Interview: Talking Pac-10 Football with ESPN Los Angeles’ Arash Markazi

markaziWith all the craziness that has gone down at USC the past couple weeks, I thought it’d be great to get some inside info from a man who actually gets paid to cover the Los Angeles sports scene. Formerly of Sports Illustrated and the LA Times, Arash Markazi, now of the newly formed ESPN Los Angeles, joins me to talk about how the Trojans’ turnover will affect Oregon and the Pac-10.

UO Sports Dude: Hey Arash, it’s great to get a chance to talk to you. You must be pretty busy these days with how chaotic the Los Angeles sports scene has been. First of all, you just made the move from Sports Illustrated to the brand new ESPN Los Angeles. How has the transformation been and what kind of what work will you be doing? The new studio must be nice.

Arash Markazi: It’s been a fairly smooth transition. I was already covering the Los Angeles sports scene for Sports Illustrated so I’m basically doing what I’ve always done but now I’m doing it for ESPN Los Angeles. I’ll still be covering the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers and other Los Angeles teams as well as some other interesting events that always seem to pop up in Los Angeles such as George Lopez hosting Kobe Bryant’s shoe premiere in Hollywood or Hulk Hogan talking about his return to pro wrestling. There’s always something going on around here.

UO Sports Dude: I don’t know about you, but your colleague, Bill Simmons, has had a huge impact on my development as a sports fan and as a writer. Some have even called him the most influential sports writer of the decade because he started a whole new genre of sports writing, bringing the fans point of a view and a more humorous and pop culture reference-laden style to his column. Has he had much of an effect on you, and living in LA, have you had a chance to meet the Sports Guy yet?

Arash: I’ve met him a couple of times although I doubt he’d remember it. Guys like Rick Reilly and Bill Simmons are in another class. I mean, I guess they’re technically colleagues but that’s like calling Sasha Vujacic and Kobe Bryant colleagues. For example, if I were ever lucky enough to come out with a book and for some reason thought I was important enough to have a book signing I’d be lucky if my friends and family showed up. Simmons has people lined up around the block across the country. It’s amazing. He’s got more Twitter followers than anyone he writes about. He’s easily the most influential writer we’ve had since the advent of the internet.

UO Sports Dude: Going to school up here in Oregon, the Ducks and Pac-10 football is the number one headline year round. Obviously, this was a wonderful year for us, taking over USC’s spot atop the conference. As great as it is knocking off the champs, a strong Trojans team is helpful to the overall health of the conference. What do you expect out of USC this year and beyond that? Do you think the Sporting News was wrong leaving the Trojans outside of their top 25 for 2010?

Arash: Yeah, I think anyone leaving USC out of their Top 25 is ignoring all the talent they have returning. I don’t think they’re a Top 10 team but I’d certainly put them in the teens when you consider that first-year starters like Matt Barkley and Chris Galippo who hit a wall at the end of October will be returning with a full year of experience under their belt. I certainly don’t think USC will ever be as dominant as they once were and quite frankly that’s good for the conference. As much as those dominant USC teams put the national spotlight on the Pac-10, most of it was in a negative light because it looked as if USC was simply beating up on bad teams in a bad conference.

UO Sports Dude: After Carroll’s departure, the Trojans needed to hire a new coach quickly in order to save their recruiting class. Do you think Mike Garrett panicked and took a familiar face or do you think Lane Kiffin will be a successful coach? He definitely has the assistants to tear up the recruiting trail.

I don’t think he panicked in picking Lane Kiffin, I just think he was enamored with the coaching staff Kiffin was going to put together. Sure they would have rather had Mike Riley, Jeff Fisher or Jack Del Rio but those are three guys who are very happy and content with the jobs that they have and weren’t looking to go anywhere else. So, once again, as they did with Pete Carroll, USC settled for the fourth choice. I think the package of Monte Kiffin running the defense and Ed Orgeron running the defensive line and recruiting was a huge reason Kiffin was hired. I’m also sure Garrett was optimistic they could bring back Norm Chow to run the offense but unfortunately for USC that didn’t happen.

UO Sports Dude: Pete Carroll obviously had the perfect personality to coach in Los Angeles. Now that he’s gone, is there another coach in the Pac-10 who can assume his role as the funny guy? I would like to nominate Chip Kelly. He might not be able to attract the same amount (or level) of coeds, but he dressed up as the mascot for College Gameday and the fans really love him. Any chance Chip could fit the bill? Phil Knight could be the next Snoop Dogg.

Arash: With all due respect to Chip Kelly, no one is going to replace Pete Carroll in the personality/celebrity department and that’s OK. What Carroll did at USC had never been done before and will likely never happen again. Outside of the seven straight Pac-10 titles, BCS bowl games, 11-win seasons and AP Top 4 finishes, Carroll was able to attract celebrities like Will Ferrell, Snoop Dogg and Alyssa Milano to USC games and practices. At its height the sidelines at USC home game were more star-studded than courtside at a Lakers game. It’s going to be hard to duplicate that kind of national and pop culture buzz in any other city.

UO Sports Dude: There has been a lot of talk up here about Oregon’s improvement in getting recruits from across the country in Florida, Texas and Southern California. Do you think Oregon is ready for a USC-like run of dominance in the Pac-10 or will parity ensue until the Trojans retake their “rightful” place atop the standings?

Arash: No team, not even USC, will have a USC-like run of dominance in the Pac-10. Like I said before, what USC did for seven seasons is extremely rare. It had never been done before and will likely never happen again. To be honest, as great as it is to have a dominant team, it doesn’t look good for a conference when one team wins seven straight conference titles and 27 straight conference games. It looks like the conference is a bunch of pushovers, which was the national perception of the Pac-10 while USC won 34-straight games. Oregon is clearly the top team in the conference now but they’ve only held that title since Halloween. That could easily change next season as competitive and unpredictable conference was last season.

UO Sports Dude: Finally, I have a basketball question to wrap it up. The Pac-10 has been an absolute mess this year. Not a single team is ranked in the top 25 and only two are in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology. Do you think a dominant team will emerge and be able to make a run in March or should we start thinking about next year?

Arash: There won’t be a dominant team this year and I can’t imagine a team winning more than one game in the tournament. The Pac-10 has never been this bad before. Not only do they not have a Top 25 team, they only have one team in the Top 50. It’s sad. I actually thought USC had a chance to do something before their post-season ban because of their half-court defense and the way Mike Gerrity was running the point. Yeah, if I’m a Pac-10 men’s basketball fan I would definitely start thinking about next year.

UO Sports Dude: Sorry, I lied, I have one more. Here’s the only question Oregon basketball fans have right now: Should Ernie Kent be fired, and if so, could we steal Mark Few from Gonzaga? Fans up here are screaming pretty fiercely for this to happen, especially with the brand new $200 million Matt Court coming next season.

I would never come out and advocate a coach getting fired but Kent hasn’t done a whole lot since reaching the Elite Eight in 2007 and if Oregon is able to get a coach like Few that might be the best move for the program. I think Kent is a great coach but if the fan base is behind him getting fired, the school might have no choice but giving them what they want in the hope of making them happy and filling up the new arena.

Well thank you for everything, Arash. I appreciate you taking so much time to talk to the UO Sports Dude.

Be sure to read more from Arash Markazi on ESPN Los Angeles and  follow him on the Twitter machine as well.


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