USC football needs a new head coach but it’s not James Franklin

USC football is being linked to James Franklin. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
USC football is being linked to James Franklin. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) /

National media is speculating about James Franklin joining USC football

By now, everyone and their mother has rightly come to the conclusion USC football needs a change at head coach.

The Trojans are 2-0 but couldn’t have looked more pitiful in a comeback win over Arizona, a team that will likely compete with UCLA to sit at the bottom of the Pac-12 South this year. That came after a miracle and somewhat undeserved victory against ASU in the season opener.

It’s not a question of whether USC will move on from Clay Helton, but when. The likelihood of it happening in 2020 is low, but if he survives 2021 it would be a shock.

So naturally, attention will turn to who could come in and replace Helton.

On Saturday night, Ralph D. Russo of USA Today asked the question USC fans should dread: Is the time right for USC to hire James Franklin?

USC football needs a new head coach, but the answer isn’t James Franklin

The reasoning behind USC pursuing Franklin is pretty simple.

“Franklin’s charisma, big-picture thinking and track record of success checks all the boxes for USC,” Russo mused.

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That may be the case on the surface, but a closer look reveals that deal would be coated in warts.

First, USC has hesitated to fire Helton because of the cost of his buyout. That buyout gets smaller every year, but turning eyes toward Franklin would mean investing an even bigger pile of cash towards freeing him up from a massive extension he signed at Penn State in 2019. That buyout is approaching $40 million.

So USC would have to spend big just to get Franklin, then turn around and pay him far more than they’re paying Helton right now.

Sure, Franklin would be an upgrade on Helton, but by how much? He has won as many Big Ten titles as Helton has won for the Pac-12. His wn percentage at Penn State is 67.4 compared to Helton’s 65.6.

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In 2020, Helton’s teams have looked bad even as they’ve pulled off wins. Franklin’s Penn State has lost all four games they’ve played despite fielding a roster that looked like a playoff contender. A loss to Ohio State is understandable, but a 30-23 defeat to Nebraska this weekend says a lot.

USC needs to identify a head coach who is or can become a legitimate threat for the playoff and the national title. Helton isn’t that guy, but Franklin hasn’t shown he’s that guy either, certainly not for the price.

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