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February 16, 2013

Road to the Rose Bowl

OK, time to calm down, get going and get it right.

No more looking back. Everybody knows what has to happen. There's really no time to waste -- for this staff, these players and this administration. That's what the USC football program has going for it right now. It's up to them and they simply must make the most of it.

No more lying low, keeping out of sight, hoping no one notices you. For some of us, we write words that some of you think are way too negative or contradictory or a tad hypocritical. And if there were no way out of this right now, no way to make this work, no way to get better in the short run, you might be right.

If you're totally screwed, why not smile, be happy and make the most of it.

But if there's a legitimate chance, no matter how much a longshot, to get it right, now would be the moment to get it going. Once the decision is made to proceed, at least for next season, as is with this Trojans' program under this leadership with the answers having to come from inside, even from people and places that haven't had them recently, then that's the way it is.

They'll just have to come up with them. The answers are here. There is a best-case scenario. USC just has to make it. Sure, the odds are a bit daunting considering the history of the people making the calls but things do change. Not often. But they do.

So here we go. It doesn't have to be all that bleak. But the drift and the disarray must end, obviously, and right now.

Follow along. Here are some things USC football could do, starting today, to get its act together. All of this is eminently doable.

COMMUNICATE: We think the USC football program can make a special effort to start talking to one another, listening to one another and really paying attention. No more personal agendas except to communicate and communicate and communicate some more. How hard is that?

INCLUDE PLAYERS IN THE CONVERSATION: Going forward, this will include coaches talking to players, especially the early-entry guys and the signees (Ty Isaac, e.g.) wondering what's going on right now. Bring them in. Welcome them to the fold. Administrators and coaches can easily make this first on their daily to-do lists even before the staff assignments get set or the staff gets filled out.

START WITH THE HEAD COACH: With this unfilled-out staff, it's the perfect time for the head coach to take this all on himself, as much as it's not his inclination, to be the head communicator, too. Talk to every single roster guy, scholarship and walk-on, and start today. And do more than talk. Brainstorm. Ask "What can we do for you? What do you need? What's working? What isn't? Where can we get better?"

LISTEN: It's not all that hard. But absolutely necessary. Make it clear that these will be more than gab sessions, although even that would be a plus. Talk about what happened last fall and why? Where did it go wrong? Ask even if you think you know the answer. And then as the staff fills in, do it again. Again, all completely doable.

NO BETTER TIME: Because of where USC is right now, we think it's not too much of a reach to think USC football folks are actually much more free to do this. This is the time to open things up and figure out who they are and what they plan to do by thinking outside the box. And we mean really outside the box. Like what, you ask?

BRING SOMEONE IN FOR A LOOK: Here's what. How hard would it be to bring in an outside consultant to look at everything -- practice, offseason work, approach to fundamentals, staff organization and game day execution and management. USC must do this as much as it must depend on itself to get this right.

SOMEONE SPECIAL: And for a completely fresh approach, for example, from one of the great minds in football coaching history, why not offer recently retired Concord De La Salle head coach Bob Ladouceur a chance to come in this spring to look at every aspect of the USC program -- every 2012 practice schedule, video, gameplan, game film.

EXPLAIN: If AD Pat Haden can help fill in as a recruiter, how about someone who could coach the coaches to reach 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds not yet in the NFL. Not only might Ladouceur have the time and inclination, he also has a connection in USC linebacker recruit Michael Hutchings. Any part of the most fundamentally sound program in high school football history would be welcome -- and send the perfect message with this kind of interesting, enlightened move.

1-2 PUNCH: First, Ladouceur built his system on dominating, perfectly timed-up offensive lines that were simply more athletic, stronger as well as far better conditioned and coached than the people they played. It's the perect perspective to take on this USC program right now. Who knows, should USC not find the O-line coach they're looking for, what if Ladouceur could be persuaded to come back from retirement? Maybe there would even be a way for him to continue on as a religion teacher, which he says he's going to do.

DON'T BE AFRAID: Whether that's a way USC can or will proceed, it's an indication of the kind of fearless new thinking that could happen here. Monte is gone. Lane has a year. Sometimes that's what it takes. It took Pete Carroll two NFL firings and some time off to figure it out for himself. Lane doesn''t have the time. But he surely has to figure it out. Can he? He has no choice. All USC fans can hope is that he does. It's not impossible.

ONE GOAL HERE: It should be obvious. USC right now has more talent than any program in the Pac-12 South. And more of an upside than anybody it plays in 2013. That's not a debate -- and as good a place to start as any.

LISTEN TO PC: But now for a lesson or two from the Pete Era. There should be one goal each season: the Rose Bowl. It's that simple. Focusing on Miami a year ago produced a debilitated, defensive program. It's as simple as that: To get to the Rose Bowl, USC must win the conference championship game. And to do that, USC must win the Pac-12 South. Again, all absolutely doable.

SHOW THE DOUBTERS: As much as we're starting to hear how "nine wins" is the over-under number for Lane, that's just silly for a season with 13 games on the schedule not counting a first-ever conference championship and bowl appearance. We're thinking USC coaches and players will be smart enough to avoid the dumb numbers game. And mad enough to do something about their own "fans" already conceding they're underdogs against both rivals next season after UCLA's 60-point turnaround and despite Notre Dame losing 29 seniors.

ONE BIG IMPROVEMENT ALREADY: USC has stepped up its game immeasurably without a practice or a team meeting by cleaning house and starting over on defense. Sure, the offense underperformed even more but it's hard to quantify how much better new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's approach to the game makes the Trojans. Here's our take: a lot.


ASKED . . . AND ANSWERED: The one good thing about a season like 2012 is that it's still so near, and the mistakes so clear, that it might be hard to walk away from last fall, or repeat it, even if a hard-headed coach wanted to. There will be a new playcaller, for starters. There has to be.

AND . . . : And practices will be fast and physical. Listen to Pendergast talking of how you have to "play the game," when you practice, "and that involves being physical." Now to keep the "back to Pete" beat going here, the daily offense vs. defense "ones on ones" will really matter and set a tempo for everything else. And for the offense to keep up, they'll have to be fast and physical again. Every day.

STARTING AT QB: We'll start with a situation completely mishandled in the fall that can now be turned into a positive since it's not really reasonable or even possible coming into spring to say anyone is ahead. It may well be about three guys competing for it. Really competing. In the film room, in the huddle, in keeping drives alive, in keeping the ball in USC's hands, in getting the ball into the end zone -- all of it.

BUT. BUT, BUT . . . : Don't you deduct at least two-three wins for USC having a new QB? That's what the smart guys here say. Is that the way it worked for Oregon, UCLA and Notre Dame with first-year QBs? Not buying it unless someone chooses to use it as an excuse and after last season, we're thinking no excuses are going to be allowed, or even offered, this season. We're thinking it's a chance to become more basic, more physical, more careful with the football and absolutely more sound up front.

NO EXCUSES: Never ever, from now until next January, should anyone associated with USC football -- coach, player, administrator or fan -- say the word "sanctions." Ask yourself if Paul Dee would want you to. I've heard it's in his will. Josephine Potuto, Missy Conboy, every UCLA fan in the world, they all want to keep hearing USC making excuses for not playing USC football. We're thinking USC stops doing that.

AND FINALLY: Of course, we realize the slogan: "Our 75 are going to have to be better than your 85," will have to be true to make any of this happen but no way anyone is going to put that on a hat. Well, not until after January of 2014, at the earliest. Let's see how this plays out first.

Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at weber@uscfootball.com.


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