Spring practice is right around the corner. Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Khaled Holmes and Nickell Robey are making the rounds at the NFL Combine. This should be a period of positive thoughts and new beginnings for Trojans both past and present.
Instead, the focus of USC football continues to be on a recurring topic — the circus that is the coaching staff.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin is still running the show, but that’s about the only thing still the same from last season. Former assistant coach/de facto defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is with the Dallas Cowboys. Old offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu is looking for employment. Linebackers coach Scott Hazelton is out. Secondary coach Marvin Sanders is gone.
The Trojan faithful were anxious for changes to the coaching staff, and they got them — just not in the way many envisioned.
ESPN Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller gave his take on the new coaches earlier this week, pointing out that the replacements have been given ambiguous job titles. New offensive line coach Mike Summers will also serve as running game coordinator — that’s not to be confused with running backs coach Tommie Robinson, who is also passing game coordinator. In Miller’s opinion, “if you have a budding assistant coach who wants to be called something that makes his job definition less accurate … you should not hire him.”
Personally? I couldn’t care less what each coach calls himself. If someone is smart enough to assist in multiple facets of the offense, more power to him. What I do care about is how this new staff is organized from top to bottom. And I especially care about the play-calling responsibilities for this upcoming season.
With all the hoopla at the other coaching positions, Kiffin has given no indication that he plans to give up his play-calling duties. Polamalu never had more than an honorary title, as he mostly just helped oversee the offense and primarily focused on the running backs. That makes it unlikely that new offensive coordinator Clay Helton will take on a different role than his predecessor.
It’s a shame, too: Not because I have the utmost faith in Helton — USC’s old quarterbacks coach — to do anything out of the ordinary, but because the Trojans were stagnant offensively for large portions of last season. They had weapons and those weapons didn’t scare other teams as much as they should.
As Barkley continues to impress during the interview phase of the combine, potential suitors are starting to shift the blame from his disappointing 2012 season to Kiffin and company. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King talked to three scouts about Barkley, one of whom blamed his recent playing woes on “poor coaching.” Pretty easy to see which staff member the scout might be referring to.
It would be unfair to put all of Barkley’s senior struggles on Kiffin, but we’ve reached a point in the football offseason where it’s worth re-examining the changes the team has made. The Trojans were ranked 40th in points per game last season despite entering the year with what was perhaps considered the most talented offense in college football. USC accumulated just 205 yards of total offense in its 21-7 defeat against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Those sorts of statistics tend to fade away with time, but they shouldn’t.
Kiffin surely made coaching staff changes out of necessity, because he realized the results from last season weren’t acceptable. But, they also feel slightly forced and more symbolic than results-based.
A coach in the hot seat ought to put serious consideration into revoking some of his responsibilities. It’s not an easy thing to do — pride often gets in the way. Still, Kiffin should at least be recruiting the help of other coaches in the play-calling department. From all indications, however, that’s not the case. Instead, USC is playing musical chairs with no winner in sight.
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