Owing to the inconvenient fact that time marches on, life for your average USC alum is not all tailbacks and touchdowns these days. Times are harder. USC football is no longer just a future network color man turning the corner with two human condos leading the way. Reality has taken a room in Troy.
Last year was the first in 27 that the Trojans didn't win a national championship in at least one sport. The men haven't won an NCAA title since 1980, and that one was in volleyball. What's more, USC license plate sales are down.
All of which brings us to the House Divided. You think it never gets below freezing in Southern California? You oughta drop by USC's athletic offices sometime. If the thermostat dips any lower, a summit may break out.
The New Cold War centers on the football team, which is a schizophrenic 4-1 after beating two Top 10 teams—Baylor and Washington—but then barely floundering by Oregon and getting thumped 34-14 at Washington State on Saturday. It was USC's first loss to the Cougars in 29 years. This is the same Washington State team that lost to San Jose State and Cal, the same one about which coach Jim Walden had said, "If I'd have known they were going to play this bad, I never would've recruited 'em." We assume he'll keep them now that they have given USC alumni more grumbling ammo for their cellular phones.
October 19, 1986
Camp 1: The Realists. These are people who know coach Ted Tollner (if you know him, you like him) or are enamored of his freewheeling offense, namely his introduction of the forward pass to USC. They were doing back flips until the Washington State disaster. Now they're just doing dignified somersaults.
Camp 2: The Fundamentalists. They still believe Student Body Right is the true path to national championships. They loosely side with Tollner's boss, athletic director Mike (sometimes known as Mad Mike) McGee, who they believe wants to get rid of Tollner. They're counting on McGee's reputation as the quickest trigger finger in the West.
Camp 3: The Terminators. They include some members of the San Diego Trojan Club who urged the Board of Trustees to throw them all out, including the president, just for good measure.
The heavy is McGee, who had a rather luckless football coaching career at Duke before taking over at USC two years ago. He arrived with a reputation for preferring his own troops under him. Since then, people have been walking down halls with their backs to the wall.
First to be pushed out was basketball coach Stan Morrison, whose team won the Pac-10 title in 1985, the first for the Trojans in 24 years, but finished last in '86. Morrison was given the dreaded associate athletic director's job. Six months later he bolted for UC Santa Barbara, where he's the AD.
Next out was baseball coach Rod Dedeaux, the dean of the species and USC's skip for 45 years. Dedeaux retired but admits the presence of McGee "made up my mind a little sooner."
And now Greater Los Angeles waits for the third cleat to drop: Tollner. a fiercely loyal, altogether regular guy and an underrated coach, partly because he looks like somebody who might try to sell you whole life insurance and partly because he has the disorienting habit of winning games he's supposed to lose and vice versa. Quick, over the past four years, which Pac-10 coach has more conference victories than Tollner? Terry Donahue? Get out. Don James? Nuhuh. Nobody is who. Over the past four years, which Pac-10 coach has lost to Kansas, unranked Baylor, California, Washington State and Gerry Faust (three times)? It's Tollner, who went to the Rose Bowl in his second year but finished 6-6 last season. That's when McGee started thumbing his pad of pink slips. The word is out: Tollner needs eight or nine wins in '86 or it's on to that big pair of headphones in the sky.
Next to Tom Bradley and George Deukmejian, Tollner and McGee are the least likely twosome in L.A. to be seen grazing on goat-cheese pizzas at Spago. According to three separate sources, Tollner has been upset by at least three things: 1) Last year McGee had friends contact San Diego Chargers assistant Dave Levy and Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Paul Hackett about jobs on Tollner's staff, without Tollner's approval. McGee says the friends were acting on their own. 2) McGee welshed on salary promises he made to Tollner after the Rose Bowl season. McGee denies it. 3) McGee suggested Tollner fire some of his staff before this season.
Says Tollner of McGee, "It wouldn't serve any good purpose to talk about him." Says McGee of Tollner, "I'm not going to get into it." At least we got that cleared up.
Tollner says of his job status, "I was hired by the university president [Dr. James H. Zumberge]." McGee says of Tollner's job status, "I don't set the standards for USC football. They're historically high."
It's the stickiest of wickets. Tollner is not flashy enough to command the alumni support he deserves in Los Angeles, so he has to win more. McGee is looking at the lackluster attendance figures at the Coliseum (an average of 58,000 fans per game in Tollner's 3½ seasons) and at an athletic department that wasn't operating in the red until he arrived. So he figures the place could use some shaking up. In Morrison's old desk, he sat former Iowa coach George Raveling, an enlightened hiring if there ever was one.
