The Trojan family lost a member today as former USC head coach Larry Smith died at the age of 68 after suffering from chronic lymphatic leukemia.
Smith was reviled by many USC fans at the end of his six-year tenure, but in retrospect he was a much better coach than some realized. The USC program that Smith took over in 1987 had slipped somewhat under Ted Tollner. After leaving Arizona, Smith helped bring USC football back to a level of prominence, going to three consecutive Rose Bowls. His 1988 Trojan team, quarterbacked by Rodney Peete, defeated Troy Aikman's UCLA Bruin squad in one of the most memorable games in the rivalry's history. In 1989, Smith coached a freshman QB named Todd Marinovich to a Rose Bowl title.
But things seemed to unravel after that game. The following year, Marinovich and the Trojans lost to Michigan State in the John Hancock Bowl. Marinovich squabbled with Smith after the quarterback skipped class and started using drugs. He was suspended from the team multiple times and left USC after his red-shirt sophomore season -- something that no one did back then. Without Marinovich, Smith's Trojans were forced to use Reggie Perry at quarterback (Smith actually considered having Perry share the position with Curtis Conway), and they struggled mightily in 1991. By 1992, a young quarterback named Rob Johnson was giving Trojan fans hope, but USC lost to UCLA and Notre Dame to close out the season. They entered a Freedom Bowl game against Fresno State that turned out to be Smith's undoing. The Bulldogs won 24-7, and while they had a talented team that included future NFL players like Trent Dilfer and Lorenzo Neal, the loss was unforgivable to most USC fans.
Smith would go onto coach at Missouri, where he had 7 up-and-down seasons. His 1997 Tiger team should have beaten then-undefeated Nebraska, if not for an infamous kicked ball, but Smith finished his tenure at Missouri with 2 losing seasons.
Overall though Smith brought great talent to the Trojan program, including Conway, Keyshawn Johnson, Johnnie Morton, Willie McGinest, and Tony Boselli. He helped create some lasting memories, and if not for Todd Marinovich's problems and an unfortunate loss to Fresno State, he might have coached USC a bit longer.