Athletic Director Mike Bohn's USC tenure has been a rollercoaster. He seemed to enter this SC athletic program at the most turbulent time as possible. It was during a 2019 football season where SC was fighting the decisions of their past failures of AD's, while also dealing with issues within the university as a whole.
On top of that, they were dealing with an incredibly injured football team who was down two quarterbacks to injury, three running backs to injury, multiple key injuries on defense, and more. The team stayed competitive, going 8-4 with a No. 22 ranking, but that's obviously not a USC-caliber season.
So, Bohn had two choices. Either go ahead, eat the money, and fire Clay Helton for an elite coach (Bob Stoops' name kept coming up), or trust that the last two seasons were a result of having the most injuries in the country for each of those years and trusting his current coach to bring SC back in 2020.
To the dismay of the fans, Bohn went with the second option. While it was true that there was no way that the Trojans should have been expected to compete in 2018 and 2019 with the amount of injuries they had (again, the most in the nation in both years), it was evident that Helton wasn't 'the guy.'
Mike Bohn mistakenly brought him back to the USC football program, however.
The decision to bring back Helton was the wrong one, but it's important to remember the context. Helton wasn't an awful coach. He's won a Rose Bowl after finishing the season with nine straight wins, including a blowout win over one of the four teams who made the College Football Playoff on the road.
Sure enough, Helton's Trojans finished higher in the ranking than them, at No. 3. He won a Pac-12 Championship the next year. Pac-12 fans were begging the CFP committee to let them in both years. However, again, he wasn't a USC-level head coach.
No USC-level head coach goes 13-11 over a two-year span--which Helton did in 2018 and 2019. Sure enough, Helton underachieved in 2020--winning all his regular season games but losing in the Pac-12 Championship game to a 3-2 Oregon team.
There wasn't an injury excuse this time. He didn't get the job done, and SC finished 21st in the final poll. It was a pandemic year, which forced SC to play three games in well-under three weeks, and Oregon to be on multiple weeks rest for the contest.
While those were ridiculous and abnormal circumstances, the eye test throughout the season once again showed that Helton wasn't 'the guy.' Bohn justified bringing Helton back, again, however. While it was disappointing, though, it's worth remembering that Bohn had been steadily making GREAT decisions outside of the head football coach.
He had been strengthening the support staff of the football program, the social media team (which aids in recruiting), and had made the decision to keep USC's non-FCS scheduling streak alive. He also had appeared to have been working to get Reggie Bush's Heisman back.
All SC needed to do was get through the 2021 season, and Bohn would have the chance to bring in a top-tier head coach and get the program rolling in 2022. There was no need to fixate on Bohn's low points. Instead, many fans chose to focus on the good things he had done. Heck, he brought Donte Williams here.
2021 started out as a nightmare, though. Sure, the Trojans blew out San Jose State, but then lost to Stanford at home by a couple of scores. It was clear that Bohn had been making the wrong decision to keep Helton around. He fired him after that Stanford game. As a result, the 2021 season was lost.
Williams was in over his head as a head coach, and Bohn probably should've hired Mike Jinks as the interim, who had head coaching experience.
If Bohn had just fired Helton nine months before, the 2021 season wouldn't be a throwaway year, and SC just ended up having to eat a ton of the buyout money anyway after only having him coach two games in 2021.
Still, though, Bohn had been making many correct moves outside of the head coach (and Defensive Coordinator hire--Todd Orlando). This is the same man who reportedly almost hired DAVE ARANDA as the Defensive Coordinator. It was time to give Bohn ten weeks to hire a new coach, and then judge him after that.
He had been nailing other decisions, and had done a great job hiring his last head coach at his last school--Luke Fickell. It was wise for fans to accept that while Bohn hadn't been perfect as of yet, his story was far from written. And sure enough, Bohn brought in the best hire in USC football history.
That's exactly the case, too. Lincoln Riley was seen as a better hire than any of SC's prior hires had been. Sure, he's not John McKay or Pete Carroll--at least not yet. But his hire was considered to be the best that any USC coaching hire had ever graded as. And he's a proven, tremendous head coach too.
Coaching five years so far in his young career, he has never finished outside the top ten in the country and has four Big 12 titles on his resume. His 55-10 record speaks for itself. How did Bohn do it? Because he's a great Athletic Director.
Sure, he didn't fire Helton when he should have. Then, he didn't fire Helton the next time he should have. It's important, though, to remember how much turmoil Bohn walked into. He had nothing to do with the scandals that were happening within the university, which put them in a tough spot as far as money goes.
He didn't have anything to do with the awful Pac-12 Commissioner he had to work with who was practically destroying USC's conference. He was put in a brutal situation, and didn't want to make the money situation worse by buying out an awful Helton extension that he wasn't even there for.
So, while Bohn doesn't get an A+ grade for his time at SC due to him objectively making a mistake by keeping Helton around for two weeks in 2021 when it was clear he should have been fired in the offseason (and Bohn clearly admitting that by firing him early in the year), he does get an A.
Bohn was named FBS Athletics Director of the Year for this past year for a reason. He got the Trojans all that they've needed for years: An elite head coach. The best hire of the offseason. And he did it after he had already strengthened the support staff significantly.
USC has won the offseason after hiring Riley, going from outside the top 100 of the 247Sports recruiting rankings to the top six. They've brought in two five-star transfers and five four-star transfers. Bohn hit the jackpot, and deserves quite a few flowers.
SC has one of the best Athletic Directors in the country, and one of the best head coaches in the country running the show with him. It's safe to say that both Bohn and Riley can be titled as "the guy," and have set USC up for much success moving forward.