The Trojans battled hard on the road against No. 14 Notre Dame but came up just short. In the end, the Trojans were simply outcoached.
After scoring 24 first half points, the Trojans managed only seven points in the second half, while being outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made the necessary halftime adjustments for his team to win, while interim head coach Clay Helton failed to do so.
The Trojans have been plagued with poor game management and in-game adjustments since Pete Carroll’s departure in 2010. The Trojans got it wrong with the hiring of both Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, as each of their tenures ended in dramatic fashion.
Now looking for their third permanent head coach since 2010, the Trojans cannot afford to get it wrong again.
Finding a good head coach can be difficult. Just ask Michigan.
Up until this year, the Wolverines had been stuck in middle tier purgatory since Lloyd Carr’s retirement in 2007. The Wolverines went with a young coach who had promise (Rich Rodriguez) and then with a coach with more experience (Brady Hoke). Unfortunately for Michigan neither coach worked out.
Now Jim Harbaugh has a team, which went 5-7 last season, off to 5-2 start — which should have been 6-1 if not for a miracle play by Michigan State — and in the midst of the Big 10 race. Coaching matters.
The effects of a bad coach are felt both on and off the field. During Hoke’s last two seasons at Michigan, the Wolverines only managed the 20th and 37th best recruiting classes in the nation, according to 247Sports. Harbaugh already has Michigan’s 2016 class at No. 9. Coaching matters.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Ohio State. After Jim Tressel’s sudden resignation after the Terrell Pryror bribery scandal, the Buckeyes moved swiftly and hired one of the best coaches in college football — Urban Meyer. There was no layover for the Buckeyes as they continued their dominance in the Big 10.
The Buckeyes have gone 45-3 with a national championship in the three plus years under Meyer. The Buckeyes have also had a top 10 recruiting class every year under Meyer. Coaching matters.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, there are only a few elite coaches in college football — Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher — and prying them away from their current school would be damn near impossible.
However, the Trojans have passed up some pretty good coaches including Chris Peterson in favor of the Pete Carroll coaching tree during their past two head coaching searches. This kind of decision-making must stop now.
As last season’s recruiting class shows, the Trojans can recruit the best of the best. Players want to don the cardinal and gold for two reasons: the history and tradition, and the fact that USC student-athletes often find themselves playing on Sundays.
Heck, the Trojans are even three-point favorites over No. 3 Utah despite the fact they are 1-3 in games not against Arkansas State and Idaho.
The Trojans have survived over the past few years with the help of the limelight from the Carroll era. Players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Adoree’ Jackson and Marqise Lee grew up idolizing the likes of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Lendale White.
Regrettably, the Trojans are faced with a harsh reality: The last time they won a championship was more than 10 years ago. The last time they won the Pac-12 was 2008. The team can no longer sell players on the past. Instead, they must focus on the present.
USC’s next coaching decision could determine the next five to 10 years. A great hire will keep the Trojans competitive and exciting, but another bust could see the Trojans fall into the same hole that Michigan did.
Fortunately for USC, the job is extremely appealing. A new coach will get another year out of Adoree’, JuJu and — wishfully thinking — Su’a Cravens. The freshmen will be another year older, and there will be no NCAA sanctions on the program. The Trojans head coaching job looks much better now than it did when Kiffin took over with a two year postseason ban — and when Sarkisian took over in the last year of scholarship reductions.
The Trojans are loaded on both sides of the ball, have some of the best freshmen in the country and are a national powerhouse. All the pieces are there for USC to bring in a big name. Now all they have to do is make sure they don’t mess up again.
After all, as we’ve all seen over the past five years: coaching matters.
Nick Barbarino is a senior majoring in business administration. His column, “Beyond the Arc,” runs Thursdays.