USC athletic director Mike Garrett was midway up the first flight of stairs to his office at Heritage Hall when he finally, mercifully, paused to answer a question yelled from a pack of reporters. Desperate for a scrap of information, the group had tailed him from Pete Carroll's farewell news conference.
What's the next step, Mike?
"I'm working on the next step," Garrett said. "When I finish it, you'll hear from me."
And hopefully so will the Trojans football team. They have been kept out of the loop while that loop has been stealthily slipped around their necks.
More than a few of the players who ambled through the athletic facilities Monday afternoon complained about having to follow Carroll's departure to the Seattle Seahawks by going on the Internet or turning on the TV.
"A lot of guys were just kind of disappointed they didn't know anything," quarterback Matt Barkley said.
Where was the personal touch Carroll built his reputation on? Couldn't Carroll have gotten word to them that he was leaning toward going, or at least was torn? It's not as if he would have had to call all 85 of them. It would have taken a call to each of his assistants, and a few text messages from the position coaches to their players.
For three days, the players stayed as in the dark as the fans, and the darkness won't clear up any time soon. Normally, the players would get word through the assistant coaches, but nobody knows which of those coaches will still have jobs in a week or two.
"It's kind of weird being blinded by who the coach is going to be, who's staying and who's going," receiver Travon Patterson said.
People thought losing four games and going to the Emerald Bowl was a weird feeling for USC. That was nothing compared with this foray into Limbo Land.
Carroll's jump puts Garrett and the athletic department into hurry-up mode when they should be in research mode. With Mike Riley staying put at Oregon State, Jack Del Rio of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks like a decent bet. Then again, maybe Garrett is locked in on Stanford's Jim Harbaugh. Or, is it Norm Chow of UCLA? DeWayne Walker of New Mexico State, perhaps?
Ideally, a coaching search would be a thoughtful, drawn-out process. With national signing day three weeks from Wednesday, USC doesn't have the luxury of pondering for long. It also can't keep its veteran players on hold for several weeks. Spring practices, which begin in early April, normally are nonevents. This spring, they'll be crucial.
Carroll proved to be a master motivator of college players, but losing that skill might be the least of this team's worries. Going 9-4 and losing two Pac-10 games by humiliating scores should have been enough to spur the players.
"Right now, we don't have a coach, but everybody's ready to go because we don't want to play in the Emerald Bowl again," receiver Brice Butler said.
This team has a lot to digest. First, the players have to get used to the new coaches' personalities. Next, they have to learn a whole new set of plays and schemes. Then again, if you have accepted a scholarship, what choice do you have?
"We deal with a lot of change in our lives. This is just another big change that suddenly happened," defensive end Nick Perry said. "We just have to get over it."
Garrett can't replace Carroll. This era in USC football was a unique combination of Carroll's personality and energy and a random confluence of talent and opportunity. The next phase is wide open. That will be a tough room to walk into. The players might have to meet him halfway.
"I think it's our responsibility to buy in and welcome the new coach," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "We have to adjust the way we've been living the 'SC football dream the last few years. These are some new challenges."
Mark Saxon covers USC football for ESPNLosAngeles.com.