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USC's Larry Smith: In a Way, He's Like McKay : Practices Under New Coach Reflect Same Kind of Organization and Intensity

April 19, 1987|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

Larry Smith doesn't smoke cigars, deliver snappy one-liners or drive around the USC practice field in a golf cart.

But longtime observers of the school's football program have noted that the new USC coach conducts practice in much the same manner as John McKay.

This doesn't necessarily mean that Smith will be as successful as McKay, who won 4 national championships and made 8 Rose Bowl appearances in 16 years at USC.

But there is a similarity in coaching style and organization.

This view has been expressed by several USC administrators, trainers and former coaches.

Craig Fertig, a former player and assistant coach under McKay, has already noticed the similarities in the coaching approach.

"There is the same intensity, organization and teaching going on," Fertig said. "There is not a wasted moment while taking advantage of the time allowed."

Fertig said that Smith also coaches his coaches, which is a polite way of saying that if the assistant coaches aren't organizing a drill to his liking, or getting the most out of the players, they'll hear about it from the head coach.

The assistants then jump the players--the old chain of command system.

That Smith is apparently disciplined and organized doesn't necessarily mean that his predecessors, Ted Tollner and John Robinson, weren't. It's just a matter of degree and philosophy.

Rex Moore, a senior inside linebacker, has noted that there is more discipline in general than there was under the previous coaching regime.

"As an example, there is no talking, and whenever you're going through something, they're ingraining in us not to quit, or slow up," Moore said.

"They're stressing keeping that tempo high in practice and they get on you more than the other coaches (Tollner's staff) did. And there is a little more yelling."

Moore's reaction to the new coaching style, compared to the past?

"I'm indifferent either way. I just want to win. I realize my position in this whole thing is just a player. I would never compare coaches. I just work here."

What was evident in spring practice that concluded Friday is that there are few malingerers on the sideline. Those unable to practice because of injury are furiously pedaling stationary bikes.

Smith has the most head coaching experience of any new USC coach since Howard Jones was hired in 1925. He knows what he wants done, and there is an air of confidence about him.

He arrives at his office at about 6 in the morning and gets a lot of his work done before the phones start to ring.

"I've noticed that nobody in L.A. gets up before 10. a.m.," said Smith, who spent the last seven years in Tucson as Arizona's coach.

Smith puts in long hours, as do most football coaches. However, he doesn't want to overwork his own team.

"There is no substitute for freshness," Smith said.

With that in mind, the Trojans will not work out on Mondays during the regular season, as they have done in previous years.

The players will have a light workout Sunday following a game but will not report again until 5 p.m. Monday.

They will gather not to practice, but to attend a short meeting and get the preliminary game plan for the next opponent.

"There's always a tendency to overcoach and overwork the players," Smith said. "We'll never practice more than two hours and we'll taper off as the practice week goes on.

"I found that my teams were fresher later in the season with this approach while I was at Arizona."

Now that spring practice has ended, Smith said the players exceeded his expectations from the standpoint of physical fitness and their ability to absorb a new system.

An eight-week, pre-practice conditioning program that stressed running, endurance and agility kept injuries at a minimum during the spring drills, according to Smith and the USC trainers.

Tailback Steve Webster tested out as the best-conditioned athlete before spring practice. It wasn't coincidental then that he was promoted over Ryan Knight and Aaron Emanuel.

Webster will most likely retain his No. 1 status based on his performance during the spring and in the final scrimmage Friday, when he scored three touchdowns and brought a dimension to the position that has been lacking in recent years.

Webster is a fast, change-of-pace runner, with good balance. His style is reminiscent of Jon Arnett, USC's All-American tailback in the '50s.

Smith has already noted that the team he inherited isn't as quick or as fast overall as he would like. He said he will recruit players with those qualities in the future.

Some other observations by Smith:

--"Knight had a very fine spring and is very close to Webster. Emanuel has been up and down. His biggest battle to overcome is discipline, and I don't mean off the field."

He was referring to Emanuel's straight-up style of running, hitting the right hole and holding the ball in a required way. Smith said that Emanuel, when excited, sometimes reverts back to schoolyard-type football.

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