With news that Lane Kiffin was fired as head coach of the USC Trojans in the early hours of Sunday morning, it not only left a vacancy at the head coach position, but the Trojans were also set to be without their play caller.
At a press conference held by Pat Haden on Sunday afternoon, it was confirmed Ed Orgeron would be the interim head coach, and Clay Helton was named the offensive coordinator, or retained the title.
In February, USC announced it was adding offensive coordinator to Helton’s list of titles. However, the change was in name only as Kiffin continued to call the plays.
Helton has been a member of the USC coaching staff since 2010, primarily serving as the quarterbacks coach. In 2012, he added the role of passing game coordinator.
Helton last served as an actual offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2009 when he was a member of the Memphis Tigers‘ coaching staff. Under Helton’s direction, the Tigers averaged just over 26 points per game.
The decision to retain Helton as the lone offensive coordinator came as a bit of a surprise considering the presence of highly-regarded wide receivers coach Tee Martin.
What the receivers coach may lack in coordinator experience, he more than makes up for with his other attributes.
Martin, who nearly left USC after the tumultuous 2012 season to return to Tennessee, is not only recognized as an outstanding wide receivers coach, but also as someone who connects well with the players, and is an ace recruiter.
Helton was of course present during the Matt Barkley era at USC, but how much of an impact he had on the quarterback’s development can be called into question.
Ignoring the fact that Barkley appeared to regress his senior season, Helton has failed to adequately develop and prepare Cody Kessler and Max Wittek.
Yes, a coach can only do so much, but what are the odds USC would be saddled with two underdeveloped quarterbacks?
It’s not as though Kessler and Wittek were ever afterthoughts or walk-on prospects at any point in their USC or prep careers.
During Sunday’s press conference, Orgeron indicated the USC offense would remain largely the same with Helton now truly at the helm.
Given how the offense has performed, it was a statement that provided reassurance and concern.
USC may not have felt comfortable handing the keys over to Martin since Helton technically already holds the title, but it’s conceivable he and Helton could have shared duties while serving as co-offensive coordinators.
Who serves as the offensive coordinator for the remainder of the 2013 season could all become a moot point if USC is eventually able to hire a prominent head coach with an offensive background or a new offensive coordinator.
But if they don’t, the decision to grant Helton autonomy may be enough to this time push Martin away from USC.
The season isn’t lost, but it is undeniably off to a disappointing start. What harm would it have done for the two coaches to share duties?