This all started, as things are apt to do these days, on Twitter.
Dan Rubenstein, co-host of the ultra-popular “Solid Verbal” podcast on the SBNation.com network, had to go ahead and open his mouth, or his Tweetbox, or however it works, to trash the USC football head coach opening.
“A good job masquerading as great,” he wrote.
We here at the Arizona Daily Star, smack in the middle of Pac-12 country, are not going to sit idly by and let him waltz all over the premier coaching job in the conference, if not west of Austin.
So we tracked down Rubenstein — and a couple of similarly qualified college football experts, Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports and Brandon Huffman of Scout.com — to debate the issue at hand.
The issue: Is USC, which hosts Arizona tonight at 7:30, still a premier head coaching job, in the wake of brutal sanctions and the Kiffining of the program?
“He’s nuts,” Feldman, who has guested on “Solid Verbal,” said with a laugh. “To me, it’s one of the five best jobs in college football. You’d have to be a fool if you think it’s not.”
The Los Angeles Coliseum is not exactly a sparkling diamond, but there is heritage.
Then there is Heritage Hall, and the shiny new $70 million McKay Center. Among big-money schools, the Trojans are second to just about none.
It’s not as if USC was Oliver Twist before the expansion of the Pac-10 to the Pac-12 and subsequent windfall from the Pac-12 Network.
But an extra $20-plus million a year in its coffers will help the Trojans break the bank this time around.
Kiffin made a reported $2.6 million a year as late as 2011, but you’ve got to expect that USC is willing to open up the purse in the hunt for green. Winning football equals lots and lots of green. Some have prognosticated that the school is willing to pay in the $4 million to $5 million range.
The USC campus sits in fertile recruiting ground, as the Los Angeles area produces national talent year in, year out.
But it’s not just L.A.
All of Southern California is a hotbed for recruits, including Orange County, San Diego, Ventura County and the Inland Empire.
And the Trojans — along with the rest of the Pac-12 – take advantage.
“USC is still recruiting well in spite of Lane Kiffin,” Feldman said. “They had a bunch of 4- and 5-star players last year in a small class. Considering how awful a season they had, with the coach about to get fired, it’s amazing what they kept.”
But Rubenstein adds another great point regarding location: The Hollywood lights may glare a bit more elsewhere than on just Heritage Hall.
“When you see the towns that are home to these A-list programs — Tuscaloosa, South Bend, Austin, Ann Arbor — they are the only show in town,” Rubenstein points out. “The coaches are the unofficial mayors of the town.”
One of the comments that sparked this whole fiasco was the implication that the conference’s standard-bearer was somehow inferior to the cream of the college football crop.
Rubenstein noted that aside from Pete Carroll, USC’s coaching hires have been bad. Just bad. And they have been.
But start with NFL pedigree: USC has produced a nation-leading 480 NFL draft picks through 2013.
Even a quick comparison of USC’s 33-year track record shows that since 1980 — and this is ignoring the Trojans’ dominant run during the 1960s and ’70s, with four national titles — the program ranks among the best.
Florida, with 26 top 25 seasons since 1980, leads the field, with an average season-ending ranking in those years of 9.42. Alabama and Texas have finished in the top 25 21 times in that span, although the Crimson Tide average a No. 9 ranking while the Longhorns clock in at No. 12.
USC, meanwhile, has 18 top 25 finishes since 1980, and a 9.6 average ranking.
“Just because the hires haven’t been good, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good job,” Huffman said. “If there is one team that has shown they can have dynasties in different periods, it’s USC.”
Rubenstein closes with one final argument, and it’s almost enough to sway the jury. Like Matthew McConaughey at the end of “A Time to Kill,” Rubenstein asked us to close our eyes, tugged at our heartstrings and imagine a Los Angeles devoid of color, of no Purple and Gold, of no Dodger Blue, of no UCLA Powder Blue and Gold.
“They will always be behind the Lakers, the entertainment industry, the Dodgers,” Rubenstein said. “It takes a special kind of person to make that job as attractive as people think it is. Pete Carroll made that job what it seems.”
But the job is bigger than Pete Carroll. It is bigger than all of us. Particularly Lane Kiffin.
It’s a destination for the best of the best. Jack Del Rio, pick up the phone. Jon Gruden, listen up. Chris Peterson, pay attention.
The case is closed.