As I’ve referenced in a past post we’ve hit a sad stage in the offseason. But now, not only is football over, even the NBA season is finishing up. The dark days ahead can only be pacified by one thing: wild, wild debate. I’ve already talked about the possibility of a new jersey. Let’s take that a little further.
Gather here, one and all, to take part in this coarse ritual. The theme for this trifling affair is the iconic USC uniform—a source of constant debate.
“Stick with tradition and change nothing. Don’t follow the Oregon fad,” some will say.
Others might drop in with, “We need to change it up. Only wrinkly old people want to keep it the same. Let the kids get what they want.”
The whisperings from the west spoke of helmet changes once before. Hark! The harbringers of darkness—thy Trojan gladiators shall attack donning the garbs of twilight. Foretold were warriors with crowns black as the witching hour, exacting their fury upon the Pacific Dozen.
Thou hast been deceived! The overseer of sport, Patrick Haden taunted us in his prancing pagan dance von Harlem. ‘Twas but a ruse.
Seriously though. Should there be change? And if so, how much? (Sorry to phrase it like a question on an AP test). Remember the whole black sock fiasco? When Lane Kiffin first became head coach at USC, there was some controversy over Ronald Johnson’s black socks. That might’ve been a bit too particular and picky. Maybe if Ronald Johnson had left the locker room wearing Ronald McDonald cleats, it will have gone too far.
Only the stuff of bruin dreams
After Pete Carroll changed from stripes back to chevrons in the early 2000s, the uniforms did not budge for a decade. Come 2012, with all the preseason hype, USC saw the introduction of cardinal and gold gloves and cleats.
Chrome helmets followed about two years later, which seemed fairly well-received. I can’t say for sure though, since I didn’t even bother to conduct a straw poll. The good thing is that they weren’t used every game. In a case like that, it would seem everybody wins. The recruits, players and fans get something new; it doesn’t stray too far from what Trojan fans are accustomed to; and the number of jimmies rustled was low.
Back to the debate…since I can’t help but inject my opinion everywhere, I’ll tell you mine. They should be able to tweak a little bit here and there. Maybe trot out one alternate for a single game every few seasons. Nothing too crazy. Some 17-23 year old that will be around for 1-5 years shouldn’t get to drastically alter the tradition of a 126 year old program. That’s not to say they shouldn’t get input.
This used to be a thing. The ’90s were a dark time…
(Photo credits: Harry How/Getty Images North America)
In my inagural blog post, I talked at length about why I think Sarkisian is not living up to his potential. A tad on the negative side (an understatement). During that tirade, I brought up Sark’s connection and fallout with Norm Chow. Why is this a big deal? Because Chow is a little too well-connected to alienate like that.
Maybe he actually eats children in life and just comes off as laid-back and a decent dude to the media. Oh well. What we can look at is his football career, so I’ll get back to doing what I used to do. It’s time for a history lesson.
Norm Chow’s body of work up until 2008 was nothing short of insane. His resume includes coaching two-time Super Bowl winner Jim McMahon (BYU), perennial Pro-Bowler and Hall of Famer Steve Young (BYU), current San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (NC State) as well as Heisman winners Ty Detmer (BYU), Carson Palmer (USC), and Matt Leinart (USC). This was followed by half a decade of unfortunate circumstances and inconsistency at the quarterback position.
His football career started at the University of Utah, where he played offensive guard. It was perhaps his first taste of quarterback instability. He would later return to the Utes an offensive coordinator much later in his career.
After a brief stint in the Canadian Football League, he found his way to coaching at a high school in Hawaii. The first career breakthrough he experienced was also his longest stop to date: Brigham Young University. By the end, his title looked like something out of a book of tongue twisters. Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/quaterback/receivers coach after literally decades of work. However, the 27 years leading up to his departure did not start so prestigiously for him.
In 1973, he began as a lowly graduate coaching assistant, eventually working his way up. Under head coach LaVell Edwards, Chow and the BYU Cougars strung together some of BYU’s most legendary seasons, including an NCAA record 14-win season set in 1996 (which has since been tied). The quarterback during that season is one you’re probably familiar with—Steve Sarkisian. Chow and Sark would later reunite at USC.
At the turn of the millenium, Chow made a big move that led to a very brief stint at North Carolina State. After spending almost three decades at BYU, he worked for one at NC State—quite the contrast. Notably, he molded freshman Philip Rivers, capping off the season with ACC Rookie of the Year. Chow’s stay was cut short when a paticular former NFL coach came calling. This coach had just been hired at USC and wanted Chow to be their new offensive coordinator.
