USC clings to its past, passes on big names to hire yet another former assistant

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Sam Barry, Jeff Cravath, Jess Hill, Don Clark, John McKay, John Robinson, Ted Tollner, Paul Hackett, Lane Kiffin.

And now, as of Monday: Steve Sarkisian.

What do all these names have in common?

They were all USC assistant coaches at one time before being hired as the school’s head football coach. They comprise 11 of USC’s past 13 coaching hires for football, all coming since legendary head coach Howard Jones’ final season in 1940.

Barry, Cravath, Hill and Clark were hired to bring back the glory of the Jones era at USC, when the Trojans won four national titles between 1925 and 1940.

Robinson, Tollner and Hackett were supposed to continue the success that McKay (and then Robinson) had between 1962 and 1978, when the Trojans again won four national titles. Robinson was rehired in the early 1990s in an attempt to recreate his own earlier success.

Kiffin and now Sarkisian have been tasked with reviving the Pete Carroll era, when USC won two AP national titles and seven-straight Pac-10 championships.

You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. USC is nothing if not consistent when it comes to hiring its coaches. Despite the fact that, outside of McKay, this hiring strategy has been an abject failure, Trojan athletic directors continue to Fight On by clinging to the past.

Again and again.

This time around, it was supposed to be different. USC’s athletic director, Pat Haden, has a reputation for being a critical thinker with an open mind.  However, rather than doing a serious national search and then offering the head coaching job to a coach like Chris Petersen (two-time national coach of the year, 92-12 lifetime record), Kevin Sumlin (proven offensive guru with success at two different schools), Art Briles (offensive innovator who has Baylor in the top 10), James Franklin (first coach to lead Vanderbilt to three-straight bowl games) or about a dozen other quality college head coaches around the country, Haden decided to take the lazy route.

He didn’t offer the job to anyone else.

He hired Sarkisian.

“(Sarkisian) embodies many of the qualities for which we looked,” Haden said on Monday. “He is an innovative coach who recruits well and develops players. He is a proven and successful leader. He connects with people. He has energy and passion. He knows how to build a program and create a culture that we value. He is committed to academic success and rules compliance. And he understands the heritage and tradition of USC.”

The final sentence of Haden is bolded because this, in the end, is what is most important to many USC people. Not winning. Not championships. But the ability to ‘fit in’ at USC.

Want proof? USC’s last four coaches (including Sarkisian) had coaching records of 13-20-1, 33-31, 12-21 and 34-29 when hired. That’s as many combined wins as Petersen has in his eight seasons at Boise State (92) and more than eight times the number of losses. None of the four were being sought out by any other major program. Sarkisian is the only current Pac-12 head coach who has never won nine games in a season.

Still, USC came calling.

That’s because the track record doesn’t matter. Sarkisian was a coach at USC for seven years. He knows the fight song. He knows how to make a ‘victory’ sign with his hand. He is chummy with the boosters and former players who know him from his past time at the school.

That’s the important stuff to USC, not qualifications or whether Sarkisian has the discernible ability to bring championships to an elite program. Hiring a coach based on hope and ‘gut’ is the modus operandi.

Will Sarkisian win some games at USC? Sure.  He’ll have some good seasons. Almost any semi-competent coach can do so at this school — see Kiffin’s 10-2 season in 2011.

The issue, though, is that USC is selling itself short by hiring Sarkisian. This is a blue-blood football school with resources, tradition and easy access to elite talent. Put those tools in the hands of an elite coach and you will get elite results. By hiring a coach without the proven ability to get those results, the Trojans have blown yet another opportunity.

Some will say that USC couldn’t get an elite coach, that names like Petersen and Sumlin wouldn’t have come.

But Haden didn’t offer them the job. He wanted Sarkisian all along, because that’s what USC athletic directors do: They hire former USC football assistants to be head coaches, even if they aren’t qualified to coach at USC.

This is one tradition that USC could do without.

Overwhelming favorites Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa see Bovada title, Heisman odds shorten

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During this current college football season, three of the surest things are upsets, Rutgers continuing to embarrass the Big Ten and oddsmakers really loving the defending national champions in general and one of its players specifically.

Bovada.lv has released its latest set of odds to win the 2018 College Football Playoff championship, with Alabama yet again the overwhelming favorite to claim the title at 1/2. Those odds are a bit shorter than the 5/9 the Crimson Tide was at just a week ago.

Clemson and Notre Dame both saw their odds shorten as well, with the former going from 13/2 to 5/1 and the latter from 19/2 to 13/2. Ohio State, meanwhile, fell from 7/1 to 12/1, the same as rival Michigan. The Wolverines, coming off a big road win over Michigan State, were also at 12/1 last week at this time.

