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USC Recruit Leinart Waits to See Who Will Be Coach

College football: Mater Dei quarterback likely will visit Oklahoma. Illini's Turner hasn't been contacted.

November 29, 2000|BEN BOLCH and DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

One of USC's top recruits, Mater Dei quarterback Matt Leinart, said he will likely visit Oklahoma next month and is waiting to see who the Trojans hire as their new coach before deciding whether to honor his commitment.

"I think I'm going to take a trip out there," Leinart said, "but right now I'm committed to USC."

Leinart, who threw for 2,642 yards and 24 touchdowns this season, said he also might visit Georgia Tech.

USC's other two high-profile Orange County recruits, Edison running back Darryl Poston and Mission Viejo quarterback Billy Hart, said they still intend to play for the Trojans.

Meanwhile, the question of who will coach them remained officially up in the air.

With Illinois Coach Ron Turner surfacing as a candidate, an Illini athletic department spokeswoman said neither the school nor its coach had been contacted by USC.

According to documents on file at the Champaign, Ill., campus, Turner earns $575,000 a season--a bargain in a marketplace where top names command twice as much.

He is the younger brother of Washington Redskin Coach Norv Turner--who also has been mentioned in connection with the USC opening--and like his brother was a USC assistant in the 1980s.

In 1996, Ron Turner was a candidate to replace then-coach John Robinson.

Going to Illinois instead, he suffered through an 0-11 season in 1997, then enjoyed a steady improvement. The Illini were 3-8 in 1998 and last season used a pro-style offense to go 8-4 and win a bowl game.

As a reward, Illinois extended Turner's contract through January 2005.

But the Illini slipped to 5-6 this fall, making his record 16-29 over four seasons. And Turner's contract stipulates that if he were to leave for another job, he would have to buy out the remainder of his contract. Thus, USC would have to pay for four seasons, or$2.3 million.

In regards to other candidates, sources close to Oregon State Coach Dennis Erickson said that, upon his return to Corvallis on Tuesday, he reiterated that he was not interested in the USC job.

But friends of recently fired Arizona State coach Bruce Snyder said he would be interested in the job, despite previous indications that he was leaning toward retirement.

Paul Hackett, meanwhile, returned to campus Tuesday to meet with his players for a final time.

"I thanked them and reminded them that things will not always go their way," he said.

Athletic Director Mike Garrett also addressed the players, reminding them about keeping up with classes.

"We learned a lot this season," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "We learned about handling adversity, we learned from how Coach Hackett handled adversity."

*

Times staff writer Larry Stewart contributed to this story.

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