USC in no hurry to change coaches

We hear so often about money in college sports. Head coaches bolt for other schools for more money. Schools build new training facilities and expand 60,000-seat stadiums to eventually earn more money. Conferences expand to add new members to increase the geographic footprint they point out, to annex television markets and, yes, to haul in more money.

If the landscape of modern-day college athletics teaches us anything, it’s that administrative decisions are quite often based on money and profits. What makes the most fiscal sense for a university and its athletic department? What ensures long-term stability?

Considering all that, why would USC be any different?

I pose that question foremost because people remain surprised. Fans have been grappling with the strange concept of USC keeping the status quo after arguably the most disappointing season on the gridiron in school history, a 7-5 finish with back-to-back losses to hated rivals UCLA and Notre Dame (keeping the status quo, meaning retaining coach Lane Kiffin and enacting minimal changes, at least thus far).

But if you really think about, is it all that surprising, really? Think green here.

Despite what has happened on the field in recent months, things are going pretty well for the USC athletic department at least in terms of its finances. The school reported record athletic-related revenue for the 2011-12 academic year — $84.19 million, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Education in October. Senior Associate Athletic Director Steve Lopes credited an increase in donations and corporate sponsorship for the $10 million jump in revenue during an interview at the time with The Orange County Register.

Average attendance per game at the Coliseum this fall also stood at 87,945, the highest average mark since 2006, and USC notched four sellout games against Hawai’i, Colorado, Oregon and Notre Dame. So there’s plenty reason to suggest the program isn’t facing any substantial drop in ticket sale revenue for the next year. Hundreds of thousands of people made it to their seats, or at least purchased a ticket.

Moreover, the John McKay Center, a $70 million, 110,000-square-foot athletic facility, opened in August. And on top of this, the school announced “The Heritage Initiative,” a $300 million athletic fundraising campaign, with the school reportedly halfway toward reaching that mark.

And in the wake of NCAA sanctions, levied in June 2010 for a “lack of institutional control,” the university is widely considered the nation’s leader in athletic compliance, with a staff of approximately 14 employees, among the largest of any higher education institution. Suddenly, USC’s in everyone’s good graces.

Yes, financially and in terms of its national perception, USC is doing rather well.

So really, why make changes, why do anything that would drastically alter the direction of the department? Why panic? Why reverse course? In a sense, everything’s peachy.

Athletic directors typically enact change for the sake of finances. A bad coach might result in a bad season, a sub-.500 season. Then, nobody shows up for the games, there’s poor attendance, fewer folks make donations and there’s a drop in revenue. Eventually, the school will opt to go in a new direction, or however it wishes to phrase it in the press release. It has to, in order to maintain those finances and stay competitive.

But in several respects, despite on-the-field struggles, USC stands fine. It’s got quite a bit of revenue; it’s even profiting.

So though many fans have been anticipating — and even clamoring — for change for change’s sake, it doesn’t appear likely.

USC Athletic Director Pat Haden has mentioned during several interviews in recent weeks that it’s his job to make “rational decisions,” in spite of the frustration and demands for change (i.e. firing Kiffin).

Though USC’s football program might be a disappointment, men’s basketball is coming off a historically poor season (a program-worst of 26 losses) and baseball continues to hang around the bottom of the Pac-12, wholesale changes don’t appear in order.

Kiffin will return next fall. Men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill and baseball coach Frank Cruz’s jobs also appear relatively safe.

If USC is fiscally sound, it wouldn’t be rational to go against the status quo now.

So you want change? Maybe think about how you use your wallet.


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8 replies
  1. Damon Bame
    Damon Bame says:

    I have no bone to pick with this article, except that the pre-season hype had the Trojans number one in the polls, and that was the primary reason for the extra revenue. Think about it– If a team is not rated very high,and they lose 2 of their first 3 games, (but recover to be 8-3), then their revenues will still be down, because, without the hype, it would take 3 or 4 games to start bringing back the fans.

  2. Bill N
    Bill N says:

    This is a relatively naive article. Of course, finances are a significant consideration for any college and especially a private one like USC. This includes not only the financial performance of the athletic programs, but the influence on donations which are difficult to estimate accurately.

