Larry Smith came to USC 1987 as a highly regarded coach with an enviable record. He delivered immediately taking USC to the Rose Bowl in each of his first three seasons. Larry's undefeated 1988 team lost to Notre Dame. The Irish went on to win the NC that year and USC lost to Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The alumni were furious but things got better in 1989 when USC finally defeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
Things were looking good, but something happened, Todd Marinovich came to town. The 1990 team was not nearly as successful and ended up losing in the Sun Bowl as Marinovich went nuts on the sideline. A few weeks later Todd was arrested for cocaine possession, followed by several arrests of players on charges of sexual assault, robbery and kidnapping, two guys were convicted. USC won just 3 games in a disastrous 1991 campaign.
Steve Sample arrived on campus in 1992 and the order went out to put the clamps on Coach Smith's football program. The 1992 team went 6-4-1 and lost to Fresno State in that infamous Freedom Bowl down in Anaheim. Coach Smith knew that Sample didn't give a damn about football and that his days were numbered. His response was a warning to all of us, and it still rings true after 20 years:
"Names and logos don't mean anything. You don't beat someone just because of your name and logo."
Coach Smith was fired a few days later for his impudence.
It's back to the future Trojan fans. We have a new series of scandals, new president that is a chip off the old Steve Sample block, and AD that is committed to mea culpas and "winning the right way." Larry Smith was replaced by John Robinson, a very good coach but an even better "company man" that was tasked with cleaning things up. USC became the butt of jokes around town as UCLA and Notre Dame racked up winning streaks.
President Sample's focus completely set on academics, and it paid off as USC rose like a rocket in the US News rankings and was named College of the Year by Time Magazine and Princeton Review. One of Sample's lieutenants in this project was Max Nikias.
Sample and Nikias didn't pay much attention to the weekly debacles just south of the Rose Garden. As long as Iron Mike Garrett kept things quiet they could go about their business of turning USC into a world class private university in the Stanford mold.
Pete Carroll was a fluke. The word was out on an administration that didn't care, and coach after coach said no to Mike Garrett while Pete hung out on campus and lobbied furiously for the job. It was Daryl Gross that finally convinced Garrett to give the job to Pete. No one, especially Sample and Nikias, was prepared for what was about to happen.
When things got tough for Pete Carroll, the administration went back to its 1992 stance, they withdrew their support and shut things down. Like in Larry Smith's case, Sample and Nikias turned their backs on Pete Carroll. You know the rest.
Welcome back to the 90's folks. Now, where did I leave those Nirvana CD's?