Pete Carroll brought Norm Chow onboard to improve the passing game. It was here that Chow was able to mentor consistent quarterbacks in Palmer and Leinart. Carroll also employed two relative unknowns: Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. Kiffin and Sark tinkered with the offense that Chow brought from BYU, creating something even greater. The combination of the three offensive minds Chow, Sarkisian, and Kiffin took USC to untold heights. In the 2004 season, their USC team destroyed Chow’s former employer in LaVell Edwards Stadium. That 2004 run culminated in the greatest beatdown in a BCS National Championship game. That 55-19 win still stands as the largest margin of victory and most points scored by a single team in a BCS title game. After all the glory and fame, the trio would not last much longer.
A few weeks later, former USC defensive back Jeff Fisher took Norm Chow to the Tennessee Titans for the same position. As luck with have it, Norm Chow got Texas quarterback, Vince Young, as a top 10 draft pick instead of Matt Leinart. Both these quarterbacks from a supposed “Game of the Century” eventually washed out of the NFL. Chow was fired in 2008, just one season after helping Vince Young win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Luckily, Chow was a hot commodity at that point. His next landing spot was with USC’s crosstown rival, but he would find no solace there. Quarterbacks Richard Brehaut and Kevin Prince were constantly injured or playing inconsistently. Their attempt at installing the pistol offense probably did not help their instability either. His Bruin teams were 0-3 vs. USC, nearly completing a triumvirate of 28-7 losses—they were saved by USC’s infamous 2-minute defense in the 2010, allowing UCLA to score a touchdown in garbage time. Like his time with the Titans, he was fired after just three seasons.
Not too much time passed before he received an offer to work under Kyle Whittingham at Utah.
Back at his alma mater, Chow was poised to do well. Utah was making their Pac-12 debut. Their starting quarterback, junior Jordan Wynn, had helped lead Utah to consecutive 10-win seasons.
On September 10, 2011, Chow and Kiffin faced off against each other in the first ever Pac-12 conference game. The match was a struggle right down to the very end. USC quaterback, Matt Barkley, threw for 264 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception while Wynn managed 238 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions. The score was 17-14, in USC’s favor, with 11 seconds until the end. Utah opted for the field goal, taking the call out of Chow’s hands. The kick ended up being blocked and returned, making the final score 23-14.
USC blocks Utah’s field goal and returned it for a touchdown as time expired
Two weeks later, Wynn took a season-ending injury to his shoulder against Washington. Utah tripped their way to a 8-5 season, their worst since Whittingham’s first season in 2005. Chow departed to be the head coach of Hawaii shortly after, spending only that lone season at Utah.
In what seemed to be an inescapable loop, Chow would face his former coworker Kiffin twice more. The following season opened with rank #1 USC tearing apart an outmatched Hawaii from the very first play. The contest ended 49-10, without really being a contest. They played a few quarterbacks throughout the season. Chow and his Warriors scraped up a 3-9 record, with a point differential of -31 in their losses.
The results of the 2013 were even worse. Hawaii fought it out against #24 USC for their first game. The only thing he managed to beat was the betting spread. Kiffin used the game as a sounding board for his quarterbacks and still managed to cruise to a 30-13 victory. The Warriors would only win one game the entire year. For the second straight season, his team finished last in the Mountain West Conference. The patience at Hawaii may be wearing thin.
Although Hawaii would be safe from USC on the field in the 2014 season, their storylines found a way to cross yet again. Max Wittek transferred in despite splitting quarterback duties to beat down the team a season ago. He spent the year on the bench because of the NCAA transfer rules.
During the offseason, the team respected Wittek enough to elect him as one of the captains. Now Chow and Wittek both have a chance to redeem their reputations. The expectations the two had failed to live up to can be realized in 2015. Wittek can be the consistent quarterback Chow has not had since his days at USC.
Hawaii has never really won on the strength of their defense. If they’re going to win, they’re gonna do it in a shootout. If Wittek can score against Mountain West defenses, they can win.
I, for one, hope these two Trojans succeed at their new stop. As they say: Trojan for life.
The christening of a new blog is a difficult endeavor. What topic should the inaugural post cover? Good or bad, the post will linger for eternity in the annals of the internet or plastered across social media. Somewhere, someplace, someone will dredge up things you would wish were forgotten, much like parents would at thanksgiving dinner.
That’s why I am giving up before I even start. Why spend all my time stuck in analysis paralysis? I’m going to go down guns blazin’.
Sit back and get ready to get shot at. Oh, and I know you’re not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. Consider it a first step down a dark road.
Let’s jump back for a moment to analysis paralysis. USC head coach Steve Sarkisian mentioned that he minimized the “paralysis by analysis on gameday” at the 4:04 mark of a radio interview with Colin Cowherd. Rather, it seems Sark is guilty of the opposite problem—analyzing too little. His playcalling and overall management of the team has been less than spectacular the past season.
How about analyzing the opponents’ gameplans and making halftime adjustments? Or not calling the same play ad nauseam after it works once.
That’s not the only time he tried fixing the wrong problem. Try listening to the ripe nugget at around the 3:45 mark of the interview. He claimed that he wanted to “maybe de-emphasize some of the play upfront.” Did he see what the UCLA defensive line did to his offensive line? Heading into the Crosstown Showdown, they gave up an average of 2.2 sacks per game. UCLA exposed some glaring weaknesses as they sat Kessler on his butt six times, including twice on third down.
No doubt the lack of physicality was further exacerbated by the lack of full contact practice—much like the 2015 spring game. Kiffin tried that too and it looked like his team couldn’t tackle at all the first season. Then Kiff wised up and had himself a good season—before regressing and falling into his old ways. Sark might want to analyze what worked and didn’t work for his predecessor and former colleague.
Also, consider this quote from Seattle Timesarticle back when he was first hired:
“Sarkisian, who took over as offensive coordinator at USC in 2007, has inevitably been compared to Chow since. Some Trojans fans lament that the offense hasn’t looked quite as explosive the past few seasons.”
Change the year from 2007 to 2014 and you might think that line was freshly inked. Hmm…
Further in that passage it says that, “Sarkisian’s defenders pointing out Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart left around the same time.”
What’s the new age equivalent to that? Sanctions and short on bodies? A new year, a new excuse.
What’s the next excuse going to be? You can keep coming up with excuses just like Sarkisian. He talks a good game, just like Washington Huskie fans will tell you.
From the same Seattle Times article, Sark had this to say about former OC Norm Chow:
“’Obviously, the time when he was leaving USC and I was coming in, we grew apart,’ he said. ‘The less time you work together, the further you grow apart. And he ended up at our rival, and that didn’t help. It is what it is. He’s been a very good mentor to me, and we had some great moments together. I think someday it will grow itself back together again.’”
Sark (far left) and Norm Chow (far right) as coworkers (Photo from usctrojans.com/blog)
At a certain point, things don’t just happen. He has to make it happen—he has to deliver on those words. Call up Norm to patch things up. Find some solid counters to his rivals’ playcalls. And Sark seems unable to deliver. Like Kiffin, the problem is not about their football prowess or knowledge. The problem lies in their personalities. Kiffin would turtle up and stubbornly stick to it. Sark eschews comprehensive preparation in favor of letting things happen. Sometimes it works (@Stanford, @Arizona, Nebraska), sometimes it doesn’t (Arizona State, @Utah), and sometimes it massively fails (@Boston College, UCLA).
If it happens once or twice, sure maybe they were freak accidents. When it happens this often, it kind of makes a pattern. He’s not some first year head coach floundering around in the big time. He had five entire years at Washington to learn and adapt. The time for excuses is over.
Remember the last time someone tried to learn on the job at USC? At least Kiffin was a little more offensively inventive (at times) and took some risks. He also gave us a story worthy 10-2 season.
Whether I or anybody else likes it, Sark will have the next two seasons, at the very least (barring some huge…scandal). Can he outdo the previous visor-man in that time period?
By the way, I don’t irrationally hate Sark, but he has shown little reason for me to like him. I’ll be happy if he proves me wrong—IF. Too bad that’s a taller order than Venti mocha crapuccino.
But here’s another angle for you (in case you still thought I was a single-faceted hate machine): When Pete Carroll was speaking at USC back in February of 2014, he brought Sark onto the stage and publicly endorsed him as head coach. Without much regard to his other offensive coordinator protégé, Kiffin, Carroll claimed that he tried to make USC hire Sark as head coach on his way out to Seattle.
I ain’t some fortune teller (you can go to some horoscope blog for that crap), but I am not confident in what I saw from last season. The only thing that keeps me from becoming said single-faceted hate machine is the recommendation of someone who has “been there, done that.”