Setting the hook: I can remember the meeting where I saw new things about the strategy of our team that has kept me coming back to MMQB all these years. (I never played beyond the HS level and the only strategy we knew was to knock the h--- out of the opposing player.) I believe the year was 1979. John Robinson was the coach and we were good - like 11-0-1 good. He had decided to explain his philosophy of offensive football to the MMQB and brought film of several plays featuring Kevin Williams 5-9, 165. Kevin was our designated TD scorer. JR said that "mismatches" were the key. "If they don't exist you have to create them". He showed Kevin playing WR, playing slot, playing TB, in motion and stationary - but always purposely matched against a point of weakness. Kevin was fast, elusive and had sticky fingers in clutch situations. For many years he held the team record for career TD catches. Maybe JR was showing off a little but I came away with more appreciation for the strategy behind offensive football.
Defeatist attitude: As Ted Tollner's tenor as our head coach started winding down, the hostility around the tables at MMQB built to high levels. Ted always presented himself as a gentleman and he always made an honest effort to answer our questions. In my opinion, he knew what was expected and tried to explain the "new parity" in the game that made "domination" unlikely in the future. It is not so much that he was totally wrong but that he seemed to be defeatist about it. The following is reported from my recollections, so please don't hold me to literal reporting standards. Ted would say, "I know the team is not performing to the standards you are used to and I know what is expected of a coach at this school. I know we should be doing better and I assure you that this staff will do everything in its power to do better in the future." I left those meeting thinking that a change was needed but liking Tollner as a person.
Open confrontation: Larry Smith became our coach in 1987 and re-oriented the talent that Tollner had recruited. He took us to three straight Rose Bowls. Larry was the most awkward MMQB speaker of any of our recent coaches. He did try new things like bringing one assistant and one senior player to be introduced each week. Beginning in year #4, the team started to play badly (3-8) and the wolves started showing up at MMQB. Larry was not good at handling challenges. His final year, 1992, it was anxiety time at each meeting. Trojans were asking hostile questions to the point where one man from Eagle Rock crossed the line with Smith and he turned to the group and said, "either he leaves this meeting or I do". For several minutes there was silence, then the coach repeated his ultimatum. Finally friends of the man talked him into getting up in front of everyone and exiting through the rear door. For the rest of the year, all questions had to be submitted in writing at the beginning of the meeting and screened by the MC.
Triumphal return and then a stunner: The first MMQB meeting of 1993 was the triumphal return of John Robinson. It was like a love feast. He represented the glory of the past and promised a return to "real Trojan football". Like most smart tacticians, as soon as he had everyone's full attention he lowered expectations. He quoted other coaches who had been to practice and said that we had no talent on the squad. We were slow, under sized and under conditioned. He did produce winners for three seasons culminating in a Rose Bowl victory against Northwestern. But, like history repeating itself, the next two seasons went down hill and it took all of JR's PR skills to keep a positive attitude at MMQB. He did however, and things never got out of hand. It was more like suffering with JR than blaming him. Though not expressed publicly at the meetings, there was considerable sentiment that JR had burned out and needed to be kicked upstairs - or some other face saving promotion. On the last meeting of 1997, JR got up to the podium grim faced and said, "I guess you've heard the rumors. I don't feel like answering questions today. I am going to leave now." You could have heard a pin drop. Actually nobody at my table knew for sure what he was talking about. We assumed that a change was in the offing and that he did not like it. We left without knowing.
Others may have memories they can add to the above events or other poignant times at MMQB. I'm thinking of about 20 other good stories, but I'll save them for another bye week. I welcome any comments from those with a better memory than mine.