In this group Q and A, the great Steelers safety talks about meeting the late Chuck Noll, his new…
Time for some USC Scout-ing
I'm a native of Northern Kentucky, alum of Cincinnati St. Xavier and Xavier University, went on to coach football and baseball and teach social studies and English at Covington Catholic High School and was lucky enough to, in my first game coaching freshman football while I was still in college, have our kids beat powerhouse Cincinnati Moeller, mightily displeasing Gerry Faust at the time.
Played football in the Greater Cincinnati League, the Catholic school league that we liked to think at the time, and in some years since, was as good as any league in the nation. My high school claim to fame is that of all the starting linemen in the league during my four years (I was a 5-9-1/2, 240-pound nose tackle), I was the only one not to get a Division I scholarship -- or even a sniff.
Moved to college sports from high school coach after helping start Northern Kentucky University's athletic program between a couple of my senior classes one day (It's a long story) and jumped in as an SID, trainer and assistant coach before moving back to Xavier as SID/assistant AD. I even did a year as the NCAA compliance guy on top of everything else. My claim to fame at XU was helping convince an administration that had lost a ton of money trying to keep a low-level Division I football program going that if they did basketball right, it could be a terrific asset for the university -- which it indeed is.
Then it was on to my hometown Kentucky Post (a 50,000-circulation daily and sister paper of The Cincinnati Post) where we expanded coverage of Kentucky (and SEC) football and basketball and Louisville football and basketball. Also managed to cover the coldest game in NFL football history, the 59-below wind-chill-factor Chargers at Bengals playoff game in the stadium where I had been night stadium superintendent for both the Reds and the Bengals during the Big Red Machine Era.
Next came a couple of years off from full-time newspapering to put together the first-of-its-kind Traveling College Football Hall of Fame Tour in 1989-1990 that visited 40 states, traveled 26,500 miles and appeared at USC, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Alabama, Penn State, Texas, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Boston College, Florida State, Miami and the Sugar Bowl, among others.
Other newspaper jobs would come along as a sports editor/columnist working in Chicago, Philadelphia/New Jersey/New York and Southern California covering the likes of the Yankees' first World Series win under Joe Torre, the Phillies' worst-to-first pennant run, the Eagles, the Big East, the Big Five, the Big Ten, Notre Dame, Purdue, Indiana and Northwestern football and basketball, the Bears, the Cubs' last playoff game as well as the Bulls' final two seasons with Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson before picking up Phil and the Lakers in LA right before joining USCFootball.com more than four years ago.
That was after covering USC football (from Pete Carroll's second year on) and UCLA basketball, as well as the Angels (in their World Series-winning season), Dodgers and Padres for the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
That continued my streak as something of a good-luck charm for teams I cover. I was even around for two Bengals Super Bowl appearances if you can imagine that. Got to the Angels my first summer and they win the World Series. But the USC story is what matters here.
Because it ties into what might be happening here . . . and now. I still recall vividly that first day on the USC beat (the P-E had hired me to cover both USC and UCLA one July morning and I drove down to USC's campus when, by luck for me, a summer workout was starting. Carson Palmer was running the offensive guys through their paces, Troy Polamalu the defense.
How bad could these guys be, I asked myself, even if this was a team coming off a 6-6 season and an ugly bowl loss to Utah? Don't kid yourself, the veteran beat guys told me later when August practice got here. Sure, Palmer looks good now but how much protection will he get? And Mike Williams, he's just a freshman.
But the more you watched them practice, the more competitive it was every day, the faster they went, the more it looked like they had a chance even after bumps in the road at Kansas State and Washington State. There was just something about that team, we kept thinking.
As did they. And they were right. By season's end, as a top four team, they got into the Orange Bowl and the smart guys admitted by January, might have been the best team in the nation. They just kept getting better. They just kept competing.
And for me, the former freshman/JV/varsity assistant coach who handled three practices a day one year and by necessity had to do it in a hurry and with real efficiency, watching USC work those early seasons under Pete was as good as it gets. Just getting to be there to watch it was special. Watching them do it so well made it more than that.
Which is why we always had problems with Lane Kiffin's way. Sure, he and USC got a terrible deal from an agenda-driven, predetermined NCAA Committee on Infractions. But was he not there for the Pete years and all those lessons about practice and getting up to game speed and competition?
Or maybe just so focused on trying to succeed with the low numbers that it made him take his eye off the ball. And then of course, there were the personality issues and ability to connect and communicate. It takes a tremendous skill set to succeed as head coach at USC.
Whatever, practice has always been the window into the soul of this USC program for me. For any football program, really. Which gets us up to date here.
The feeling is much the same as it was in 2002. A head coach who really hasn't had the big success but has a plan. Although the Pac-12 presents more pitfalls now.
But there's a team with talent and leaders who think maybe they haven't had the fairest of shots to show what they could do even though they've shown some serious flashes.
And a practice plan, in the spring -- excepting of course the sandbagged spring game -- and in the summer, where we're seeing things we haven't seen in any summer of the dozen or so we've tracked.
For now, let's leave it there. We'll start getting into the specifics of where this USC team is -- and could be -- as we move through July. Getting our first chance to talk to the players after Thursday's workout will help. That's because what we'd like to do here is continue the conversation -- talking USC football with you.
Catch you then. Glad you're here.
And glad I'm here at a place like Scout.com where the obvious support systems are so clearly in place from the smart recruiting analysts like longtime USCFootball.com teammate Gerard Martinez along with Brandon Huffman, Greg Biggins, Josh Gershon and Co. They like basketball here, too. And the West Coast and the Pac-12 really matters to the Scout team as it does to us. There's a synergy here that's all good for those of us covering USC football.
And those of you following it.
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