pete Carroll will never be a great coach at the NFL level. It's just not the kind of coach he is.

In college, the two most important things are recruiting and motivating young players to buy into your system.

Carroll is absolutely the best coach in the country at both of those things. He might crack the top 15 in terms of gameday X's and O's, but in terms of recruiting and motivating, no coach even comes close.

I absolutely cannot comprehend why he would choose to take a job where his two best assets would be completely unusable. It's like asking Picasso to paint you a black and white picture using only stencils.

Carroll couldn't get his NFL players to buy into his personality and system eight years ago and since then, the league has only gotten worse.

Look at the coaches who have left the college ranks for the pros, only to make their way back to campus: Dennis Erickson, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban. What is the best asset of all three of those guys? Recruiting.

Not only could Pete Carroll have a job for life at USC. He could go down as one of the most successful college coaches of all time. In the NFL, he'll probably be moderately successful, but the media and fans of his team will again label him a disappointment simply because he won't come close to duplicating the success he had at USC.

Of course, as of right now, Carroll is still the coach at USC and this is all a moot point. But if he does ever decide to go to the NFL, the saddest part is that he'll miss us just as much as we'll miss him.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?: Speaking of guys leaving USC for the NFL, it's really tough to say goodbye to guys like Ryan Kalil, Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, Oscar Lua and Dallas Sartz. Sure, it's tough to see the rest of the seniors leave as well, but those five guys have been so vital to the success of the program over the past 3-5 years.

But even with all those guys leaving, how can you not be excited about the player movement this offseason? I mean, losing those guys will be tough, but getting Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson, Sam Baker and Keith Rivers back for another year is absolutely huge. I know that so much emphasis is placed on the new recruiting classes each year, but in terms of maintaining momentum and fighting to get back in the National Championship picture, getting another year out of these four players is as important as any ten incoming freshmen. You simply cannot replace experience and leadership with raw talent (as evidenced by last season).

As hurt as the Trojans were this season by the early departures of Darnell Bing, LenDale White, Fred Matua, Reggie Bush and Winston Justice last season is as helped as they will be next year. Every year before the NFL draft, you hear things like, "He'll be a mid-to-late-first-rounder." Well guess what. When you say that about 40-50 guys, it stops being true. Agents push for everyone to come out early because it only helps them.

The players saw what happened last season, however, and made some smart decisions this offseason. It would have been tough to see any of the Ellis, Jackson, Baker, Rivers quartet going in the first round this year, but it's even tougher to not see them going in the first round next year.

An Allegation In The Hand Isn't Worth Boring Us About Bush: Normally, when some shady or otherwise back-room deal goes down, it's said that "only so-and-so knows for sure." Only Barry Bonds knows for sure if he took steroids. Only the cook knows for sure what exactly is in your Chano's nacho plate. And only Quentin Tarrantino knows for sure what was in Marcellus Wallace's briefcase.

But when it comes to the Reggie Bush controversy, I'm not sure that anyone knows for sure what happened.

Yahoo! News is going to drag this thing out until the end of time. Sure, Yahoo!, go ahead and speculate all you want on this Bush thing. I wouldn't want you wasting your time providing me with updated injury reports on my fantasy basketball players. Thanks to you, we still don't know anything about that situation and meanwhile, I'm sitting in nice place in my league, starting six players who haven't suited up since December.

But are they really going to get any truth out of this investigation? Look at the characters involved in this whole thing. It's starting to look like one of those whodunit murder mystery dinner party games.

You've got Lloyd Lake, who had to use his one prison phone call just to make himself part of the story.

Michael Michaels, who falls into the, "never play poker with a guy whose fist name is a city and never enter into a business agreement with a guy whose first name is his last name" corollary.

David Caravantes, who can't believe a family that (allegedly) broke a promise to the NCAA, USC and the entire Trojan family, would (allegedly) break a promise to a guy named David Caravantes.

Then on the other side, you've got LaMar Griffin. The nicest thing I can say about him is that he has two capital letters in his first name.

Denise Griffin, who, apparently, no longer exists. Has she said one word about this whole mess?

And lastly, Reggie himself. As soon as the Lake, Michaels, Caravantes triumvirate came with these allegations and Reggie didn't respond with, "I have no idea who these people are. I've never seen them before in my life," something didn't sit quite right.

