ESPN Radio personality Steve Mason, a noted USC supporter wrote an open letter on his Facebook page today. It rubbed some Trojan fans the wrong way. What do you think?
Open Letter to Trojan Fans:
Steve Sarkisian finished his first regular season as Trojans Head Coach on a high note. It was like Fresno St. all over again. All of the flash and excitement of USC’s opening season win from week 1 came rushing back as the Trojans steamrolled Notre Dame at The Coliseum.
I have been saying since before the season started that this was going to be a tough year for USC. The 3rd year of the scholarship sanctions hit with full force this year. Most weeks, the Trojans suited up fewer than 50 scholarship players. The loss of 30 scholarships over 3 years is a devastating penalty for a college football program. Nick Saban took over the Michigan St. program after a lighter penalty. MSU lost scholarships in 1996 and 1997, and the Spartans went 6-6 and 7-5. In the first year after the 2 years of scholarship losses, Michigan St. was 6-6 under Saban.
So this was never going to be a team that could compete for a national championship. There isn’t another major college football program in the country that played the 2014 season with 2 scholarship running backs. Think about that. Two scholarship running backs. 20 walk-ons flew to Pullman for the Washington St. game a few weeks back. Multiple walk-ons played in key situations this year. It’s unprecedented for USC. And, still they found a way to win 8 games, and they were a UCLA win away from the Pac12 Championship Game.
It was a frustrating season not because of the losses, but in the way they lost. The Arizona St. loss is still gut-wrenching. The Arizona win was a squeaker that would have slipped away had it not been for a missed field goal. If Nelson Agholor doesn’t step out-of-bounds at the end of the Utah game, USC wins that one. Boston College and UCLA just beat the Trojans like a drum, so those were easier losses to take.
The first #FireSark turned up on Twitter at halftime of the Boston College game, and they have never stopped.
And, as always with USC, there was potential distraction after distraction. The Josh Shaw story. Pat Haden’s sideline lobbying at the Stanford game. LenDale White’s erratic behavior at The Coliseum after the Colorado game. Coach Ed Orgeron suddenly announcing his desire to return to USC as the team entered the home stretch of the season (keeping in mind that there is still deep allegiance to Coach O in the Trojans locker room). Part of the job at USC is dealing with distractions, and Sark has done a solid job.
The idea amongst some fans - that Sark should be fired after this season - is truly idiotic. You want to be a "clown college." Try trotting out 4 coaches in 4 years. The USC Trojans are not the Oakland Raiders. College football programs thrive on stability. And, Steve Sarkisian has the talent, resources and, most importantly, the recruiting ability, that can put USC back where it belongs. Not just playing for Pac12 championships. The Trojans should be competing for national championships every year. Needless-to-say, Sark needs to beat UCLA next year (and most of the time) and he needs to continue to knock off the Irish. Pete Carroll was 14-2 in USC rivalry games, and, although that is a once-in-a-lifetime run, he needs to win rivalry games a lot more than he loses them.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been mistakes made this year by Sark. The game plan for the Boston College game was atrocious. The defense at the end of the Arizona St. game was just awful. Obviously, it was a clinic on how *not* to defend a Hail Mary. But before that Keyvon Seymour went for the pick on the 73-yard TD pass and there was no safety rolled over to stop the big play. That’s both coaching and scheme. There was too much "sitting on the lead" in the Utah game. The Trojans should always attack and attach and attack.
The UCLA game falls into a different category. I think that, flat-out, the Bruins have more talent than the Trojans right now. I have no idea how the Bruins were out-muscled by Stanford. Maybe the Cardinal is their Kryptonite. But watching the SC-UCLA game on the field at The Rose Bowl, I was really impressed by both the level of talent and the depth of talent that Jim Mora has assembled. They are well coached. And they clearly had the better quarterback this season.
I think it is imperative that USC wins its bowl game. This is a very young team, and Sark needs to coach these kids up and give them a strong finish to set the table for 2015. True freshman starters like Juju Smith, Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivo, Adorée Jackson, Damien Mama and John Plattenberg will benefit from a successful bowl game experience.
At the end of every season, it’s time for some serious introspective evaluation. A lot of Trojans fans are very unhappy with Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox. In doing my research, there is not a single Pac12 school in the Top 50 in the nation in total defense. Everybody scores in this conference, so you can’t measure USC against teams in the Big 10 or SEC. Overall in the Pac12, USC is 2nd in scoring defense and 2nd in total defense.Viewed on that scale, Wilcox’s multiple front defense doesn’t seem like a weakness.
But, it’s how they finish games. Here’s the mitigating factor for 2nd half defense. They are thin. In the uptempo Pac12, there is almost no chance for anybody on defense to ever get "a blow." Leonard Williams is playing 90+ plays per game on a regular basis. When your 2nd string is partly comprised of back-ups, you’ve gotta run with your starters, and it’s been tough for the USC defense to stay fresh.
Two changes should be made to the coaching staff. Coach Ed Orgeron turned down a contract that would have made him the highest paid assistant in college football after Sark was named head coach last January. Coach O has spent the year in Louisiana with his family, but he says he’d like to come back. I think that Sark and the administration should aggressively recruit Coach O and get him back on the staff as Defensive Line Coach and Recruiting Coordinator. He’s not a head coach. He doesn’t have that skill set. But he’s a helluva recruiter, and his pure emotion will give USC more fire in 2015. He is the living, breathing heart of that defensive line, and, just as he co-existed with Clancy Pendergast as defensive coordinator, he’ll be a great compliment to what Wilcox is doing.
And, there needs to be much more emphasis on special teams. USC needs a special teams coach. They are capped on coaches, but Sark needs to find a way to spend more time and energy on special teams. When Pete was here, USC rolled team-after-team-after-team. Games were not decided by special teams. They were blowouts, Sark can’t do it "the Pete way" anymore. Kick coverage. Hands team. Punting (never thought I’d say that I miss Kyle Negrette but he used the John Baxter way of kicking and it worked). There are 3 aspects to the game. Sark’s staff is not paying enough attention to one of them.
Unlike this year, I have high expectations for 2015. Yes, Leonard Williams, Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor are likely gone to the NFL. Sark "may" be able to re-recruit Nelson, but if he leaves, it won’t be fatal. USC is stacked at wide receiver with Juju Smith, George Farmer, Adorée Jackson, Darerus Rogers and Steven Mitchell, plus recruits like Desean Holmes, De’Quan Hampton and Tristan Payton are on the way. But the offensive line will go from being a weakness to a big strength. Pulling the redshirts on Lamar Dawson and Tre Madden will make a huge difference as well. And with a full recruiting class for the first time in 3 years, they will be dressing almost 60 scholarship players (it’ll take a couple of years to get up to 85).
USC will be a preseason Top 10 team. They are likely to be favorites to win the Pac12 South. And, they will be better. In conference, they get Stanford, Washington, Utah, Arizona and UCLA at The Coliseum. They are on the road for Arizona St., Notre Dame, Cal, Colorado and Oregon. There will be more pressure on Sark. And that’s fair. He is the head coach of the USC Trojans. If they don’t win the South and beat both UCLA and Notre Dame, the Trojans will have underperformed.
But I think next year has a chance to be a special year.