Individually, Tua Tagovailoa saw his stranglehold on the odds to win the 2018 Heisman Trophy increase. A week ago, the Alabama quarterback was at 2/3; he’s now at 4/11.

Tagovailoa’s two main competitors saw their odds lengthen, with Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray at 7/2 (3/1 a week ago) and Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins at 12/1 (3/1).

The biggest climber has been Michigan’s Shea Patterson, with the quarterback going from off the board last week to 12/1 and behind only Tagovailoa and Murray.

Below are the complete set of national championship and Heisman odds, again courtesy of Bovada.lv:

Suspension stands: LSU’s Devin White to miss first half of Alabama game

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Right or wrong (mostly the latter), LSU will be missing a significant piece of its defense for the first half of its huge Week 9 matchup with Alabama.

In the second half of LSU’s win over Mississippi State this past Saturday, Devin White was ejected after being called for targeting on MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.  As a result, White, one of the top linebackers in the country, would be in line to miss the first two quarters of next Saturday’s game against the Crimson Tide.

The subsequent outrage over what was, at best, an asinine targeting call — a call that was inexplicably upheld upon further review — led to a GoFundMe page being created to funnel donations toward billboards that would be erected in and around SEC headquarters in Birmingham, Ala.  Those billboards would’ve carried the hashtag #FreeDevinWhite, an attempt to get the conference to bend to public pressure and rescind the half-game suspension.

Additionally, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva very publicly looked to put pressure on the SEC to reverse what was seemingly an irreversible punishment.  In the end, we’re right back where we were three days ago — White will be watching from the sidelines when the LSU-Alabama game kicks off and will continue doing so until the second half kicks off.

“Discussions with the SEC made clear there is no process for appeal,” LSU senior associate athletic director Robert Munson told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “The suspension will stand.”

White currently leads the Tigers in tackles with 76, and is tied for second on the team in tackles for loss with seven.  Additionally, he leads the team with six quarterback hits and two fumble recoveries.  His four pass breakups are tied for second as well, while his four passes defensed are tied for fourth.

Michigan losing four-star 2017 signee James Hudson to transfer

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For the second time in less than a week, Michigan has lost a four-star member of its 2017 recruiting class.

Amidst speculation regarding James Hudson‘s future with the football program, a U-M spokesperson has confirmed that the offensive tackle has decided to transfer from the Wolverines. The move away from Ann Arbor comes a couple of days after Hudson, the No. 2 right tackle, did not enter the win over Michigan State when starter Juwann Bushell-Beatty went out with an injury.

Instead, redshirt freshman Andrew Stueber took over on the right side of the line. After the game, Jim Harbaugh explained that Hudson has been dealing with a dislocated finger sustained the week before and that’s the reason Stueber entered the game.

That turn of events was also the likely trigger for Hudson’s decision to transfer.

A four-star member of the Wolverines’ recruiting class last year, Hudson was rated as the No. 13 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Ohio. Only one other defensive tackle in that class, Aubrey Solomon, was rated higher than Hudson, although he was moved to the other side of the ball this offseason.

After redshirting as a true freshman, Hudson played in three games this season.

In the middle of last week, another four-star 2017 signee, linebacker Drew Singleton, asked for and was granted a release from his U-M scholarship.

‘Mutual agreement’ sees RB Trelon Smith, Arizona State ‘part ways’

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A coach’s decision had kept Trelon Smith on the sidelines for the first half or so of the 2018 season. A player’s decision, in concert with the football program, will now keep the running back sidelined permanently, at least at Arizona State.

Both 247Sports.com and the Arizona Republic have reported that Smith has decided to transfer from the Sun Devils. The former website tweeted that Smith is “no longer a part of the team… [after] a mutual agreement [was reached],” while the latter wrote that “Smith and the ASU football program are parting ways” for unspecified reasons.

Smith did not play the first three games this season because of a coach’s decision/violation of unspecified team rules.

Smith was a three-star 2017 signee who played in nine games as a true freshman, carrying the ball just once for four yards. This season, after climbing out of his head coach’s doghouse, he carried the ball 11 times for 56 yards. Eight of those attempts and 45 of the yards came in his first game back, a loss to Washington Sept. 22.

Because he played in just four games and hasn’t yet used his redshirt, he’ll be able to keep a year of eligibility thanks to the new NCAA rule that has played a significant role in roster attrition this season. Including next season, Smith will have three years of eligibility at his disposal.