Southern California Coach Hackett Fired

ByJohn Nadel

L O S   A N G E L E S, Nov. 27, 2000 -- Paul Hackett was fired as SouthernCalifornia’s football coach today, two days after the Trojanscompleted their first losing season since 1991 and just their thirdin the last 39 years.

Hackett had two years remaining on the five-year contract hesigned in 1997 as the successor to John Robinson. It’s believedHackett, an assistant under Robinson at USC from 1976-80, is beingpaid a buyout estimated at $800,000.

The school said a search for a new coach will begin immediately.

Hackett was to speak at a news conference later in the day.

Harsh Words for Hackett

USC had a 19-18 record under Hackett, including a 5-7 mark thisseason.

“Unfortunately, his hard work over the past three years has nottranslated into success on the field,” athletic director MikeGarrett said. “He has not made the consistent progress that weexpect at USC.”

It was a year that began with great promise when the Trojansopened with wins over Penn State, Colorado and San Jose State torise to eighth in the rankings.

However, a 31-21 loss at No. 5 Oregon State in the Pac-10 openerfollowed, triggering USC’s first last-place finish in theconference. The Trojans actually wound up tied for the cellar inthe Pac-10 with a 2-6 record, including losses at home toCalifornia and Washington State.

Hackett’s fate probably was sealed with a five-game losingstreak this season. If there was any hope, it most likely wassnuffed out with the 33-27 loss to Washington State on Nov. 11.

The Trojans topped crosstown rival UCLA 38-35 a week later,giving them an opportunity to beat the Bruins and Notre Dame in thesame year for the first time since 1981. However, mistakes played amajor role in a 38-21 loss to the No. 11 Fighting Irish on Saturdaybefore a crowd of 81,342 at the Coliseum.

The Trojans had two punts blocked that Notre Dame turned intotouchdowns, and committed three turnovers, giving them 36 for theseason compared to 17 for the opposition. The kicking game was amess all year, and careless penalties and clock mismanagement alsocropped up often.

Hackett refused to discuss his job status after the game, sayingthere would be plenty of time for that. When asked if he thought hedeserved to return, he angrily replied: “Are you out of your mind?Of course I do.”

Garrett said he needed “to deliberate and make a decision” as he left the locker room. As it turned out, he didn’t need muchtime.

The firing leaves three coaching vacancies in the Pac-10 -Arizona State’s Bruce Snyder was fired this month, and Arizona’sDick Tomey resigned after a loss to ASU on Friday.

Hackett is the fourth consecutive coach to be fired at USC. Thefootball team has often been mediocre since John McKay left after16 seasons following the 1975 campaign with a record of 127-40-8,and Robinson stepped down seven years later with a 67-14-2 record.

Ted Tollner was fired after four years in 1986 with a 26-20-1record; Larry Smith was dismissed after six seasons in 1992 with a44-25-3 record, and Robinson, in a second tour of duty, was let goafter five years in 1997 with a 37-21-2 record but a 12-11 mark inhis final two years. Smith was fired earlier this month as thecoach at Missouri.

Hackett has had one other college head coaching job, atPittsburgh, where his teams were 12-20-1 in three years before hewas fired following the 1992 season. He then was the offensivecoordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs for five years before beinghired by USC.

A Player's Coach

USC has won eight national championships, but none since 1978.The Trojans have played in 28 Rose Bowl games, winning 20, but haveplayed in only one since going to three straight following the1987, 1988 and 1989 seasons.

USC is 5-6 in other bowls, most recently a 28-19 loss to TexasChristian in the Sun Bowl following Hackett’s first season, whenthe Trojans went 8-5. They were 6-6 in 1999.

Carson Palmer, who tied a school record by throwing 18interceptions, recently expressed hope that Hackett would return,as did other players.

“He’s not the problem for this team, the team is the problem,”linebacker Zeke Moreno said. “It’s going to be hard to go throughanother transition. He’s a good coach.