I think everyone in the “Trojan Family” – every student, alumnus, and fan of the University of Southern California’s sports teams – will say that 2013-2014 was, to coin a cliche, a year to remember.
Athletic Director Pat Haden and everybody else is certainly proud of being the third school to win 100 NCAA championships, joining two schools that they are most familiar with – Stanford and 11-miles-to-the-west crosstown rival UCLA – in that illustrious club.
Their recent full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times celebrating that milestone illustrates that.
USC’s men’s tennis team gets the credit for putting their school over the top, winning their nation-leading 21st national championship on May 20 by way of beating Oklahoma four matches to two.
The men’s water polo team not only continued their dynasty in winning their sixth straight NCAA title last December 8, setting up the number 100 milestone by beating Pacific 12-11 in overtime, it marked coach Jovan Vavic’s 13th crown as both the Trojan men’s and women’s coach.
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The significance of that? Those 13 titles are more than any coach in ‘SC history, beating even football’s John McKay.
Which is certainly among the very good things that happened at USC this school year, as well as winning the Crosstown Gauntlet over UCLA, but as far as what I view as the top thing that occurred at Troy, well…we’ll get to that in a bit.
But first, let’s go over the worst that the Trojans had to offer in sports in 2013-14.
It wasn’t even close:
Head Coach: Andy Enfield
Record: 11-21 overall, 2-16 and last place in the Pac-12 Conference
Biggest Lowlight: Lost 17 of their last 19 games, including ten straight from January 26 to March 1.
Feb 13, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans guard Byron Wesley (22) dribbles the ball pursued by Utah Utes center Dallin Bachynski (31) at Galen Center. Utah defeated USC 79-71. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
To be honest, there’s not that much to say about a cellar-dwelling team, which these Trojan hoopsters were the epitome of.
And to add salt to the wounds, Byron Wesley, who was head and shoulders the team’s best player and the only threat in their lineup, decided to bail on the team and transfer to Gonzaga for his senior year.
That blow was softened when they signed the 2014 Los Angeles City Section player of the year, Westchester High’s Elijah Stewart, but anyone who thinks that he will be an immediate cure-all is lying to themselves.
In other words, this program has a LONG way to go before they can legitimately challenge UCLA (who soundly beat them twice) and Arizona for Pac-12 supremacy on the hardcourt.
The tiny crowds at Galen Center are a big illustration of that.
Since it was Enfield’s first year, I stand by my earlier statement that he should get a pass; let him see what he does in the next few seasons.
At least the women’s basketball team, led by former Trojan star Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, won 22 games and the Pac-12 Tournament, beating Final Four team Stanford along the way.
And even though the NCAA titles won by their men’s tennis and water polo counterparts were more than deserving of a “Well Done” and a “Fight On!”, the best thing abut USC sports in 2013 and 2014, like their worst, wasn’t close:
Head Coaches: Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron (interim)
Record: 10-4, 6-3 and third place in the Pac-12 South
Winning five straight games to get back into the conference race after a 4-3 start and Kiffin’s firing
Beating then-#4 Stanford at the Coliseum, 20-17
Beating Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl 45-20
Six months later, I still can’t believe that Orgeron is not officially the head coach of the USC football program.
I can’t believe that Haden didn’t tell him “The job is yours!” after that gregarious coach turned the Trojans’ season around.
This was a team that was well on its way to being the worst story at USC this year, particularly after Kiffin was dumped at the Los Angeles International Airport after that 62-41 thrashing at the hands of Arizona State; I still think the way he was let go – being pulled off the team bus at two in the morning and not even allowed to travel back to campus – was an awful, classless way to fire someone.
Haden couldn’t have waited until the sun came up and Kiffin was back on campus?!
That was precisely what made the turnaround under Orgeron all the more impressive, the fact that Marqise Lee, Cody Kessler and the rest of the team rallied under the longtime assistant and rattled off five straight wins should have removed the “interim” tag alone.
Apr 19, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California head coach Steve Sarkisian (center) calms down the players during “the gauntlet” drill session during the Southern California Spring Game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Unfortunately, the Trojan brass and well-heeled boosters felt that his two losses overshadowed his six wins.
The reason? Those two losses were to teams that no one in cardinal and gold ever wants to lose to: Notre Dame and UCLA.
Indeed, as it turned out, that crosstown match against the Bruins was for his job; if the Trojans had won that game, Steve Sarkisian would still be at Washington now.
But that’s all history, and doesn’t change the way ‘SC turned what would have been a pronounced negative into a positive.
Which continued in February when they signed a top ten recruiting class, including three five star players on Signing Day.
With the reduction of scholarships part of their sanctions scheduled to end after this upcoming football season, the Trojans are poised to make a run at making the Pac-12 the Pac-One again; at least as far as football is concerned.
LATER THIS WEEK ON THIS SITE: A review on the best and the worst in sports for ‘SC’s rivals, the UCLA Bruins, in 2013-14.
Be sure to check it out!