Indeed, nobody doubts that McGee knows his business. He hired USC's first full-time marketing director—welcome to the 1980s—and he has slightly increased season-ticket sales. It's just around the Mr. Coffee that McGee's a little rough. Charismatically speaking, he ranks somewhere between Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes. "The man's absolutely brutal dealing with people face-to-face," says one staffer. Indeed, McGee appears to be drowning in the secretarial pool. "Let's just say, they're not fond of him," says the same staffer.
He is a bit rigid, from his three-piece suits to his predilection for prolixity. McGeespeak means that instead of saying, "Fred graduated," you say, "Fred enjoyed the graduation experience." One doesn't go to the Rose Bowl; one "enjoys the Rose Bowl experience." You figure that in the mornings McGee says, "Honey, pass the cream cheese experience."
Reading McGeespeak is even harder, but it must be mastered, because the man and his Dictaphone are almost fused. The torrent of memos cascading from under his door tends to drive the Troy citizenry crazy, according to the Los Angeles Times. "I guess you could say I'm as productive as the next guy in terms of memos and mail," McGee says. "But I'm going to make sure everybody understands what I want."
Can't blame the guy for that. And he is trying to warm up to the staff. He had some of them over to his house before the season for a Mexican feast. Unfortunately, he wore a coat and tie.
McGee represents change, but at an inertial place like USC, that's hard to accept. "We were like a family there," says Dedeaux. "It was a very special place. Everybody knew each other for so long. There was a camaraderie, you know. I guess that's changing, too."
Exhibit A in the case of Time v. USC Mystique is the Troy Boys themselves. Take a look at the team. This is USC? It sure doesn't look like USC. Twice this fall the Trojans have pitched the ball to a flanker, who has turned and thrown it for a touchdown pass. A flea-flicker at USC? Frank Gifford just blanched.
The Trojans haven't had a first-rate tailback since Marcus Allen, and nobody seems ready to succeed, despite the fact that in junior Ryan Knight and sophomore Aaron Emanuel USC has the most dearly sought schoolboy runners from 1984 and '85. Knight, who lost the starting job to Emanuel last week, can't seem to hit a hole without doing an Arthur Murray routine first. Emanuel shows promise, but he's erratic. Against Oregon he ran for 144 yards, and he had a 25-yard TD run in which nine Ducks took a quack at him. On Saturday, however, he broke loose on a 12-yard run only to fumble the ball away, and he finished with just 63 yards.
When was the last time USC had a quarterback with more than a good hand-off? Meet Rodney Peete, second cousin to golfer Calvin Peete and a guy who either hits the pin or knocks it in the lake. Typically, on Saturday Peete completed 16 of 25 passes for 253 yards but threw two interceptions and fumbled twice.
Finally, take a look at the Trojans' Fisher-Price defensive line. It features two freshmen (Tim Ryan is the first pure freshman to start the first game of a season at USC since 1978) and a sophomore. Somehow, the defensive line hung in there until Saturday, when Walden's staff rigged up a scheme to flatten it. Pretending to start the option wide, Cougar quarterback Ed Blount would instead reverse-pivot and hand the ball back to Kerry (164 yards) Porter, who used the youngsters as welcome mats. "We didn't stop the dive," said USC defensive coordinator Artie Gigantino. "And when you don't stop the dive against an option team, it's all over."
"I'm sick," said Tollner. "We got our butts kicked." And then some. The Cougars held the ball twice as long as the Trojans. They outgained USC on the ground by better than 4 to 1. "Your wife, my wife, anybody's wife could tell you what happened today," said Gigantino. "We got stomped."
The Trojans' ability to unstomp themselves could hold USC football's—and Tollner's—fate. In a conference with six teams in SI's Top 20 last week and five this week, wins are harder to come by than a midnight cab in Dubuque. Even if Tollner can win most of his remaining games, if the victories don't include the scalps of UCLA or Notre Dame (his combined record against them is 1-5), there'll be howling in the hills.
"I think everybody was waiting for him to lose," says senior Tim McDonald, an All-America safety. "But we're not going to give in. What all this has done is bring us closer together. We all know the situation he's in, but we've got it figured out. We're going to win so many games that the AD will have to keep him."
That would be what's known as enjoying the in-your-face experience.