December 12, 2008

Practice Insider: Morton gets the nod

Pete Carroll has a plan. Nothing that happens inside of the USC football program is done without reason.

When Carroll hired John Morton as the team's wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator two years ago, he had this day in mind - the day he would hire Morton as the Trojans' offensive coordinator.

That day was Friday.

"It was the plan all along. We brought him here knowing he has great expertise and background," Carroll said. "He understands what we're doing quite well because we've crossed over in a lot of ways."

Morton will replace Steve Sarkisian, who accepted the head-coaching position at Washington. The two worked together in 2004 with the Oakland Raiders. Morton also got a look at the Trojan offense in 2006, when he was an offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints - Reggie Bush's first year in the NFL.

"I think John will do a great job. He's extremely detailed," Sarkisian said. "He works really hard and he'll do great. The kids will really be able to feel John's personality and his will. He'll make a smooth transition into that spot."

Morton said he had a good feeling the promotion was in the works after first speaking to Carroll about the vacancy. Friday's talk with Carroll put an even bigger smile on his face.

"We talked over a few things, and he officially gave me the job," he said. "I'm happy."

Morton will not officially assume the position until after the Rose Bowl, but Carroll said things are already underway.

"It's already different," Carroll said. "He's paying attention to some things he's going to attend to later on. The transition is already under way, but the specifics for this game won't change."

USC quarterback Mark Sanchez said the decision works for him.

"That's great. I'm really happy for him. I kind of saw that it might happen as soon as Sark was headed to Washington. I think it'll be a great transition for the team," he said. "I don't know if coach really wanted to change it up. Coach (Carroll) talked to me when Sark took the Washington job and told me he wasn't going to make any changes that would make things totally different and mess with what we've already learned."

And Sanchez isn't alone in praising the decision.

"Players have come up to me saying they were hoping I'd be the guy," Morton said. "That feels good - makes you feel like you're doing something right."

Morton acknowledged there are things he'll have to get more comfortable with moving forwards.

"I'm learning where to be on the field and just (learning) how to call plays - getting used to that," he said, "getting the rhythm how we do things, the blueprint for how we do things, talking in front of the team and communicating with the players and acting like I'm the coordinator."

Morton's also acting like he'll being calling the plays from the press box, but Carroll said that's not the only possibility.

"He knows we're still working everything out," Carroll said, "but he's prepared to do it now."

Carroll's next staff decision will be to hire a quarterbacks coach, and he's already spoken to ex-Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator and Trojan quarterbacks coach Carl Smith and current graduate assistant Yogi Roth.

Carroll said Smith seems to be interested in the position and his experience would pair nicely with Morton - a first-time coordinator.

"I think it helps," Carroll said. "I'm trying to make it as strong of a group as we can with as much knowledge and background as we can get. We're trying to put it together properly."

Morton is familiar with Smith's track record.

"I know of him. I know who he has a great amount of experience from the league and from being here," Morton said. "He's got a wealth of experience. I'd be a fool not to want a guy like him to learn from.

"It would be awesome."

Sanchez also knows Smith, who hasn't been a stranger around the program since heading to the NFL after his tenure on USC's staff.

"I know him from recruiting. He's been to practices a bunch," Sanchez said. "I know he's had a ton of experience. He was here for Matt Leinart's Heisman year. He was a big part of he program. I know coach will hire someone great.

"Nothing has been finalized and nothing is really public yet. We'll find someone who is best for the position just like Johnny Mo is."

The decision to name Morton offensive coordinator comes on the same day when many high-profile Trojan recruits arrived on campus for their official visits.

"There is some interest in that. Guys want to know what's going on," Carroll said. "I don't blame them for that. I don't have all the answers for them yet. At least we have that piece in place."

And Morton's ready to go. He's worked under coaches like Jon Gruden, Sean Payton, Bill Callahan and Carroll. Now, he said, it's his turn.

"This has been one of my goals," Morton said. "I've worked with some great coaches. Now it's time to let loose all the knowledge I've learned."

Extra Points

• Sarkisian said he will not miss any of USC's practices before the Rose Bowl, but he will still be traveling back and forth to Washington. Sooner or later, it appears, other members of the Trojan staff could be coming with him.

"There are still things to be done. I don't want to name names before its finalized," Sarkisian said. "There's stuff to be done. I'm trying not to be a distraction."

Sarkisian was asked about Rocky Seto, Nick Holt and Roth, only specifically addressing Roth, saying he was "trying to bring him in some facet."

Carroll said his staff has attracted a lot of interest.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "There are a lot of jobs out there, and there's interest in guys on our staff from a lot of different angles."

• Sanchez was among a group of players including Damian Williams, Stanley Havili, Kevin Ellison and Cary Harris who didn't practice Tuesday.

Sanchez turned an ankle in USC's win over UCLA and will not practice Saturday.

• Sanchez faxed in paperwork in order to receive evaluation in regards to leaving early for the NFL Draft. He said he hasn't established a cutoff point in the draft where if he was drafted, he'd forgo his senior year.

"There's going to be a time where I'm going to have to do it," he said. "I'd like it be after the game. I'm going to have make a decision here pretty soon."

Curtis McNeal sent the team into frenzy with a sick back-and-forth juke move.

Kevin Thomas blocked a field goal during the special teams period.

• Freshman Nick Perry moved inside to the three technique during Monday's practice, sacking Mitch Mustain.

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