LOS ANGELES -- It’s doubtful that new USC Trojans offensive line coach and run game coordinator Bob Connelly, formerly of Oklahoma State, ever figured he’d be in the crosshairs of such intense Internet chatter and media speculation before he even stepped onto Howard Jones Field for spring practice.
Leading up to the day Connelly was hired, there were nearly 6,000 WeAreSC message board views and close to 100 responses concerning the Trojans' new offensive line coach, clear evidence that Cardinal and Gold fans take their offensive line coach very seriously. It’s been a while since an assistant coach position has gotten that much attention without his title being offensive or defensive coordinator.
Like many well-traveled assistant coaches, Bob Connelly's 20-year career has been one with many stops. His last one was in Stillwater, Oklahoma, for head coach Mike Gundy and his Cowboys, and in 2013 he was coaching the offensive line at Gilbert (Ariz.) High, not exactly an exhilarating positive footprint as determined by a large number of Trojans fans.
Judging Connelly based on him coaching a season of high school ball less than two years ago and being well traveled would clearly be unfair. Who knows, maybe Steve Sarkisian’s choice of offensive line coach turns out to be the right fit for the right time. In fact, one of the keys to Connelly’s hire, according to Sark, is that his new coach is “very versatile, as he has coached various offensive styles in his career.”
Being the fourth Trojans offensive line coach in four years (Have you already forgotten James Cregg, Mike Summers and Tim Drevno?), Connelly has his work cut out. The Texas native is replacing a very well respected, one-season predecessor, Tim Drevno, who did wonders with a very young but talented group of inexperienced players in 2014 before moving on to join Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.
You can bet that returning Trojans starters like Freshman All-America tackle Toa Lobendahn, freshmen guards Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama, first-year sophomore starter Zach Banner, and junior All-Pac-12 center Max Tuerk will be mighty curious as it pertains to their new O-line instructor. And you can also add to that group the return of sophomore starting left tackle Chad Wheeler, who missed the final five games of last season with torn right knee ligaments.
No doubt the returning Trojans offensive linemen have also heard or read about the Connelly concerns, and then there will be their own early, unavoidable comparisons of Connelly to Drevno. However, expect the returning Trojans offensive linemen to be open-minded given the recent history of offensive line coach turnover.
Naturally, Connelly’s first order of business will be to form relationships with his new unit and begin the long process of gaining trust and respect, which can be further endowed with a successful 15 days of spring ball, which begins on March 3.
The Trojans not only have a storied history of offensive linemen such as Ron Yary, Marvin Powell, Brad Budde, Bruce Matthews, Pat Howell, Tony Boselli, and Sam Baker but offensive line coaches, as well.
Legendary offensive line coach Hudson Houck (1976-82), who was also the mastermind behind those great Dallas Cowboys offensive lines in the 1990s, is the type of coach that most USC fans want to see directing their O-line. Being a Texas native, Connelly is no doubt well aware of one Hudson Houck.
Connelly, 44, will need to overcome the perception by some that he isn’t the best choice as Trojans offensive line coach if you go by the firestorm on social media. The naysayers say that his track record as an offensive line coach won’t bring back memories of Houck. Only time and the 2015 season will sort this issue out.
However, Trojans fans should not overlook that Connolly was the Alabama assistant coach who mentored NFL tackle Andre Smith, who became a unanimous All-American, won the Outland Trophy in 2008, and was a first-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Let’s also not forget Connolly tutored guard Evan Mathis, a two-time NFL All-Pro, and center-guard Antoine Caldwell, who became a consensus All-American. During Connelly’s stay at Alabama, the Tide had a 10-2 season in 2005 and played in the 2004 Music City Bowl, 2006 Cotton Bowl and 2006 Independence Bowl.
And finally, fans shouldn’t overlook that Connelly was former Washington State head coach Mike Price’s offensive line coach during the Cougars' dominance of the Pac-10 and accompanied Price when his WSU boss was named the head coach of Alabama.
As a recruiter, Connelly -- a former Lone Star All-Conference offensive guard as a junior and senior at Texas A&M-Commerce, senior male athlete of the year, and three-time Academic All-Conference selection -- has been considered elite in the past as judged by nationally respected scouting services.
So, now the question begs: Who is Bob Connelly?
The Internet, social and mainstream media, and Trojans fan base will be watching.