    The naive aspect of this article is that no good manager looks at just the current year financial performance. They are also very concerned about future years and the athletic department depends primarily on the performance of the football team. There are many reasons not to make a head coaching change to the football team now including:

    1. There are 2 more years of sanctions and there is little likelihood of a very good coach wanting to come to USC during this period with the known 10 scholarship reductions per year and the overall limited reduced scholarships giving the Trojans a competitive disadvantage.

    2. The disappointing play of the football team in 2012 compared to 2011 was primarily due to mistakes made by the players (INTs, fumbles, penalties, missed blocks, dropped passes and missed tackles). Sure coaching plays a significant role but the USC coaching staff overall was just as strong in 2012 as 2011 but the results were much different. Part of the reason was limited tackling in practice due to 10 scholarship reductions and 10 season ending injuries to scholarship players. But, football is a game and sometimes bad things happen. If you analyze carefully the player mistakes most were not a result of coaching mistakes.

    3. The media that attended all football practices in spring, fall and during the season didn’t report any issues with the USC coaching preparing the players properly except the concern over limited tackling due to reduced scholarships (down 20 scholarship players including season ending injuries).

    4. USC has another top recruiting class that may be the best one in the last 3 years even with the reduced numbers. That would surely be impacted by significant coaching changes.

    5. USC lost 5 games by about 1 TD each. If just a few plays had gone differently in each game, USC would still be undefeated even with all the issues relative to player mistakes, coach play calling and defensive schemes especially on 3rd down.

    6. USC will do much better in 2013. The biggest issue in 2012 was the inconsistent play of the OL. Holmes is the only starter to replace and Markowitz should do that nicely. Kiffin has more quality OL now than anytime during his tenure and that will make a big difference in 2013. Furthermore a new DC will fix the scheme issues and the defense will be stronger with only some of the secondary to rebuild.

  3. D.L.
    D.L. says:

    You also have to consider who else is on the market right now…there’s no point in dropping a mediocre coach to pick up a bad one.

  4. Tommy Trojan
    Tommy Trojan says:

    Our football program generates enough revenue to support all of the other men’s and women’s sports programs combined. So based on ticket sales and television contracts, one could argue that this season was a “success” in terms of finances. But we, as Trojan fans, do NOT accept mediocrity on the field and this football season was mediocre at best. In my opinion, Haden should have fired Kiffin for his 25-12 win-loss record after three seasons. That’s a 68% success rate, which is well below most people’s standards this side of Westwood.

  5. John
    John says:

    This is one of the stupidest articles I’ve ever read.

    Part of the increase in revenue was due to the fact that SC is coming off of sanctions and that amplified the fans’ excitement. Also, we started at #1 and there was a ton of hype regarding this team. It was this hype that generated a lot of the fan interest. With the exception of Colorado, all of the sellout games were BIG games. First game of season, against Oregon, the #2 team, and against Notre Dame, our biggest rival and the #1 team.

    It’s stupid to think Kiffin is the reason that the team is generating more revenue. It was Barkley, Lee and Woods. It was Silas Redd, Mcneal, and the rest of the hype. It was the fact that economy has been at about the best since 2006. Anyone who looks at this team and thinks, “Lane Kiffin is making us a loooot of money,” has the logical capacity of a parrot.

    Don’t be surprised if there is a significant decrease in revenue next year. The only hope is that the team outperforms people’s expectations because there isn’t a lot of hype.

  6. Steve B.
    Steve B. says:

    The major sport programs at USC now are pretty much mediocre or worse. See how well the attendance is
    for next year in football with lowly Boston College the only out of conference game at home, and not Oregon
    or Notre Dame coming to the Coliseum. Basketball is going nowhere with the men and women, baseball has
    reached the proverbial bottom, and track & field has leveled off to being just there nationally. These sports do
    not draw well at all especially with the student body. The sad part is the influential alumni doesn’t take a stand
    with the athletic dept. , and demand changes be made to improve these other sports that were once very

  7. Jim T
    Jim T says:

    This might be the worst opinion piece I have ever read. Ticket sales (and thus athletic department’s revenues) are good this year because people were expecting a championship run in football, and that did not happen. Next year you will write about how attendance is way down. AD’s have to be forward thinkers, and PH has not demonstrated that ability as of yet.

    BTW the entire country has labeled USC as ‘cheaters’, partly because PH has failed to defend USC in any forceful way. What a shame.

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