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The Trouble with SC

I’ve never been a big fan of the University of Southern California.

It probably stems from my days as an undergraduate at Stanford. USC used to beat us at everything—football, basketball, baseball, track and field, tennis, swimming, whatever. Trojan football coach John McKay once said he wanted to beat Stanford by 1,000 points.

It seemed like he got close a few times.

We all hated listening to that horrible fight song and watching that dumb horse trot around the stadium. To make ourselves feel better, we referred to USC as the “University of Second Choice” or the “University of Spoiled Children.”

Finally, in 1970, Jim Plunkett and company broke through and beat SC en route to a storybook win over Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. A few years later, Rich Kelley engineered the “Maples Miracle,” that marvelous weekend when Stanford stunned two of the top basketball teams in the country, USC and UCLA. By the 1980s, we were beating the Trojans regularly in baseball, tennis and swimming, too.

So, as the years went by, my distaste subsided. My best friend went to SC and he came out okay, so I figured the place couldn’t be all bad. I connected with Trojan alum Ronnie Lott, one of the great people in all of sports, and Sr. Associate Athletic Director Steve Lopes, one of the quality guys in college athletics, then had a good experience with Pete Carroll when we invited his team to the 2009 Emerald Bowl. So I came to realize that while it’s obviously not in Stanford’s class, SC is a good school with a lot to offer.

But you just knew it couldn’t last.

In 2010, SC was heavily penalized by the NCAA for providing improper benefits to Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. The Trojans lost a bunch of scholarships, forfeited an entire year’s worth of victories, and were banned from post-season play for a couple of seasons.

Then they fired a controversial head football coach on the airport tarmac in the wee hours of the morning after an embarrassing road loss, and canned his successor after an alcohol-fueled performance at a booster event.

This year, SC is deep in the swamp of the FBI investigation into college basketball. An assistant coach was arrested, a star player was held out, and head coach Andy Enfield displayed some rather boorish and questionable behavior. Like calling a timeout with 21 seconds left and a 12-point lead because the opposing coach had the temerity to say he thought the indictments gave basketball a “black eye” and that he “absolutely” enjoyed beating teams involved in the scandal.

Then, last week, Enfield stepped in it again.

He announced the hiring of a new assistant, Eric Mobley, a longtime AAU coach that he described as “an outstanding coach” who “brings to our program a wealth of playing and coaching experience at a variety of levels.”

Well, no.

What Eric Mobley brings to the program is his two sons…two of the best high school players in America.

Isaiah Mobley, a 6-9 junior, is rated the No. 31 prospect in the class of 2019 and the fifth-best power forward in the country. Brother Evan, a 6-10 sophomore, is rated the 12th best prospect in the class of 2020 and the second best center.

Both Mobley boys are stars on their dad’s Compton Magic AAU team and at Rancho Christian H.S. in Temecula.

What’s particularly irksome—at least to us Cardinal alums—is that Evan and Isaiah are strong students who were seriously looking at Stanford.

Now both are “expected” to attend USC.

But this isn’t about sour grapes. It’s about the cesspool that college basketball has become.

Eric Mobley isn’t the first assistant to be hired because he’ll bring prized offspring with him. Last year Missouri hired Michael Porter Sr., father of talented sons Michael Jr. and Jontay, both of whom followed their dad to Missouri. Porter had previously been hired at Washington for the same reason, and his son had signed a letter of intent to go to Seattle, but when head coach Lorenzo Romar was fired, the Porters took a detour.

Perhaps the most famous example of this lovely recruiting tactic occurred back in 1983 when then-Kansas coach Larry Brown hired a man with no coaching experience, Ed Manning, so he could sign Manning’s son Danny. Ed was working—get this—as a truck driver when Brown found him. Young Danny went to Kansas and led the Jayhawks to the NCAA championship in 1988.

This “hire-a-coach-who’ll-deliver-his-son” phenomenon is basically a sleazy way to lock down a star recruit and funnel the family some real cash without violating NCAA rules.

It’s not a good look for a program already facing some serious ethical challenges.

Consider: After USC assistant Tony Bland was arrested in connection with the FBI’s investigation and fired by the university, everyone expected the Trojans to replace him with Mr. Clean. Instead, they hired a club coach with no college experience, who just happened to have two sons who were five-star recruits.

The stench from LA is pretty strong.

And my honeymoon with USC is over.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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