Saddest Fans Ever? Why the USC Trojans’ Problems Aren’t With Lane Kiffin’s Play-Calling, They’re With the People Watching.
Much ado has been made about the University of Southern California Trojans & head coach Lane Kiffin’s play-calling lately. If you are a fan of the Trojans with a Twitter account, you’ve undoubtedly seen the apoplectic meltdowns suffered by Trojan fans during the games. The comments directed at the Trojans vary from fan to fan. It’s usually an amalgamation of Kiffin’s inabilities combined with the reasons he is an idiot for not giving that job to someone “more qualified.” Really, if you look hard enough on Twitter, you can find just about every criticism in the book being lobbed at Kiffin.
The most common theme among the criticisms has to be Kiffin’s play-calling. By and large, the majority of the complaints you hear from fans are some variation of “Kiffin’s play-calling sucks.” If you couple those concerns with the genuine belief from Trojan fans that Kiffin is going to drive SC straight into the ground, you’ll generally come away from every game thinking USC is the worst team in the country. The expectations of the fans are almost insane.
Now, to be fair, USC generated a lot of this hype before the season began. Barkley’s “Unfinished Business” press conference pretty much set a target on the Trojans’ back from the moment the speech ended. Additionally, Matt has vocally expressed desire to win the Heisman, furthering the expectations placed on USC. When all of those things were added to last year’s 10-2 season capped with a defeat of Oregon in Eugene, the expectations of Trojan fans were almost outlandish from the outset.
I sometimes wonder if college fans have forgotten how difficult an undefeated season can be when you consider all factors. I don’t have the stats in front of me and this article isn’t about going undefeated so I am not going to research them, but I can’t recall a season in recent memory where there were more than 3 undefeated teams at the end of the season. I think 2004 has the largest amount of controversy with USC, Utah, and Auburn going undefeated. While there have been other controversies, I don’t believe there have been more than 3.
Let’s assume for a moment that 3 undefeated teams at season’s end is normal. That means there is a 2.5% chance a team will go undefeated in college football. For the record, I rounded down to 120 FBS teams since that number has fluctuated. 3 out of 120 teams seem fair for the purposes of this argument. The odds aren’t great. The odds significantly decrease when you factor in injuries over the course of a season and the fact that USC is already down 10 scholarship players because of sanctions. It’s a damn difficult task.
This brings us back to the events that changed USC’s initial plans. You see, after Khaled Holmes went down, USC was forced to turn to Cyrus Hobbi in the Stanford game. Hobbi, a true freshman, had one of the poorest games of his life and USC was defeated in Palo Alto. Now, the coaching staff won’t blame Hobbi, but I have no problems pointing out that much of the blame rests with him. Holmes defended Hobbi to the media, but the reality is that his inability to cover his assignment in USC’s zone-blocking scheme made it impossible for anyone else to do their job. As such, USC was forced to give Hobbi help and this created mismatches in the other gaps. It wouldn’t have mattered if USC had Peyton Manning playing QB in Palo Alto, the Trojans couldn’t block their assigned gaps and an implosion ensued.
With the Trojans reeling from the physical beatdown in Palo Alto, Kiffin et al. had to devise a different strategy that would work with the pieces available to them. The running game was much maligned and the offensive line couldn’t give Barkley the protection he needed. Kiffin realized that the Trojans would be in much worse shape if they didn’t improve certain aspects of the offense. If USC didn’t establish the run game, it wouldn’t matter who was protecting Barkley. So, Kiffin & his staff came up with a simple plan for Cal that would set them up for the greatest chance of long-term success. They were going to run the ball like forward passes were illegal & keep Barkley upright.
In the 3 games prior to Cal, a USC RB had only rushed for 100 yards once when Silas Redd had 107 against Syracuse. Even though USC had 258 yards rushing against Syracuse, they accounted for 0 TD’s in the rushing game and only had 3 on the season. As a matter of fact, USC only rushed for 26 yards against Stanford and 81 against Hawaii. USC’s run:pass ratio was 84:112 & they were averaging only 4.3 yards-per-attempt.