Sure, there might be something at the bottom of this story. But at the rate Yahoo! News is releasing pertinent and factually backed information (still batting .000 at this point) the truth of this whole thing will never be discovered. I mean, who do you actually believe?

At this point, it really seems like USC and the NCAA are just waiting for Charles Robinson and Jason Cole (Yahoo's reporters) to just drop this whole thing. The NCAA doesn't want to punish USC. If they did, they would be far more active in this whole thing.

At this point, Robinson and Cole have spent over eight months to come up with a bunch of allegations and maybes. Frankly, those murder mystery dinner party games are far more interesting.

Silent But Verbal: The 2007 USC recruiting class began forming one year ago with the verbal commitment of Servite linebacker Chris Galippo.

Little did we know, Carroll signed him as both an inside linebacker as well as an assistant coach. No player was more active in recruiting other stars to USC. And in this class, that's saying something.

But in terms of the overall talent that the Trojans brought in on February 7, come on. I mean, come on. Is it even fair?

The top three players on ESPN's 150 list? The number one players from Arizona, Michigan and Louisiana, along with top five guys from California and Arkansas? Sure, the Trojans lost James Wilson and they missed out on some wide receivers, but ultimately, they brought in a freshman class that would finish .500 in the Pac-10 next season. There is absolutely no way to overstate how good this class is. I mean, Joe McKnight could be an all-timer at USC before he leaves and he might not even be the best running back signed by the Trojans in this class. Heck, he might not even be in the top two.

Over the past several recruiting seasons, I've been drawn to a certain recruit and really rooted for him to do well during his career. This year, I could list ten of those guys and not come close to being done.

Hoop There It Is: There is no way that I could get through a column about this offseason without mentioning the USC basketball team.

This is a team that finished last in the Pac-10 two years ago and now sits comfortably in both Top 25 polls. They swept Oregon, beat Arizona and came within six points of sweeping UCLA. They're almost a lock to make the NCAA tournament and some projections have them as high as a number seven seed.

But the best part of this season is that it's not supposed to be happening. This year's team was supposed to just keep the Galen Center warm for next season, when O.J. Mayo started lighting things up. This team, however, is outperforming everyone's expectations. And they're doing it, basically, with one senior. I was going to tell everyone to hop on the bandwagon before the '07-'08 season started, but the bandwagon is already filling up and rolling strong. For those of you who still haven't been to a game yet, don't worry. We'll carpool.

Turkey Play: Sitting through two horribly boring Thanksgiving Day NFL games last year, Shayna threw out the idea of USC playing on Thanksgiving Day.

I told her it would never happen. Thanksgiving was for the NFL, no matter how terrible Detroit and Dallas were.

Of course, Shayna went on and on about what a good idea it would be to play a college game on Thanksgiving. Personally, I think she was just looking for a way to get out of cooking and cleaning for four hours and knew that watching the Cowboys or Lions wouldn't suffice.

Needless to say, I couldn't be happier that the game was moved to Thanksgiving. I'm watching football all day anyway. Why not watch a team that I actually want to see?

Also, it's a complete win-win situation for the USC football team. Any chance you get to be the only team playing on a day where a huge audience is glued to their television sets, you take it. Why do you think New Year's Day bowl games are so important?

This exposure will help the Trojans in terms of their fan base as well as in recruiting. Maybe next season USC's coaching staff can get their act together and pull in the top four players in the country.

2-007: The Rose Bowl Is Not Enough: Heading into last year, I made peace with the fact that a National Championship season was probably out of reach. I figured that with so many new faces in so many important positions, the goal should be a Pac-10 title and no more than a loss or two.

The only disappointing thing about 2006 was the loss to UCLA. When it comes to the Oregon State game, it was just one of those days. But even with those two losses, the season should still be viewed as a success.

2007 is going to be entirely different. With the guys USC has coming back and the experience on defense, this season is shaping up to be a run for the National Championship. Of course, plenty of things can change that between now and next January. Whether it's injuries, suspensions or just plain bad luck, plenty of things can derail a season. But if the Trojan roster stays just as it is now through the entire season, there isn't a single reason why USC shouldn't be in that championship game.

I don't think I've ever been this excited to watch a Pete Carroll-led team. Let's hope that I can say that every offseason for the foreseeable future.

Erik McKinney is a columnist for He can be reached at Top Stories