And now Greater Los Angeles waits for the third cleat to drop: Tollner. a fiercely loyal, altogether regular guy and an underrated coach, partly because he looks like somebody who might try to sell you whole life insurance and partly because he has the disorienting habit of winning games he's supposed to lose and vice versa. Quick, over the past four years, which Pac-10 coach has more conference victories than Tollner? Terry Donahue? Get out. Don James? Nuhuh. Nobody is who. Over the past four years, which Pac-10 coach has lost to Kansas, unranked Baylor, California, Washington State and Gerry Faust (three times)? It's Tollner, who went to the Rose Bowl in his second year but finished 6-6 last season. That's when McGee started thumbing his pad of pink slips. The word is out: Tollner needs eight or nine wins in '86 or it's on to that big pair of headphones in the sky.
Next to Tom Bradley and George Deukmejian, Tollner and McGee are the least likely twosome in L.A. to be seen grazing on goat-cheese pizzas at Spago. According to three separate sources, Tollner has been upset by at least three things: 1) Last year McGee had friends contact San Diego Chargers assistant Dave Levy and Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Paul Hackett about jobs on Tollner's staff, without Tollner's approval. McGee says the friends were acting on their own. 2) McGee welshed on salary promises he made to Tollner after the Rose Bowl season. McGee denies it. 3) McGee suggested Tollner fire some of his staff before this season.
Says Tollner of McGee, "It wouldn't serve any good purpose to talk about him." Says McGee of Tollner, "I'm not going to get into it." At least we got that cleared up.
Tollner says of his job status, "I was hired by the university president [Dr. James H. Zumberge]." McGee says of Tollner's job status, "I don't set the standards for USC football. They're historically high."
It's the stickiest of wickets. Tollner is not flashy enough to command the alumni support he deserves in Los Angeles, so he has to win more. McGee is looking at the lackluster attendance figures at the Coliseum (an average of 58,000 fans per game in Tollner's 3½ seasons) and at an athletic department that wasn't operating in the red until he arrived. So he figures the place could use some shaking up. In Morrison's old desk, he sat former Iowa coach George Raveling, an enlightened hiring if there ever was one.
Indeed, nobody doubts that McGee knows his business. He hired USC's first full-time marketing director—welcome to the 1980s—and he has slightly increased season-ticket sales. It's just around the Mr. Coffee that McGee's a little rough. Charismatically speaking, he ranks somewhere between Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes. "The man's absolutely brutal dealing with people face-to-face," says one staffer. Indeed, McGee appears to be drowning in the secretarial pool. "Let's just say, they're not fond of him," says the same staffer.
He is a bit rigid, from his three-piece suits to his predilection for prolixity. McGeespeak means that instead of saying, "Fred graduated," you say, "Fred enjoyed the graduation experience." One doesn't go to the Rose Bowl; one "enjoys the Rose Bowl experience." You figure that in the mornings McGee says, "Honey, pass the cream cheese experience."
Reading McGeespeak is even harder, but it must be mastered, because the man and his Dictaphone are almost fused. The torrent of memos cascading from under his door tends to drive the Troy citizenry crazy, according to the Los Angeles Times. "I guess you could say I'm as productive as the next guy in terms of memos and mail," McGee says. "But I'm going to make sure everybody understands what I want."
Can't blame the guy for that. And he is trying to warm up to the staff. He had some of them over to his house before the season for a Mexican feast. Unfortunately, he wore a coat and tie.
McGee represents change, but at an inertial place like USC, that's hard to accept. "We were like a family there," says Dedeaux. "It was a very special place. Everybody knew each other for so long. There was a camaraderie, you know. I guess that's changing, too."