Trojan fans might want to cover their eyes if they think Kiffin is the problem, because what’s next might put a huge hole in their play-calling argument. Since the Stanford game, USC’s run:pass ratio has completely inverted. It is now 112:84 and the Trojans are averaging 5.6 yards-per-attempt. How about Silas Redd? Well, since his rough start, Redd has rushed for over 150 yards in two of those games. While he only rushed for 77 in the game against Utah, he did manage to get 75 yards while the Trojans managed 129 yards as a team.
How about Matt Barkley? Well, after being sacked 6 times in September, he has only been sacked twice since. USC’s offensive line responded to the Stanford game by not surrendering a single sack in the game against Cal. The Trojans have also installed a power running game while keeping Barkley upright. Whether or not you choose to believe me, the game plan at Cal was exactly that and it has worked very well for the Trojans moving forward.
This is where some might point to USC’s “near collapse” against Washington on Saturday. Here again, the problem wasn’t with the play-calling. I suppose now would be as good of a time as any to add my little caveat. No coach will ever call plays correctly 100% of the time. If all you’re looking for is the negative, I assure you, you will find it. The reality of the situation is that USC wanted to establish ball control. They held Washington to under 300 yards of total offense, forced 4 turnovers on defense, and rushed for over 200 yards as a team. Trojan fans would have you believe that they were about to lose to Memphis.
Here’s a little bit of history that might frame USC’s game against Washington in a different light. Barkley hasn’t been very good against the Huskies during his career at USC. After sitting out the 2009 game with an injury, Barkley has only averaged about 176 yards (175.67) and less than 1 TD (.67) per game. As a matter of fact, USC is only 19-17-4 all-time against the Huskies in Seattle. Barkley’s career stats against the Huskies are 42/68 for 527 yards, 2 TDs, & 1 INT. This isn’t a game the Trojans have used Barkley to win.
Realistically, the problem lies with execution and discipline. USC has a problem with procedural penalties and players failing to execute routes properly. An offense like USC’s is predicated on doing your job and staying home during your assignments. If these things aren’t happening, no amount of play-calling on the planet will change the result. Additionally, USC’s protection scheme requires offensive linemen to secure their zone. Once again, if someone does block their zone, the rest of the offensive line has to compensate & this creates other gaps on the line.
Blocking your zone, running the proper route, staying at home in their assignment, and lining up properly are all areas where the Trojans could improve. If these improved, the play-calling wouldn’t even be an issue. Kiffin’s play-calling has proven to be effective. Rushing stats have increased, Lee & Woods still see big plays, and the tight ends have created so many problems that defenses have been forced to adjust or switch their plans to account for the size & speed of those tight ends.
The problem with Trojan fans is that they are quick to blame Kiffin rather than take a more thorough approach to their analysis. Randall Telfer also didn’t play in the Washington game, but Trojan fans will conveniently blame Kiffin’s play-calling instead of recognizing that a major weapon for blocking & receiving was missing from the offense. Hobbi’s inability to block his zone in Palo Alto, combined with only 26 rushing yards, didn’t help Barkley when Stanford got creative and rushed 6 while dropping 5 in coverage. These are simple things Trojan fans miss while they’re busy blaming Kiffin for everything.
The reality is that Kiffin has an entire season to consider. The Trojans face their toughest games in late-October & through November. The health of USC’s key players is more important than scoring 65+ points a game. As I mentioned at the beginning, Kiffin put all of his eggs in this basket and he is going to do everything he can to ensure that the long-term goal of a title can be reached. Kiffin has been diligent in identifying weaknesses along the way and doing what he can to fix them. As rough as Trojan fans think they have it, imagine how much more rough things could be if Kiffin neglected the offensive line and running game in favor of a more aesthetically pleasing offense. If the goal is to win a title, wouldn’t fans prefer to see the glaring weaknesses addressed before USC plays the heart of their schedule?
Expectations were/are high for the Trojans. With those expectations comes a certain amount of vitriol when things seem to be going poorly. It’s not hard to understand why Trojan fans are upset, but that isn’t the issue. Arbitrarily assigning blame to Kiffin without an in-depth examination into the real problems facing USC is the problem. If you know what to look for, USC is actually a lot better off than people would like to believe. Only one issue: most people don’t. After all, isn’t blaming Kiffin more fun than the truth?
