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BILL PLASCHKE

Another USC Turnover

It may sound sacrilegious to Trojan fans, but it's time school figures out that tradition isn't everything when it comes to building a national champion.

November 28, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE

Before shedding an old-fashioned coaching uniform and leaving an ancient football stadium through a parking lot filled with alumni debating the necessity of face masks Saturday, Paul Hackett offered one last bit of advice.

Shake yourself, USC.

Just because your football program is dressed in 1978 doesn't mean it still is 1978.

Those grainy black-and-white images on the walls of the athletic offices are photos, not game plans.

Those giant bronze busts in the middle of Heritage Hall are a display, not a depth chart.

"I love all the passion and tradition and expectations but, c'mon," Hackett said shortly after his final-game loss to Notre Dame. "People around here need to realize, when it comes to football, it's a new world out there. A new era. A new landscape."

Hackett was fired after three average seasons Monday in part because Trojan boosters expect their coaches to compete for a national championship every year.

Um, folks, USC hasn't won a national championship in 22 years.

Some of those screaming that Hackett was soiling USC's sacred ground were soiling their diapers the last time that ground was sacred.

Hackett also was fired because Trojan boosters expect more victories from the leader of a top-ranked football program.

Well, ahem, USC hasn't finished in the top 10 in the last 10 years.

No question, Paul Hackett is a great NFL mind who was a poor fit as a college coach. No doubt, Mike Garrett is making the right decision in admitting his mistake and making a change.

But to avoid making another mistake, the Trojan nation needs to look in the mirror and see what the rest of the world sees.

In an era when seven Pacific 10 Conference teams have reached the Rose Bowl in the last seven years, the idea of a Trojan dynasty is, well, a Trojan horse.

It looks tough and real on the outside, but inside, it's filled with human beings and human frailties.

The football program needs the same nurturing found at Virginia Tech, which allowed Frank Beamer 13 years to build toward a national title appearance.

It needs the same stability that Miami allowed Butch Davis, who required six years and numerous embarrassing losses before he returned the Hurricanes to greatness.

Steve Spurrier of Florida has some of the best talent in the nation at his disposal, yet he didn't win a national title until his seventh year. Bobby Bowden of Florida State had the same talent, and it took him 18 years.

USC has fired its last four football coaches before the end of their contracts. Those coaches had an average tenure of 4.5 years. During those 17 years, they have three top-10 finishes. You do the math.

Oh, but USC is different.

Please.

"I've heard the parity argument, and I've never bought it," Garrett said in disagreement. "Good people win."

That sort of speech works at a Thursday booster dinner, but on Saturdays falls flatter than a Hackett-designed run.

This doesn't mean USC doesn't have good people. It just means that these days, with the reduction of scholarships and national recruiting, even good people need a chance to become great.

Notre Dame hasn't won a national title in 12 years, and it doesn't have good people?

Penn State hasn't won in 14 years, so Joe Paterno is a loser?

Hackett was fired from a USC that no longer exists, amid expectations that are as outdated as a Coliseum bleacher.

"The expectations are high here, and I love that," Hackett said Monday after his firing. "But the expectations being high and how quickly you can do it are two different things."

Asked for any advice he would give his successor, Hackett laughed and said, "Be sure to understand the climate that exists at USC right now."

For the next coach to have a chance, the weather must change. For the program to reach a championship level and remain there, the heat must be turned down.

No more quick fixes. There isn't a coach alive who can turn next season into 1978. Some good coaches are wary of even applying here because that would be the first line of their job description.

Could that be why Oregon State's Dennis Erickson reportedly favors Arizona State--where Bruce Snyder was given nine years--over a place where Paul Hackett was given three?

Don't hire someone to instantly recreate something that happened 22 years ago. Hire someone to build something for the next 10 years.

A glance at the coaches in this week's top 10 shows that seven teams have head coaches who have either been in their positions or in their programs for more than five years.

Don't just give the new guy a five-year contract. Actually mean it. And hire someone who agrees with you.

Also, no more NFL wizards. John Robinson struggled upon returning to campus after the Rams, and Hackett looked like a guy who terribly missed Sundays.

Garrett may love the pro game, but we hope he understands that he doesn't live there anymore.

Finally, forget hiring somebody because he could revive the running game or fix the defense.

Hire somebody who can work the streets.

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