It was a weird transitory period, but one that came with advantages considering USC's limited scholarship numbers.
Still, we figured what's done was done. Final. Nobody, however, could have predicted January's Exodus was only then at its peak.
Enter National Signing Day, the grown football fan's version of Battleship. During the recruiting season, coaches attempt to blow up an opponent's incoming class by taking their biggest pieces, and thereby sinking future hopes.
After Feb. 1 -- when the recruiting experts faded from the background, when the phone calls from angry dads dissipated and the sales pitches dwindled down --these coaches were left to reassess their own futures.
For USC linebackers coach Joe Barry and USC wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore, the prospect of another college football season teaching their new signees wasn't enough. The Trojans' No.1 preseason ranking just couldn't make them stay.
The NFL came calling and the offer became too tempting.
Both coaches took freshmen to new levels in 2011.
Gilmore, named college football Wide Receivers Coach of the Year by SpeedTracs, made Serra High a household name by coaching true freshman Marqise Lee into an elite talent. His high school and college teammate, Robert Woods, is coming off his best year yet after being named a finalist for the Bilenitkoff Award. The receiver duo became the most productive twosome in the nation, amassing a combined 2,435 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns.
Barry took three freshmen linebackers to unprecedented heights. Outside linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard led the team in tackles, with 81 a piece and Bailey was named the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. In the middle, true freshman Lamar Dawson, donning the historic No. 55 jersey, lived up to much of his hype by proving a reliable force inside, replacing a veteran starter late in the season.
In addition to their success at USC, both Gilmore and Barry appear to be great family men.
Gilmore has an 11-year old daughter Taylor and an 8-year old son T.J. Taylor, a bright, curious girl with the widest of smiles, would come to USC practices or games and revel in everything her dad did.
Barry has a small Army with four kids ranging from ages 7-11. Always lugging one of the mini-Barrys in his arms after a home game, the other three follow closeby, as if thrilled to spend every remaining second of the night with their dad. He seems to be the most normal, fun-loving dad and coach I've been around.
For their families, and for themselves, both men hope to reach an even greater level of success.
So who can lambaste them for capitalizing on opportunity? Isn't that what Americans preach, to create the best possible life for yourself and follow that often discussed dream with a capital D?
Alas, USC fans were shocked -- angry even -- at the time of their exits.
They wondered why the two would leave before the Trojans began their national championship campaign. They pondered how this might affect the two receivers and two linebackers coming in 2012. And they questioned why they would leave so soon, just two years after Barry's hire and a year after Gilmore's.
But Gilmore and Barry are not new to the coaching game. While they might have just four combined years coaching with the Trojans, they have a combined 36 years teaching football at a high level.
Yet both will have "firsts" come fall. After working with seven different collegiate programs, Gilmore will make his NFL coaching debut. And Barry will join his first AFC team in the NFL, after working for the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Bucs and Detroit Lions.
Would there be a different reaction in Trojanland had we been talking about players and not coaches? Say a player was allowed to leave after his freshman or sophomore year for the NFL, and he did.
Initially anger might set in. Fans would roast the guy for taking the money and leaving his teammates. Months down the road, successes later, these same fans would eventually reach understanding. Perhaps even compassion.
Well the same applies to these coaches. Their time came sooner than later, sure, but they love USC. I know that and the players do too.
As a fan, it's easy to get hurt when a coach or player moves on (see: Lane Kiffin, Tennessee). We've heard it so many times before but no one individual makes a team.
So these five-star coaches will take a page from USC's former five-star players and leave the program this offseason.
Let's wish them well on their new journeys like we have the Brice Butlers or Kyle Praters. Because Gilmore and Barry also want to be the best.
Just like the players they once coached.