USC Football faces task of replacing quarterbacks coach Tyson Helton

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC Football is preparing to face Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl without Tyson Helton. Who will replace the quarterbacks coach?

One byproduct of the coaching carousel each December is the way it impacts staffs preparing for bowl season. While last year’s bowl prep went off without a hitch, USC did not escape the shifting coaching landscape this year.

Tyson Helton’s decision to take the offensive coordinator job at Tennessee has left the Trojans without a quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator as they get ready for the Cotton Bowl.

“I’m really proud of what Tyson’s accomplished here, helping us win a Rose Bowl as well as a Pac-12 Championship and wish nothing but the best,” head coach Clay Helton said of his brother’s new opportunity in the SEC.

Offensive coordinator Tee Martin also wished Tyson luck on his new venture, but was quick to insist that little would change for USC in their ongoing preparations.

“We’re not changing. I’ve been calling the plays all season so I’ll continue to do that,” Martin said. “We gameplanned the way we’ve been gameplanning.”

The question about playcalling circles around rumors of the younger Helton’s involvement in the offense this season, having come from Western Kentucky as an offensive coordinator. However much Tyson Helton’s absence affects the gameday process, his departure does leave an undeniable hole in USC’s staff.

For the time being, the Trojans have turned to Bryan Ellis, an offensive quality control assistant who has been assisting Helton all season, to coach quarterbacks ahead of the bowl.

“He’s been doing a phenomenal job I really believe in him and what he’s been doing,” Martin said.

Ellis is more qualified for that role than his title might suggest. He was Western Kentucky’s wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator in 2016. And this isn’t his first rodeo taking on a larger role for bowl game preparations. Last year when WKU head coach left to take the Purdue job, Ellis stepped in to call plays for the Hilltoppers in the Boca Raton Bowl, which they won 51-31.

Considering his bright resume, the Cotton Bowl could be an audition for the former UAB quarterback as USC faces the prospect of hiring a replacement for Helton.

It’s not outside of the realm of possibility for someone like Ellis to impress enough to earn a job. That’s exactly what defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze did in the 2015 Holiday Bowl, when much of USC’s defensive staff was purged after the Pac-12 title game.

Either way, the decision will have to wait.

“We’re going to do our best to compete and try to win this football game and then after the game we’ll make the next steps forward with additional hires,” Clay Helton said.

The Trojans have two hires to make this offseason, the first filling Tyson Helton’s role and the second taking advantage of a rule change allowing for a 10th assistant coach. The possibilities to fill both roles are endless.

For one, Martin, who was a national title winning quarterback at Tennessee, could be enticed to coach quarterbacks rather than wide receivers. However, he downplayed any desire he might hold for that role.

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“I’ve coached quarterbacks in my career and got bored doing it,” Martin said. “Quiet honestly, when I got a taste of coaching wideouts it was so much fun.”

Martin believes he spends enough time with USC’s quarterbacks in his role as offensive coordinator, working with the passers during team dills at practice. Taking on the quarterbacks coach role would simply add meetings to the mix.

“If it was a situation where I didn’t talk to quarterbacks at all it would be an issue. I get what I need in terms of communication with the quarterback, whether it’s on gameday, whether it’s during the week, whether it’s at practice, we have a great line of communication,” Martin said.

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Promotions from within, like Ellis or others, could ultimately happen. Meanwhile USC’s success bringing in Deland McCullough as running backs coach suggests looking outside the program could yield great results as well.