Oldtimer's Take: Team Building

Not knowing the players is a challenge for the USC coaching staff. But not knowing the players is also the opportunity. It's a new beginning. It's good that coaches like Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron have been gone as long as they have because they bring a fresh pair of eyes to a program that was far less than the sum of its parts last year.

The opportunities and challenges USC new coaching staff faces

I've seen a lot of coaching changes in college football and at USC over my lifetime. There is an old saying that fits with marriages, new jobs and being a head coach. It goes like this, "First the honeymoon, then the work, and then the war." Honeymoons are short for head coaches in college football.

When I was a boy and falling in love with college football there were some great head coaches. Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma and Frank Leahy at Notre Dame were at the top of the list. Wilkinson came to OU after winning 3 national championships as a quarterback at Minnesota in the late 30's.

From 1947-1957 Wilkinson won 90.9% of his first 127 games and ran up a 47-game winning-streak that was ended by a 7-0 defeat to Notre Dame in 1957. I was at the Coliseum that day watching USC lose to Oregon 16-7. ND had been the last team to beat OU way back in 1953. USC went 1-9 in 1957 under first year coach Don Clark as 17 seniors sat out the season under PCC penalties.

Wilkinson brought his final OU team to the Coliseum in 1963. USC was ranked #1 and OU #3. OU won the game 17-12. There were only 39,000 people in the Coliseum to watch a USC team that had won the national championship the year before. After Wilkinson retired at the end of the 1963 season, USC went into Norman, Oklahoma in 1964 and beat the second ranked Sooners 40-14 under OU's new head coach Gomer Jones.

Frank Leahy was the head coach at ND from 1941-1953. He served in the Navy during WW II and then put together a record of 87 wins and 11 losses with 9 ties at ND. At one time in the late 40's ND was 37-0-2. One of those ties was a 14-14 tie to USC in 1948. USC led ND 14-7 with a few minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but couldn't stop Leon Hart who went on to win the Heisman in 1949. Leahy had six undefeated seasons and 4 national championships, and I was glad to see him retire.

I saw the transition from Frank Leahy to Terry Brennan at ND as a boy, and I followed the transition from Bud Wilkinson to Gomer Jones as a young man. Both transitions began with a lot of promise but failed. Greatness didn't return to ND until Ara Parseghian came in '64, and OU struggled until Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer took over the coaching reins in the late 60's.

In 1964, ND finally hired a proven winner in Ara Parseghian . OU took a chance hiring its offensive coordinator Barry Switzer. OU was on two year probation at the time. They had to forfeit 9 games in '72 and could not go to a bowl game for two years, but Switzer got the Sooners right back on their feet and was 70-17-2 during the 70's.

ND got back to its winning ways with a proven coach. OU got back to its winning ways with an assistant coach Barry Switzer. Switzer was considered the best recruiter in college football at the time. Switzer had been OU's offensive coordinator and he brought the wishbone there in 1970 and formed the great OU offense of 1971.

I'm hoping the transition from Pete Carroll to Lane Kiffin can be as successful as the transition was between Chuck Faibanks and Barry Switzer. Kiffin and Ed Orgeron are a powerful recruiting tandem.

Here are some of the challenges ahead for Kiffin and his coaching staff:

Lane Kiffin has a lot on his plate right now at USC. One of the reasons USC has stretched out spring practice to five weeks and only three practices a week is to give Lane and his coaches the time they need to evaluate what they are accomplishing at spring practice and make corrections.

The players have to understand the language of the offense and defense, and so do we. I'm tempted about going to the coach's clinic coming up just to hear from USC's new coaches about the offense, defense and special teams. USC will have to begin this spring with establishing their basic sets, motions and formations and put their offense together.

There are more new coaches on offense under Kiffin, but it should be a smooth transition with Kiffin in charge of the offense. The offense is always behind at the start of spring, but it should be rolling by the end of fall camp.

USC's new coaching staff will be evaluating all the players with fresh eyes and find roles for them on the team. There are going to be some surprises for all of us on offense, defense and special teams.

Every team wants to have a depth chart ready for fall camp, but USC's depth chart will be more fluid with a player like Drew McAllister out with hip surgery this spring. Someone like true freshman Patrick Hall could get a look at running back or get a lot of reps at free safety with McAllister out. Kyle Prater and Dillon Baxter could get more playing time in the fall as a result of being at USC for spring practice.

I think you will see more players getting more reps well into fall camp, because the coaching staff does not know the current roster well and because of the freshmen offensive talent coming in. You like to see your starters get the reps but Roberts Woods or Xavier Grimble could make an immediate impact in August.

Not knowing the players is a challenge for the USC coaching staff. But not knowing the players is also the opportunity. It's a new beginning. It's good that coaches like Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron have been gone as long as they have because they bring a fresh pair of eyes to a program that was far less than the sum of its parts last year.

Coaches like Orgeron will bring a new discipline, but also a joy and strength that fresh starts supply. No one can rest on their laurels. Ed Orgeron and Monte Kiffin will bring a new toughness and discipline to USC's defense.

Lane Kiffin and his new coaching staff will establish their own way of getting things done. I'll be at practice, hopefully, sharing how the coaching staff goes about that things. I heard someone on the radio last week asking the question, "Will the lines use sleds? How will USC set up the practice field, and what will be USC's approach toward the media, boosters and the fans?"

When Bear Bryant came to Texas A&M he said, "Let burn the barn and kill the rats." I don't expect that drastic of a change. But Kiffin will be establishing with his coaches, his sports information director and his director of football operations how he wants to do things.

I think it's good that Kiffin and his staff haven't seen the players. The things that happened in the past are past. There is a chance for new relationships and each player will be reevaluated. One of the things that held USC back last year was it just wasn't physical enough. USC's conditioning staff is dealing with that right now. The 2010 Trojans should be a stronger team.

It's going to be fun seeing a son running the Trojan offense and his father running the Trojan defense. I believe that's a team that will work very well together. Team is the keyword Lane Kiffin has brought to USC in 2010, and it's playing together that makes teams greater than the sum of their parts.

Team is the challenge – and the opportunity that USC's new coaching staff has before them in 2010.

USC assistant Ed Orgeron will bring toughness and intensity to the defense.

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