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The Inside Track | T.J. Simers

He Won't Give It That Old College Try This Week

November 14, 2001|T.J. Simers

I think it's generally understood Phil Jackson doesn't do much, and so if the media had not taken the time to lend its expertise and advice in working out the rift between Shaq and Kobe last season, the Lakers would have never won the title.

Jim Tracy, new on the job, met with the media before every game, and there's no telling how terrible the Dodgers might have been had we not had those tutoring sessions. You can see what we did with Paul Lo Duca.

That's just our job, we're trouble-shooting specialists, we don't get paid extra, and a "thank you" really isn't necessary. Obviously we're spread thin what with all the local coaches who need help--Henry Bibby, Steve Lavin, Alvin Gentry--so we don't get to many hockey games and I think you can see it in the results.

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RECENTLY I'VE been spending a lot of time with our local college football programs, making the mistake probably of spending too much time on USC after pumping up UCLA and getting the Bruins off to a 6-0 start.

I just thought after the fake punt Coach Pete Carroll called against Notre Dame and his dreadful play-calling in the final drive against Oregon--both resulting in close defeats--the downtrodden Trojan football program was in danger of becoming as relevant in local sports as the Sparks. It bothered me to see the Coliseum so empty.

So I spent time with Carroll, jabbing him regularly with criticism--you know, breaking him down like a drill sergeant in boot camp and toughening him up so he could deal better with Athletic Director Mike Garrett when he barges into the locker room and makes like Al Davis. I was doing him a favor.

Had Garrett not gone into hiding after the NCAA put the school on probation and after he snubbed John Robinson, we might have already had one of those kind of embarrassing episodes the way the early part of the season was going.

That reminds me, I'm playing at Bel-Air Country Club today in the annual UCLA-USC golf match and speaking afterward. I hope to run into Garrett before he runs off and put in a good word for Carroll--my ace student, although I have to say with all the time I've put in with USC's coach, I made a serious mistake.

I left Bob Toledo alone with a good football team.

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MONDAY I went to Toledo's news conference at UCLA. Tuesday I went to Carroll's at USC. USC serves food, but The Times--like every other business cutting costs--refuses to provide a food taster, so for obvious reasons I went hungry.

Both coaches have teams that have fallen seriously short of expectations--the Bruins ranked as high as No. 4 in the Associated Press poll, the Trojans picked No. 14 in the Sporting News' preseason rankings--and have some explaining to do.

I listened to Toledo, and from what he said, he hasn't made any mistakes. In every case it's a player missing a block here, a bad throw made there, the strategy coming in from the sideline always impeccable in its rationale--failing only in the execution. Toledo should be coaching the defense--because he's very good at it.

I listened to Carroll, and when someone asked him what he has learned from playing a big rivalry game such as the one against Notre Dame, he replied immediately, "Don't fake a punt."

Everyone laughed, and for a change not at USC, but with the new coach. I found it encouraging Carroll is learning on the job, even putting the blame on the defensive side of the ball--the side he coaches--for not stopping Oregon on its final drive, "or we're in first place now in the Pac-10," he said. OK, so he's still a dreamer.

But I see now the time I've spent in berating him has been beneficial, although it's still too early to take off the training wheels. So far the only thing Carroll has really done is win the games he's supposed to win--with the exception of the Notre Dame contest--and lose to the teams the Trojans weren't favored to beat.

USC's five wins have come against opponents with a combined record of 15-31, but in picking up momentum against teams worse off than the Trojans, Carroll has accomplished something--giving his troops and his yapping alumni the feeling they can beat a better team in UCLA. OK, so he's still a dreamer.

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TOLEDO, MEANWHILE, has collapsed under the weight of disappointment. He never got over the way his team let him down in the first half against Stanford, which has prompted a series of uncharacteristic and ridiculous coaching decisions contributing to three consecutive defeats. This wouldn't have happened if he had been on the headsets with the media.

He never got over the way his quarterback failed to perform in his quarterback-friendly offense against Stanford, and it affected his preparation and decision-making when it came time to play Washington State and finish against Oregon.

He never got over DeShaun Foster's joyride, saying his own "world had been turned upside down" when it's his job to make sure everyone's blue and gold world remains right side up. He needs to talk with Lavin--an expert at turnarounds.

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NOW WE'RE down to the "big game" with two teams with a combined record of 11-8 jostling for redemption. Both teams have strong defenses, lack their top running backs and have quarterbacks that like to turn the ball over to the other team.

The big game could come down to coaching--Carroll trying to convince his guys they are really better than what they are, and Toledo maximizing the Bruins' talent and recharging their spirits.

I'd like to help, but I don't want to be accused of favoritism.

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TODAY'S LAST word comes in an e-mail from Adam:

"It must be nice being able to select letters written by people who obviously aren't using their brains and then putting them in your column."

Yes, thank you for your contribution.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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