USC took Clay Helton out of our misery on Monday.
It also robbed its tailgaters, or at least those who flocked to the Coliseum, their favorite pre-game feedback loop. This deprived the media of its continued angle, that is, “Four Trojan receivers have 100-yard days en route to UCLA, but is Helton safe?”
It did take the hot seat off, though the seat never gets too hot when there’s a thick buyer’s check affixed on the back. When USC fired Helton after a 42–28 loss to Stanford, stopping an excruciating vigil.
Athletic director Mike Bohn was hailed by Trojan fans as the man who would give Helton a big haircut. Then when he did not do so he was condemned. Instead, Bonn modernized the recruiting department and hired support personnel being used by the Joneses. The bloated staff directory didn’t do much to accelerate the quarterback on Saturday. The Trojans didn’t play hard. This is a problem when you rarely play smart.
Helton didn’t help himself with his post-game analysis. Instead of taking responsibility for the buck-stop-here, he said it was still too early, just a blip on the 12-game screen. He also began what might have been a heartfelt salute to the heroes of the 9/11 attacks that had just come across as distracting and bizarre.
Everything else has changed, including one employee Helton has turned frequently. The Trojans have lost 15 of their last 34 matches. There was only one more button to push.
That said, Helton’s Trojans went into Rose and Cotton Bowl in their first two full-time years, many thanks to Sam Darnold, who was recruited by Helton. For some reason, he sold his soul to touch football, trying to get JT Daniels into a quarterbacking job as a quick high school senior, then doubled down when he hired Air Raid devotee Graham Harrell as offensive coordinator. appointed as Tenderness has arrived. You wonder whether the state athletic commission should also approve USC’s upcoming games with UCLA and Oregon’s longshoremen.
Helton also wasn’t the central casting coach that is sought after at USC. He’ll find a more hospitable place to walk ashore, especially when you take into account the jobs that have come Steve Sarkeesian’s way.
His only humiliation was not enough victory. Bonn’s challenge will be to find a coach who can pacify the beast and win a national championship, even though the Trojans have won an absolutely undisputed version since 1972.
Bob Stoops, former Oklahoma coach: He scored an outright victory in his second year at Oklahoma, upset Florida State, and played for it three times. The Stoops were 121–29 in Big 12 play and won 10 league titles in 18 seasons.
Before anyone else came up with the idea, Stoops cleverly quit his job. He made way for Lincoln Riley in 2017, the aggressive kid he hired.
If Stoops hadn’t taken the coaching itch back, he wouldn’t have taken on the Dallas Renegades of the XFL, or replaced Urban Meyer on the Fox studio podium. He is only 61. It’s hard to imagine why USC wouldn’t do this.
Luke Fikel, Cincinnati Coach: Fickell worked for Bohn in Cincinnati and has made the Bearcats top 10 for only the second time so far. Tasked with cleaning up Tommy Tuberville’s mess, Fickel went 4-8 but has since been 31-6. If Stoops is not a boy then that is the logical return.
Tom Herman, Chicago Bears Assistant: Herman was the “it” guy after going 22-4 in two years at Houston, but he made a mistake when he took the job at Texas instead of LSU. Winning four bowl games in four years was no more than a 1–4 record against Oklahoma. Herman was fired and is now an analyst with Bears. The Cal Lutheran and Simi Valley High alum is only 46.
Matt Campbell, Iowa State: A favorite among the chattering classes, Campbell took Iowa State to the Big 12 regular-season title in 2020 and defeated Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, the unimaginable feat that earned her an extension through 2028. Only 41, he could be the fare of a generation.
Deland McCullough, Indiana Assistant: Ronald Jones, a former position coach at USC, became the running back coach in Kansas City when the Chiefs went to back-to-back Super Bowls. McCullough became an associate coach at Indiana to set himself up for such opportunities.
Donnett Williams, USC Interim Head Coach: It’s often a good place to be, as Helton, Dabo Swinney, and Ed Orgeron can attest. By passing the coordinators to give Williams this opportunity, Bonn clearly sees something. Is he the right coach for the Trojans? It is to be decided. Right now he needs an EMT.