USC Football Mailbag: Coaching Staff Changes, Clay Helton and More

USC special teams coach John Baxter during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
USC special teams coach John Baxter during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

What are the chances of attrition in the USC coaching staff? Who are the Trojans targeting in recruiting? RoT’s weekly USC football mailbag seeks answers.

The Trojans are set to begin game-week preparations for Penn State, with the 2017 Rose Bowl being just a week away. But it’s never too early to look ahead. The Reign of Troy mailbag this week looks at the coaching staff and some recruiting.

If you have a question for the mailbag, send it in to @ReignOfTroy on Twitter or via email to

Let’s get started:

QUESTION: How important is it that the Trojans retain Clancy Pendergast and John Baxter? Are there other coaches to be concerned about? — Dave Cason

ANSWER: Given the fact that USC’s defense and special teams showed remarkable improvement and were areas of strength, it is very important that these two coaches are retained. But it would be a surprise at this point if they were not.

Pendergast has shown no indication that he wants to be anything but a coordinator, and while Baxter has shown interest in being a head coach at some point, no program has yet to pry him away from USC for a lateral move. Though for the record, Ed Orgeron’s LSU is reportedly interested.

Keynodo Hudson, who was a member of the support staff, has left USC to join forces with former USC head coach and current Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin. He’ll be the Owls’ defensive backs coach, which is a well-deserved promotion.

But don’t expect much, if any, turnover on this staff going into 2017. Though if the Trojans win the Rose Bowl and have a good run next year, it is possible offensive coordinator Tee Martin and quarterbacks coach Tyson Helton could get opportunities from other schools at head coach and offensive coordinator.

QUESTION: After the 2011 season, what would’ve surprised you most to learn would happen in five years: Lane Kiffin at FAU, Ed Orgeron at LSU, or Clay Helton at USC? — Kenneth

ANSWER: Ever since Pete Carroll left USC, you can’t be surprised at anything anymore. So many things have happened —and so quickly— it is hard to believe it all occurred at one program.

But of all that, Clay Helton surprises me the most, because he is an anomaly in many ways. When he was brought to USC by Lane Kiffin as a quarterbacks coach, no one paid much attention at first.

When he became offensive coordinator under Kiffin, and then was retained under Steve Sarkisian, it still didn’t matter much, as both head coaches called their own plays and were the de-facto offensive coordinators. So there was no reason to think that Helton would one day be the head coach at USC.

MUST READ: Ranking USC’s Head Coaches From Worst to Best

But even more surprisingly, Helton has lead his team to more Rose Bowls than all three combined.

QUESTION: How many 5 star recruits will we sign this year? — Jorge

ANSWER: Currently, USC has one five-star recruit committed, in running back Stephen Carr. There are several others USC has a good chance of signing, such as Hawkins HS (Los Angeles) wide receiver Joseph Lewis and North Canyon HS (Phoenix, AZ) offensive tackle Austin Jackson. If I had to guess today, I would predict USC picks up three, with many four-stars to round out the class.