I think most everyone would agree that this season has gone worse for USC than most people could have imagine. The Trojans began the season with the top ranking and have since slid to the bottom half of the Top 25 and would need to win every, single one of their remaining games to even have a shot at a BCS game. Additionally, the Trojans have been marred by two separate incidents of petty cheating. The jersey switch was more of an ethical thing while the deflated balls were a blatant violation of the rules.
All of this has lead to an outcry for Lane Kiffin’s job within the media and on Twitter. These cries have created a rift among the USC fan-base and, to an extent, media members as well. It’s gotten so bad that Mark May claimed USC fans were all upset and wanted changes in Los Angeles. While that’s true, it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story of how Kiffin is viewed among fans and media.
There are, what I feel comfortable enough to call, a substantial number of fans and media who feel that Kiffin is the right man for the job. Many of these people spend most of their time around the game or have played/coached it throughout their lifetime. They’re what you would call “X’s & O’s people.” These are people who see through blanket terms like “offensive coordinator” or “running backs coach” and understand the individual roles of coaches in the USC program. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the case for every individual, but there are enough of them to form a general pattern that would hold up under academic testing.
These people, including myself, believe that Kiffin is the right man for the job. With the basic understanding that there are external forces present in 2012 that were not present during 2011, we do not believe that USC should fire Kiffin at 6-3 with the Rose Bowl still on the line. Naturally, the fans who believe that Kiffin should have been fired yesterday have labeled us “Kiffin Apologists” and questioned the objectivity and loyalty of others. They believe Kiffin’s recent behavior warrants immediate termination or that he should be terminated at season’s end.
Funnily enough, very few people even acknowledged that Pete Carroll used the jersey switch during his tenure as coach. Instead, Kiffin was branded as a petty cheater who doesn’t know how to win the right way. Furthermore, despite the fact that Ryan Abraham went on record as saying even he didn’t believe Kiffin would order the ball manager to do something that stupid, everyone declared that Lane was guilty of knowing about that, too.
Now, the last paragraph is especially important because of what it means to USC’s past. How many of these same fans would openly say that Pete Carroll and Mike Garrett knew that USC was playing ineligible players? If we’re too assume that Kiffin knew and ordered the deflating of balls during the Oregon game, doesn’t that same logic apply to Carroll & Garrett’s roles in the current sanctions that Lane is coaching through? You can’t have it one way and not the other.
It’s interesting that many of the fans who think Kiffin is behind these nefarious plots comprise the vast majority of fans who claim Reggie Bush was acting rogue and that the administration had nothing to do with it. In that case, the coach and the AD knew nothing. It was all Reggie and his family. In this case, however, Kiffin not only knew about everything, but he was also the one who was planning them and ordering other people to do them. The two claims are diametrically opposed to one another, but logic has never stopped Twitter.
Similarly, USC fans didn’t direct their ire at Pete Carroll for playing inexplicably awful during some games in the last years of his tenure. No, instead they piled on John David Booty and began screaming for Sanchez to take his place. Carroll seems to have been absolved of all wrong-doing while Lane is denied similar latitude. Interestingly enough, after Palmer left, these are the same fans who wanted Booty to start instead of Leinart. Oh, did I also mention that these are the same fans who wanted Carroll fired when he first started, as well.
Right now, some of you are thinking, “but Carroll won 2 titles while he was at USC & Kiffin has yet to win anything.” I’m sorry, but when you leave a team down 35 players and banned from bowls for two years, you should lose any good will you’ve built up. Those AP trophies in Heritage Hall don’t make up for the fact that USC was publically humiliated while Carroll has moved on without worry. Fans rarely acknowledge the humiliation that we endured because of these sanctions. They’ve forgotten how awful it felt to watch their team receive minimal credit until the very end of 2011.
I’ve seen calls for Auburn’s Gene Chizik to replace Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator. Right now, Chizik’s defense is ranked #85 in total defense while Kiffin’s defense is ranked #65. People are actually considering a coach that has a defense 20 spots worse than the Trojans’ current defense. According to Scout, since taking over Auburn in 2009, Chizik has averaged the #8 class in the nation. His Auburn Tigers are currently 2-7 on the season and 0-6 in conference play. While I’m sure that this was just an honest question, this is part of another larger pattern; horrible coaching replacement suggestions that would never work.
