In the wake of Steve Sarkisian's firing this week, the sports mediaverse has been littered with lists of names that could take over as the Trojans' next head coach. USA Today led the obligatory mainstream roll call ranging from pipe dreams to usual suspects. 247Sports made it interesting, posting odds on who will take the job. Even Forbes weighed in.
With almost two months to go until a new coach is named, most if not all candidates currently employed elsewhere, and virtually no clarity as to who on the wish list actually wants the job, those musings are little more than white noise. What USC and its boosters, alumni and fans can focus on right now are the attributes needed in the next coach and how they'll translate to success. Whoever takes over, here's what he needs to bring to the table:
Catch a quick glimpse and you can't miss it: Baylor plays at the speed of light. Michigan is freakishly physical. Utah is as disciplined as it gets.
Baylor and Utah pale in comparison to USC's rich heritage and Michigan was in shambles as recently as last season, but all three are better than the Trojans today because they know who they are.
Last time USC knew who it was, the man patrolling the sidelines was affectionately known as Big Balls Pete. Carroll's Trojans were fiercely competitive, relentlessly on the attack, and invariably able to adjust on the fly. Not coincidentally, USC hasn't sniffed the Promised Land since its identity was known to all and feared by opponents.
One ingredient missing from any passable description of the Trojans' current identity is toughness, both physical and mental.
Physically, USC is often overwhelmed when it should be able to hold its own. Stanford, for example, with rigid academic standards severely limiting its ability to recruit top athletes, routinely wears the Trojans down and pushes them around.
USC also tends to get more than it can handle from lesser competition with a mental edge. Just last week, an inferior Washington team demonstrated this in what turned out to be Sarkisian's final game.
While Sarkisian's shortcomings have been well documented, his game planning ability consistently got the Trojans off on the right foot. Once opponents adjusted, however, USC could rarely counter.
This season's loss to Stanford serves as a strong case study. The Trojans moved the ball at will while jumping out to a commanding early lead, then the Cardinal adapted. USC lost the line of scrimmage and seemingly every other matchup for the remainder of the night.
It's difficult to recall a recent loss in which the Trojans weren't out-coached, regardless of the game plan.
For the past five-plus seasons under Lane Kiffin and Sarkisian, bigger moments have meant an increasingly conservative approach. Nightmares of bubble screens and ill-advised attempts to use the clock rather than superior talent will haunt their respective legacies, a stark contrast from the fearless approach that endures as a hallmark of the Carroll era. But speaking of the Silver Fox...
5) A New Voice
It's time for USC to branch out from the Carroll coaching tree. Kiffin and Sarkisian have shown his unique style can't be replicated, and the good news is it doesn't need to be.
With the NCAA's unprecedented and unintelligible sanctions in the past and a full roster of 85 scholarship players on the horizon, the Trojans have every opportunity to return to glory. They just can't return to 2005.
When USC announces its next head coach, most of those name-dropping lists may turn out to contain the correct answer, but the powers that be need to make their selection for the right reasons. "Who" isn't important. "What" and "how" are vital.