Clay Helton Hire is Another Big-Name Pass for USC


Less than 48 hours after beating UCLA and more than a week after being outclassed and outmatched by Oregon, the powers that be at USC made the decision to go all-in on coach Clay Helton.

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And for the third-consecutive time, the Trojans have passed on the opportunity to hire an outside guy with a proven and established resume, in favor of a former USC offensive coordinator.

For athletic director Pat Haden and a program that has had more coaches in the last two years than Real Madrid has had managers, the third time better be the charm.

USC had the chance of swinging for the fences and going for a John Harbaugh or Chip Kelly, but bought fully into the feel-good story of Helton, who seemingly steadied the ship for the Trojans in 2015 after the firing of Steve Sarkisian and guided the team to their first ever Pac-12 South title.

USC had the chance of swinging for the fences, but bought fully into the feel-good story of Helton.

Maybe it was a way of making up for the perceived wrongs of passing on Ed Orgeron after the disaster of the Sarkisian hire. Or maybe it was the pressure from current and recent former players to go after Helton, as they have had the classic substitute teacher admiration.

Either way, USC bought in so much to the Helton love fest, that Haden and company made the hire before the team had the chance of playing Stanford in Saturday’s Pac-12 Championship Game. And before names like Tom Herman or Kyle Whittingham could even interview for the job.

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The result is that now the Stanford game will be perhaps the most scrutinized game since the 2006 Rose Bowl and forever shape the public opinion on the Helton era.

But for as head-scratching as USC’s rush to make Helton the permanent head coach is, the reality is that he is not a bad hire for the Trojans.

In truth, he is an up and coming coordinator who won a couple of big games as an interim. That worked well for Phillip Fulmer in 1992, who got the full-time Tennessee job because of it, and led the Vols to the first ever BCS title in 1998.

Nov 7, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Clay Helton reacts before the NCAA football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

And if USC didn’t hire Helton, he probably was going to be a suitor for some school out there looking for a new coach.

But while he could very well be a decent head coach at USC, especially if he sticks to his guns and develops game plans like he did vs. UCLA, there’s one giant elephant in the room.

What will Helton’s staff look like? Does he have the ability to make wholesale changes to a staff that has been under fire this season?

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The Trojans’ biggest problems this season have come on the offensive line. What does Helton do with Bob Connelly?

Helton has constantly said he likes to be aggressive on offense and defense, but defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox runs a read-and-react scheme. What happens there?

Like any coach in college football, Helton’s success will be tied to the struggles or failures of his coaching staff.

An all-star staff would go a long way to make up for the rash decision-making of appointing him as the full-time head coach, but we just don’t know if or how that would or could come to fruition.

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Until then, the hire is what it is: an emotional reaction to beating UCLA for the first time in four years and finally getting over the hump and grabbing a ticket to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Luckily for Helton, there is an opportunity to justify the move. Knicks fans booed the drafting of Kristaps Porzings. Texans fans bemoaned passing on Reggie Bush. USC fans wanted to burn Heritage Hall down when Pete Carroll was hired.

All Helton has to do is coach well in a three-game stretch that very well could be Stanford, Ohio State and Alabama. No pressure.