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Cheers All Around : Enthusiasm Returns to USC With Second Coming of John Robinson

August 22, 1993|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"My weight and my blood pressure were up. I was in a Custer's-last-stand mentality. I felt like everyone was closing in on me.

"That's what's great about being back at SC. It's just a great job. And I'm enjoying it."

Last season, Robinson was a football broadcaster for CBS, Prime Ticket and USA Cable.

"I kind of enjoyed that, but when the USC job came up, I felt like even if I continued with TV work and worked hard at it, I'd still have too much time on my hands," he said. "I'd have been out all the time, searching for something."

Some wonder if Robinson is going out of his way to put pressure on himself and this year's team. In almost every interview, he implies that winning Trojan football is returning, sooner rather than later.

In the 10 seasons since he left, USC is 70-45-5. In USC's seven seasons under Robinson, 1976-82, the Trojans were 67-14-2. That winning percentage, .819, is still the highest of any active major-school coach with a minimum of five years.

Robinson only shrugged.

"We have a high level of expectation," he said.

"We aspire to win national championships. We want to be where the elite are. That's what we want to do. We wouldn't want a football program if those weren't our expectations, and I wouldn't want to coach."

*

The lone holdover from Smith's staff is Mike Sanford, who coaches wide receivers for Robinson. He also worked for Robinson at USC during Robinson's first run.

"The big change is that we're all excited and we're all having fun again." Sanford said.

"He's a very organized guy. He knows exactly what he wants to do in practices and games. But he's also very flexible, and he won't hesitate to change things around if he has to.

"He has a way of making the staff meetings very productive, yet also a lot of fun. He's a very funny man without always trying to be."

Mike Riley, Robinson's offensive coordinator, says Robinson football will be fast and physical.

"We want to play fast--Robinson's a big believer in that," Riley said.

"He believes there's so much speed on defense today, if you don't run fast plays, people are right on top of you.

"The quarterbacks here last year dropped back deeper and threw deep downfield more often than we will. We're going to throw high-percentage passes and try to throw them very quickly. Robinson doesn't think we have the capability to put 40 points on the board, so he wants us to control the ball."

*

Everywhere, old Trojans rejoice.

Jim Hardy is 70. In 1944 and '45, he quarterbacked USC to two Rose Bowl victories. He visited several USC practices last week at UC Irvine.

"Everyone I've talked to is thrilled," he said.

"They feel Robinson is part of the family and knows the tradition. The last guy didn't. This guy is a great coach. Any coach can draw X's and O's. But Robinson is a guy who knows what's on the game film before he sees the game film.

"Look at him. (Robinson is in the midst of his running backs, railing over some flub.) You never see him up in a tower or in a golf cart. He's in the middle of it, teaching.

"So many coaches want to win, or hope to win, or think they can win. Robinson expects to win. There's a big difference."

*

Linda, Robinson's wife of four years, said of her husband's 1992 sabbatical: "I don't think he missed (football), not at first.

"We had a wonderful year together, almost a honeymoon. We spent a month in Europe, most of it driving around in northern Italy. We took a couple of trips to Hawaii and the Napa Valley.

"I got him into an exercise program and got him in shape.

"Toward the end of the last football season, when coaches started getting fired, I could see that old brain ticking. He got kind of quiet during the games on TV.

"He told me the hardest part of the TV work he was doing was going to the games and having no emotional involvement, then hopping on a plane and not caring who had won.

"He felt like announcing games wasn't a real job, because it didn't involve a week of preparation. So he started getting antsy. His year was up and he had to make a decision. He started asking me how I felt about moving.

"We were at our house in Solana Beach when he got the SC job. He was so happy.

"And I didn't fully understand how much he missed coaching until the first day of spring practice. I couldn't believe his energy level. His last years with the Rams, he was never like that. He's going nonstop now, and it's so much fun for me to see him like this."

Robinson, she said, knows how to relax in his few hours away from football.

"A lot of people don't understand--John Robinson is not just a football coach. He loves art and music, too. He's a great fan of John Barry, who wrote the themes for the James Bond movies, and 'Dances With Wolves.' "

Fine, but now opening night approaches. And John Robinson must show people he can still coach. Because if he can't, he will be dancing with wolves.

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