Steve Sarkisian is a name that media members and fans love to throw out. At first, he looks like a solid fit for the Trojans. He’s familiar with the program. He’s a likeable name. He coaches an honest program and he has a clean background. That last one is probably the biggest thing for Pat Haden right now. That said, he hasn’t accomplished very much at Washington and might be nearing the end of his tenure there.
Sarkisian is barely above .500 (24-23) during his tenure at Washington. Additionally, he’s yet to win more than 5 games in conference play and has never finished higher than 3rd. It’s not like he’s been getting awful recruiting classes, either. Sarkisian’s recruiting classes have averaged out to 30th in the nation over his time at Washington. He’s basically Chizik, but without the title and the top 10 recruiting classes.
Some people will be quick to point out that Sarkisian would get better recruits at USC. That’s all well and good, but Lane Kiffin recruits just as well. As a matter of fact, Kiffin has recruited exceptionally well during sanctions. Here’s the difference between he and Sarkisian: Lane Kiffin is 31-16 in the same 4 years that Sarkisian has managed 24-23. USC would be trading down in recruiting and trading down in coaching success. Why bother to look at the numbers when you can just throw a name out there and hope it sticks?
Furthermore, I am seeing fans question other people’s ability to remain objective while they’re asking poorly designed survey questions aimed to solicit the response they want. People want to get Kiffin an offensive coordinator. Guess what? USC is ranked 25th in the nation in total offense. That means that there are only 24 other offenses playing at a higher level than USC’s. Alabama’s total offense is 48th in the country, but SC needs to hire an offensive coordinator because 25 is simply too low! Of those 24 that are higher, 15 are from BCS conferences. That means there are really only 16 offenses that are higher than USC’s. I guess that’s not objective enough.
As a matter of fact, Kiffin’s worst season at USC is still better than Sarkisian’s best season at Washington. Kiffin’s worst season as a head coach, in general, is tied with Sarkisian’s best record as a head coach. Sarkisian has never finished higher than 7-6. While Sarkisian can do better than that this year, Kiffin controls his own BCS destiny in 2012. Sarkisian, for all intents and purposes, is on the outside looking in. I’ll concede that Sarkisian has the bigger wins this season, but I’m sure most coaches would prefer to be in control over their own destiny in the BCS than have a couple signature wins and play in the Alamo Bowl.
At last we have come full circle. Despite the fact that Kiffin has recruited well beyond what people thought possible, led at full roster of 85 men to an unexpected 10-2 season, and has the 2012 team in control of their own destiny, fans would happily fire him. Even worse, they claim anyone who doesn’t agree with their panic-induced rants is an apologist who doesn’t want what’s best for the team. Fans are attacking other fans for not agreeing with their claims despite the fact that all evidence indicates that many of their claims don’t have much substance behind them.
Kiffin apologists, as they have been coined, are often chastised for standing behind a coach who has done his best to replenish a program with high-end recruits amid sanctions and bowl bans. Those who would fire Kiffin want us to ignore the fact that USC controls their own destiny in the South & that Kiffin’s record as a head coach more than warrants further time with the program. They want us to ignore the fact that USC’s offense is better than all but 15 BCS programs and relieve Kiffin of his offensive duties. They want us to ignore the fact that Booty was to blame for his poor play during the Carroll administration, but Kiffin is responsible for everyone’s poor play now.
They bring up penalties and the defense the past couple games while ignoring the premise that players learn from being benched. They happily gloss over the fact that USC has lost 7 players for the season. 6 of them were lost to injury while the 7th couldn’t fulfill his responsibilities as a student. They claim that this team was better last year, ignoring the fact that USC has an 85 man roster last year that has dipped into the 60’s in 2012. They ignore the fact that Stevin Smith point shaved at Arizona State without anyone having a clue, but insist that Kiffin ordered a student manager to deflate balls. They’ll insist that Bush acted alone, but Kiffin knows everything.
They want me to follow them down a rabbit hole that ignores facts, logic, and most importantly, how the players feel about Lane Kiffin. Sorry, that’s not going to happen. I value a more scientific approach to results and believe in looking at the entire picture. I am a firm believer in conducting a complete program analysis and viewing alternatives before settling on a course of action. Having looked at the alternatives, I don’t see how anyone could assert that there is a better option available than the one currently there. Kiffin might not be perfect, but I’ve never questioned his loyalty to USC and I’m not going to question that loyalty while Kiffin is still giving this team a chance to reach the BCS.
