Having navigated NCAA sanctions relatively successfully, how did USC football manage to end up in its current recession?
The Trojans have won a single Pac-12 title in the 11 years since Pete Carroll left the program. That's simply not acceptable in any decade.
Undoubtedly, head coaching hires have played a starring role in that drought. USC bet on Lane Kiffin prematurely. They missed the warning signs with Steve Sarkisian. And they've spent far too long accepting the mediocrity of Clay Helton.
In a lot of ways, those missteps are just symptoms of the larger disease at USC. Interestingly, it was Michael Jones of J1S, the CEO of the creative agency the program recently partnered with, who has done the best job of explaining how the Trojans ended up where they are.
"When I talk to schools, I tell them Hilton Hotels had no business losing being the No. 1 hospitality provider in the world," Jones told Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. "It was because they didn't take a fast enough approach when Airbnb started coming. Ford should not be looking at Tesla saying, 'How do we ever catch them?' A lot of times, these programs that have sat on their tradition and sat in the driver's seat for so long, they're naïve to big industry changes."
USC football allowed themselves to fall behind in the CFB arms race
Indeed, USC rested on the laurels of the Pete Carroll era. They had a special coach who did special things and masked many of the ways the Trojans had already fallen behind.
The McKay Center was a facilities upgrade that came well after Oregon started injecting serious cash into their program. They spent $90 million on adding luxury boxes to Autzen nearly twenty years before USC finally undertook a renovation of the Coliseum. They had a state of the art training facility while the Trojans were still working out in an antequated weight room.
Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson picked up on the new arms race in college football before USC even knew it was happening. They started stocking up their support staffs while the Trojans overworked an undermanned crew.
From Mike Garrett to Pat Haden to Lynn Swann, USC relied too firmly on the idea that USC recruits itself. It does to a certain point, but guys like Donte Williams do a much better job of it.
Fortunately, Williams is now on USC's side and the Trojans have taken steps to bolster their support staff. They have great new facilities to work with.
Most encouragingly, they've gotten out front on Name, Image and Likeness developments by embracing the idea of brand-building. This time, they're not going to let others forge the path. They're already making their NLI pitch to prospects and it's clearly working.
If Mike Bohn intends to take USC to the top, he needs to remain committed to putting USC on the forefront. He needs to be willing to take the bold, innovative step.
For now, it may not always feel like it, but the Trojans do appear to be on the right path. Hopefully, they're done with playing catch up.