August 5, 2002
COLUMBIA - Five hints that Lou Holtz Sr. won't coach in Columbia for as long as USC fans would prefer:
The control/Watson thing.
Former star tailback Derek Watson, who ranks as Holtz's most notable victory in his four South Carolina recruiting campaigns, now looms as the coach's first defeat in a power tussle with athletic director Mike McGee.
Watson, stripped of his athletic scholarship by McGee last spring after being found guilty on a drug charge, continues to have a strong ally in Holtz. In several recent interviews, the coach expressed hope that Watson eventually will rejoin USC's lineup. Twice on July radio shows, Holtz mentioned that possibility for the 2003 season. The suggestion comes after McGee has repeatedly made it clear that he wants Watson to use his last year of eligibility elsewhere.
Given the fact that USC has plenty of running backs, and probably will do nicely in the upcoming season without Watson, it appears that the player's inclusion or exclusion is a major issue primarily because it represents control of the program. McGee, who once seemed content to let Holtz make all football-related decisions, has taken a firm stance on the Watson issue.
Buddy Pough, the former USC assistant now preparing for his first season as head coach at Division I-AA South Carolina State, has offered Watson a scholarship there. At a
I-AA school, Watson would be eligible immediately. The move would allow him to begin a pro career in 12 months, presumably as the owner (or very close to being an owner) of a college degree.
Holtz's suggestion, which would put Watson's career on hold, would appear to benefit Holtz more than it would benefit Watson. In the bigger picture, it is a suggestion that challenges McGee's directive and desires, and those are the things that tend to shorten coaching tenures.
The doctor/micro-manager thing.
The writers enjoy Holtz's jokes, and the fans enjoy the wins he helps provide, but those who work with and around Holtz are rarely laughing. Holtz can be quite demanding, a fact that surfaced in July, when Dr. Robert Peele resigned as team physician.
Peele, 52, is a long-time USC fan who has served as team physician under four head coaches: Joe Morrison, Sparky Woods, Brad Scott and Holtz. When he resigned, Peele expressed admiration for Morrison, Woods and Scott and appreciation for their support of his medical decisions.
Peele indicated that those three coaches consistently refused to exert pressure on him to get players off the injured list and onto the playing field. Peele told one writer: ìThose were three good people to work with, easier people to work with.î
It was obvious that Peele did not include Holtz among his ìgood-people-to-work-withî group. When asked about Holtz, Peele said he ìhad enough sense to know I want to give him plenty of room, and I can be perfectly happy being a fan.î
The short-term thing.
Holtz's next season will be his fourth at USC. In his first six head coaching jobs, he stayed more than four years only twice. Carolina fans lean heavily on Holtz's promise that this is his final coaching stop, but he also said that at Minnesota and Notre Dame.
The age thing.
Holtz will turn 66 shortly after the end of the season.
The recruiting thing.
The first four recruiting seasons were more frustrating and less successful than Holtz expected. Most revealing is the fact that in the spring of 2001, when 18 starters were coming back from a veteran team along with 1999 starter Kevin Rivers, Carolina signed six juco transfers. And this spring, Holtz's fourth recruiting class was marked by scholarships to five jucos. His projected 2003 group figures to be loaded with them as well.
Recruiting: Cause For Concern
When Holtz signs a combined 11 juco transfers in his third and fourth recruiting years, it's a clear signal that the Gamecocks have been rejected too often by blue-chip high school players. It also helps explain why USC is still looking for its first victory over a top-10 foe during the Holtz era.
Holtz rarely relied on juco transfers in his previous coaching stops, and he didn't intend to be relying on them so heavily at this stage of the program. Even in the first two recruiting years, which came on the heels of 1-10 and 0-11 seasons, Carolina added just three juco transfers each year. For that number to be increasing is an ominous sign. Heading into the second season, the plan was to recruit more jucos only if the Gamecocks won less than seven games.
It hasn't helped that the transfers have rarely produced. The group offers only two success stories - nose guard Cleveland Pinckney (1999) and linebacker Jermaine Lemon (2001). The rest of the imports have been long on potential but short on development, and none provided much immediate help.
The list of underachievers includes quarterbacks Josh Rogers, Jerrod Reese and Corey Jenkins; defensive linemen Willie Sams and Shaun Smith; running back Corey Alexander; wide receivers Chavez Donnings and James Adkisson; and defensive back Issac Stackhouse. One juco addition, tight end Ricky Ricks, has yet to play because of injuries and recently looked into his transfer options.
The five additional juco recruits of this spring - defensive tackle Randy Jackson, linebacker Darel Slay and defensive backs Jermaine Harris, Cory Peoples and Taqiy Muhammad - reflect some major concerns about the talent on defense. The reliance on jucos comes in spite of the fact that USC has never lost a player to the NFL prematurely.
Holdover talent camouflaged the recruiting shortcomings for the past two seasons, when the number of returning starters was among the highest in the Southeastern Conference. That will be the case again this season, as most of the 23 seniors are likely to play prominent roles.
But the reliance on juco talent does not bode well for the future. With only 13 juniors on scholarship this fall, the 2003 senior class figures to be the smallest since Holtz came to town. That could be one reason Holtz wants Watson to be part of it.
It also could be a reason for Holtz to leave.