Grammy-winning musician Bill Withers once helped USC football head coach Pete Carroll prank the Trojans in the Fall of 2009.
USC football is usually linked to the music scene via the Trojan Marching Band, but back in 2009 a Grammy-winning musician became invariably connected to the cardinal and gold.
Bill Withers, who passed away on Friday at 81 from heart complications, helped then-head coach Pete Carroll punk his team in August of 2009 during Fall Camp.
It all started when the players pranked Carroll by staging a fake fight during practice. The coach promised to take “a pound of flesh” in response, according to the Los Angeles Times.
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Earlier in August, Trojan freshman linebacker Marquis Simmons stood in front of the room during a team meeting and sang “Lean On Me,” Withers’ iconic 1972 soul record. When the team joined along, the video made a minor splash.
Carroll decided to use Withers to exact his revenge on August 21, inviting the singer to pose as an official from the NCAA with a scary warning: a rare and dangerous fungus would require the players to wear a protective boot in the shower.
Of course, it was all ruse.
Withers revealed himself and invited Simmons to once again lead the team in a rendition of “Lean On Me.”
Here’s how ESPN covered the prank with interviews from Withers and several players:
“Lean On Me” was seen as an anthem for USC going into the 2009 season. Unfortunately, its lyrics, “sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow,” would apply a little bit too directly to that campaign.
With true freshman Matt Barkley at the helm and a new-look defense, the Trojans managed a memorable victory over Ohio State at the Horseshoe but lost four games while dropping to a disappointing 9-4 record.
In January, Carroll left USC for the Seattle Seahawks and one of the most successful eras of Trojan football ended.
Simmons went on to win USC’s Service Team Defensive Player of the Year Award while redshirting in 2009, but his Trojan career never really took off. He had his appendix removed and came down with a bout of mononucleosis as a redshirt freshman. Then in 2011, he suffered a season-ending neck injury. In his final two seasons, he served largely on special teams. In all, he had 17 career tackles and a sack.
Withers’ appearance at USC didn’t ultimately drive the Trojans towards championship glory, but the message of his song still holds value, both for athletes and fans going through tough times this spring. Perhaps it can be the thing that drives us through to the other side of the coronavirus pandemic.
As the song goes, “but if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow.”