July 10, 2002 COLUMBIA Perhaps, if Lou Holtz had known what a quiet summer it would be without Derek Watson among his scholarship recipients, the veteran coach wouldn't have fought so hard to keep him around for so long.
Summer silence, to college football coaches, is indeed golden. Summertime news involving athletes is not usually a good thing.
Now that Holtz and the talented running back have given up their quest for Watson to remain on scholarship, offseason news has grown considerably less common and more tame. The first half of Summer 2002 has been remarkably quiet for Holtz and basketball coach Dave Odom, who, as June ended, were able to avoid discussion of an injury, an academic casualty or even a traffic ticket.
Former South Carolina assistant coach Buddy Pough, for the past three years considered USC's best recruiter, said he expects Watson to play wide receiver for his South Carolina State team this fall. Watson's plans might not really be known until students register at schools in August.
In the meantime, the only USC athlete making headlines off the field in June was a baseball player, Justin Harris.
Charged with disorderly conduct and public drunkenness one weekend, he was in the USC lineup at Omaha the next weekend and was one of two Gamecocks (along with catcher Landon Powell) named to the College World Series all-tournament team. Harris' suspension was for only one game, which gave him time to collect 10 hits and lead Carolina to four CWS victories.
School's New CEO Likes Sports
The most significant summer event thus far involved USC's newest CEO, Andrew Sorensen. On July 1, he assumed control of the state's largest and richest school, replacing John Palms as president.
Sorensen's arrival had many USC coaches and fans curious. In contrast to his predecessor, the new guy's level of interest in athletics is high.
Sorensen comes with a reputation, built while president at Alabama, as an administrator who privately worked closely with the athletic department but publicly distanced himself from it. At one point, school trustees openly criticized Sorensen because they were not enlightened about major decisions involving former football coach Mike DuBose, who was given a contract extension and a raise by Sorensen just one year before the NCAA began an investigation of infractions by his staff.
The trustees were so angered with Sorensen, in fact, that they created an Athletic Oversight Committee. It didn't help last February, however, when the Alabama football program was hit with a five-year probation by the NCAA, stemming from 10 major violations and a handful of minor ones.
The NCAA infractions report made no reference to Sorensen, and it should be noted that neither of the two NCAA investigations during Sorensen's tenure found the school guilty of a "lack of institutional control." That's the point of no return in the eyes of the NCAA, representing the idea that powerful administrators were neglectful while the inmates were running the asylum, so whatever Alabama did wrong apparently stopped short of that disaster.
So what does Sorensen's arrival mean for USC's athletic department? Some believe that because he was president of a school that was caught cheating during his watch, he'll be more attentive to possible NCAA violations in the future. On the other hand, the fact that he survived the NCAA investigations unscathed and, in fact, landed a higher-paying job is reason to expect only token involvement from him.
It is a certainty that he'll give athletics more of his attention than did Palms, who until coming to USC had never presided over a school that had a football team.
SEC Search Ignored Palms, McGee
Palms and USC athletic diretor Mike McGee were non-factors in what became the biggest summer news from the Southeastern Conference.
Shortly after Roy Kramer announced in March that he would retire this summer as league commissioner, Palms was mentioned on a long list of possible replacements. It also was reported that McGee had expressed interest in the high-profile job, which paid Kramer $407,000 annually and opened doors to countless other financial opportunities. McGee sought the job as Big 12 commissioner in 1998.
But as June ended, the SEC search had been narrowed to three men: Ohio Valley Conference commissioner Dan Beebe, Conference USA commissioner Mark Slive and SEC assistant commissioner Mark Womack.
When Slive got the job, few were surprised. An attorney and former judge who did great things while at Conference USA, he once worked for a high-profile law firm that defended schools accused of wrongdoing by the NCAA. He should be a perfect fit.
Nevertheless, the SEC probably will miss Kramer's negotiating skills. Under Kramer, a Tennessee native who took a very direct role in all facets of the job, the league became the nation's most profitable amateur sports league. Its revenue soared from $16 million when he took the job in 1990 to $78 million in 2000-01. This year, the 12 league schools will divvy up $95.7 million.
Odd Holtz Fascination Continues
The most illogical news of the spring came from an organization known as the All-American Football Foundation, which gives awards each year to what it calls the nation's "top" assistant football coaches.
The organization this year ignored highly respected USC defensive coordinator Charlie Strong and secondary coach John Gutekunst (who was chosen assistant coach of the year last season by the American Football Coaches Association) and instead handed the honor to 37-year-old USC offensive coordinator Skip Holtz.
From a national perspective, Holtz might be best remembered during the past season for being berated by his famous father in front of national television cameras. The Holtz feud dominated the closing minutes of a loss to Tennessee, as the two men debated while USC was in the midst of its most important offensive series of the game.
The coaching award comes after three seasons in which the strength of the USC team has been its defensive play under Strong. Oddly, it is Skip Holtz who is expected to be hired as head coach when Lou Sr. (age 65) retires.
Strong also is second to Skip Holtz each time the paychecks are distributed. Holtz gets a base salary of $155,000 a year for the next five years, a $775,000 contract that took effect in January. He earns $20,000 more per year than Strong, whose defensive units have ranked among the nation's top 20 in each of the past three seasons.
Well below Holtz on the totem pole are Chris Cosh (third-highest on the staff with a base salary of $124,000) and Gutekunst, the former head coach at Minnesota ($119,650). Dave Roberts and Paul Lounsberry each earn slightly more than $100,000 a year, and new coach Joker Phillips is paid $95,000 annually. At the bottom of the pay scale are linebackers coach Todd Fitch ($90,000) and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo ($87,000), who both make more than $1,000 a week less than Skip Holtz.