A Kiffin Apologist.
It’s never a good idea to drunk dial. That’s probably sound advice that everyone should follow, but likely won’t. If you do happen to drunk dial someone, you probably shouldn’t leave a message. And if you absolutely have to leave a message, make sure you called the right number.
This poor number decided he was going to ignore all of the above and shoot for the stars. Here is the message that he left me in its entirety.
I have no idea what this guy is talking about other than the fact that he’s looking for Joe and I think it’s his birthday. Go ahead and use the comment section if you can interpret his words.
So, earlier today I took to Twitter in an effort to resolve my problem with AT&T/Apple. Now, since Apple doesn’t use Twitter, AT&T turned out to be the only one of these two that I could speak with about my problem. So, I posted this tweet and received the following reply.
My immediate response was “hell no.” Which I explained with this tweet.
I felt a little bad about my sarcasm and decided to explain myself with this little open letter.
Dear @ATTCustomerCare: If you honestly think I am going to attempt to resolve my issue over Twitter, you have lost your damn mind. Do you really think I am going to spend hours typing out my problems 140 characters at a time when you couldn’t resolve my concerns after hours of phone calls yesterday? I wouldn’t be facing the situation I am facing had your employee been more focused on the information behind the product he was selling than he was with your bottom-line.
Approximately one year ago I had my iPhone 4 stolen from me and smashed. When I purchased a new iPhone, also obligating myself to you for another 2 years, your customer service agent informed me that I could purchase an Apple Care Protection plan that would cover EVERYTHING, but theft. Seeing as how I had just had my phone smashed, I figured this plan would be beneficial to me moving forward, so I purchased a new iPhone 4, a new 2 year contract, an OtterBox, and the Apple Care Protection PLUS.
Fast forward to yesterday. I dropped my iPhone yesterday and the screen shattered. I called Apple to cash in my warranty & guess what? Apple had no record of any such agreement! I had the basic warranty, but I didn’t have anything that would have covered my screen. Yet, when I purchased the phone, I was told that I could replace my phone for any kind of damage as long as I could physically send the phone back to Apple.
So, I have no warranty with Apple and I am out a phone. After trying to order an iPhone 5 yesterday, I discovered that you and Apple don’t communicate at all. As it turns out, you neither one of you had the accurate account information for me. Then, as if this was some awful joke that doesn’t get better, your customer service agent spent 15 minutes telling me AND my mother what my mother’s information was, even though he had me, her, and Apple saying it was wrong. All of which kept me on the phone until almost 9pm.
At the end of that, they didn’t even have an iPhone 5 and I was going to have to wait a month. So, I’m out my phone because your CSR wrote a check for a product he couldn’t cash. I have no idea when I get can a new phone, but you’ll apparently let me sign a new 2 year contract & get my same phone. Right, because that’s fair. I have to commit for another 2 years because of something that happened in your store, but I am stuck with the same phone.
Since I have only had issues like this since I began purchasing iPhones, logic dictates that the problem is that you value your relationship with Apple more than the relationship with your customers. Every, single time something goes wrong with my iPhone, I somehow wind up taking the shaft of it while you and Apple continue to collect my money. That shit stops now.
AT&T remained persistent and insisted that they could be of some service. After a couple tries. I finally complied with their request.
As you can see, that was sent at 12:11pm. Here’s further proof that the DM was sent. Note the arrow pointing to how long ago it was sent.
After not hearing from AT&T for a while, I sent them another message voicing my displeasure.
I didn’t hear a damn thing from AT&T, so I posted another tweet for them. Keep in mind, they’re supposedly following me at this point.
Still nothing from AT&T. So, I send yet another reminder tweet, but this time I tag the person who was supposedly helping me.
You can imagine at this point that I’m pissed. Thankfully, AT&T decided I mattered to them 7 hours later when they sent me this bullshit reply.
It’s really difficult to get top notch customer care like this from a company. I would seriously like to thank AT&T for taking two seconds to feign interest in my problems. For that 30 seconds, I really felt like I mattered. Don’t focus too much on the part where you left me hanging for 7 hours like a jackass. That happens. People forget. The most important thing here is that you totally ignored my problems and put me on the backburner for a second day.
Bravo, AT&T. Bravo.