What took them so long?
That is, I’m sure, what USC football supporters are saying today. Two games into what was expected to be a win-or-go-home season for Clay Helton, he was shown the door on Monday afternoon. Athletic Director Mike Bohn Tried to Say All the Right Things In his statement announcing Helton’s firing, But the second sentence was probably telling.
Bohn wrote, “Clay is one of the best people I’ve met in the industry, and he’s been a tremendous role model and mentor to our youth.” And in the self-proclaimed Trojan family, supporters nodded and reassured themselves that the late Leo Durocher was right.
“The good guys end last” may not be the exact quote uttered by the furious and often irritable baseball manager. But it’s a reality that doesn’t happen often, especially in football. Like it or not, to succeed in an intense and sometimes mean sport a coach must make his athlete, and sometimes even assistant coach, think he is capable of at least temporary insanity. He doesn’t always have to yell – it’s more effective when used rarely in fact – but he does need his players to understand that there will be consequences if they screw up.
Results on the USC practice field over the years have been few if on-field performance and behavior are any indication. The lack of discipline has been a frequent complaint of USC loyalists, who have been examples of mental errors, goofs and untimely punishments – punishments targeted by the kicker on the opening kickoff?? – and unreasonable celebrations for on-field successes that should be regular. If you step down the first time, or you make a tackle instead of a dance, perhaps you should walk back with the idea of making that play over and over again.
Youthful enthusiasm has its place, but there is also a business outlook. After all, College Football Inc. is a business, allowing players to share their share of financial rewards at the end. But it’s hard to justify giving name-image-likeness dollars to players in a program that’s rapidly headed for irrelevance.
The view of the Coliseum on Saturday night was telling. As Stanford made his way with USC, the boos intensified. Eventually, at the end of the Cardinal’s 42–28 beatdown of the Trojans, the fans decided it was not worth their time any more and quickly headed for an exit.
USC fans are leaving the Coliseum in large numbers with 25 seconds left in the third quarter. Stanford just took a 35-13 lead. There is no energy. A boon after every possession.
I hear USC fans cheering for Stanford to up the score in hopes of an end to Clay Helton’s long reign of mediocrity. pic.twitter.com/AiVcO0jAEC
— Tarek Fattal (@Tarek_Fattal) September 12, 2021
The Coliseum currently feels like a mausoleum. And it’s beautiful.
The USC fan in front of me just turned around and said, “We need to get rid of Helton. I hope you guys win.”
Yes, it is the same here.
— Go Mighty Card (@GoMightyCard) September 12, 2021
Full effect of social distancing in the Coliseum. pic.twitter.com/kYPI887tWZ
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) September 12, 2021
If it was the first time it would have been different. It was not by a long shot. We recall that in early November 2019 at Oregon – the Justin Herbert-led Ducks – in 2019, just days before Bohan was introduced as the new athletic director. That night, the Ducks began to fade away in the third quarter and USC fans started going home to the point that by the end of the game, 80 percent of the fans in the building were still wearing Oregon colors.
When Bohn held his introductory press conference the following Thursday, many Trojan fans were disappointed that he did not bring Urban Mayor to the podium with him. I’m not sure if it would have helped, but the point was that the fan base was already fed up with it. If Saturday’s boon and empty seat were the last straw, a lot was being overlooked in the meantime.
Helton got a free pass of sorts in 2020 because no fans were allowed in the Coliseum. What do you think the reaction will be as Oregon piled up a two-touchdown lead in last December’s Pac-12 championship game and the Trojans continue to plague themselves with mistakes and poor decisions? The Trojans showed patience during that short season, but they put themselves in too many holes at times.
Helton himself said after that game, and whether it was honest or sly, it’s up to you to decide: “You know, we’re judged here on the championship. That’s the beauty of this place. That’s the expectation. That’s the standard.” That’s what we fight for. That’s why we are heartbroken in that locker room because the only thing we will accept as a team is a championship.”
If it’s really the standard, don’t let there be any further compromises. In his statement on Monday, Bohn noted the growth in football resources and staff over the past two seasons and the accompanying expectations, though he stopped short of mentioning the potential for one of college football’s glamor programs to create zero opportunities.
This is an opportunity to reshape not only USC football but the Pac-12 and who knows, maybe all college football. This requires someone who is able to handle high expectations. Interim coach Donat Williams will take over the duties for the rest of the season, and is widely regarded as one of college football’s best recruiters. But this is not a task for the inexperienced.
view from here? Mike Bohn’s first call should be to Jimmy Sexton, a longtime agent with the Creative Artists Agency (which, lo and behold, is based in Los Angeles). Sexton represents many of the NFL’s most prominent players, and he also represents most of the SEC’s coaches—including Nick Saban of Big Kahuna, Alabama.
Yes, Saban signed an extension with Alabama through 2028 that would put his average annual compensation north of $10 million. And maybe, perhaps, in all likelihood, he’d prefer to stay in Tuscaloosa and say no thanks to a program that already regularly spits out national championship rings.
But still call. If Bohn and the USC administrators really want football to return to prominence, how much better would it be to send the message to college football that they are serious?
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter