With every disappointing USC defeat, Clay Helton’s head coaching seat only grows hotter. The first year head coach has led the Trojans to an extremely disappointing 1-3 start that has already put the team on the brink of falling out of contention in the Pac-12 South. In addition, there are widespread rumors of the coaches completely losing the locker room and multiple players looking to transfer after the season. It is getting ugly for SC and with Lynn Swann looking to make his first real statement as the new Athletic Director, Helton could be on the chopping block very soon.
After the 2015 season, previous AD Pat Haden had a huge decision to make on his way out the door: keep Clay Helton or make a splash with a headline-grabbing hire. Unfortunately, Haden settled with the former. That is exactly what Haden did—he settled. He made the safe choice that would keep SC out of the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Now four games in to the 2016 campaign, the Trojans are looking significantly worse off than they were at any point under Sark or Lane Kiffin. The Trojans are 1-3 and with a very challenging schedule that does not include any “cupcake” games, there is actually a chance that one of the most storied college football programs of all time ends their season against Notre Dame on November 26th instead of a bowl game.
As has been the norm ever since Pete Carroll left for the NFL, the 2016 Trojans are a very talented group that is significantly lacking in the coaching department. Poor coaching decisions during the game combined with a lack of development from talented high school prospects has left the Trojans with a roster full of unfulfilled potential. USC is not a team that should be sitting at 1-3. There is easily enough talent for the team to be 3-1, if not 4-0, and certainly not worse than 2-2. However, Helton’s inexperience as a head coach to go along with a staff that appears to be in over their head has the team barely treading water at 1-3. Unacceptable.
And this brings us Trojan fans to where we are now: ruing over missed opportunities. Big name head coaches such as Kevin Sumlin, Chris Peterson, and others were overlooked for Sarkisian while Helton was chosen over the likes of Chip Kelly. These decisions were made by the infamous Pat Haden, and with Swann now leading the Trojans from an administrative standpoint, there is hope that these mistakes can be avoided in the future.
We are only 4 games into the season and the Trojans do not even have a coaching vacancy but perhaps the best coach that will hit the market this cycle is already out of a job: Les Miles. The former LSU head coach was just relieved of his duties, opening the availability of one of the best coaches in college football over the past decade. Unlike the past coaching search charades under Haden, Swann would be smart to immediately open a dialogue with Miles over his interest in the USC program. Even if Swann intends to wait until the offseason to make a decision over Helton’s future, gauging Miles’ interest in Southern Cal would be a smart decision.
After the numerous high profile hires of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, Richt at Miami, Kirby Smart at Georgia, Charlie Strong at Texas, and many others, the head coaching market this offseason may not feature the same caliber of coaches as in years past. Sure, USC is USC and a nice $10 million annual paycheck could in theory tempt the likes of Jon Gruden and John Harbaugh from Monday Night Football and the Baltimore Ravens respectively, but realistically, Miles is likely to be one of, if not the best head coach to find a new job in the coming months.
Although Miles may not be the offensive mastermind that some Trojan fans may be looking for, it is not hard to remember USC’s last head coaching hire that came with a defense-first background. Miles led LSU to a 10 win season in eight of his 12 years in Baton Rouge, and he knows how to win at a program with a storied football tradition. His defenses are always among the best in the country, and if the Trojans can find a top tier offensive coordinator to lead his offense a powerhouse could easily be built.
In addition to his tremendous coaching ability, Miles could also bring numerous members of his coaching staff from LSU. Former Trojans including Ed Orgeron and Pete Jenkins were previously working under Miles in Baton Rouge. Both of these coaches have excellent reputations and with Pat Haden no longer the AD, Orgeron’s return would be far more feasible. In addition to Orgeron and Jenkins, renowned coaches Corey Raymond (DB’s), Dameyune Craig (WR’s), and Dave Aranda (DC) could follow Miles to USC as significant upgrades on the current Trojan coaches they would be replacing.
In terms of recruiting, Miles would be a massive upgrade on Helton. LSU’s recruiting classes over the past five years have finished outside the top 6 only once in the past five years, according to 247 Sports. In comparison, USC currently sits well outside the top 10 for the 2017 class and with the poor start to the season, a strong finish on National Signing Day may not be in the cards for the Trojans.
Miles has his offensive shortcomings as a head coach, but he would be a huge upgrade over Helton and he would add a new level of excitement to a program that has been lacking a spark since Carroll’s departure. Miles is unlikely to be hired mid-season due to the other coaches that will potentially be available this offseason, but opening up a line of communication with the former LSU head coach would be a good decision by Swann.
USC has not been a top contender since 2008 and Swann cannot afford to make a mistake with the Trojans’ coaching situation. Despite the team’s struggles, a coaching change mid way through the season is unlikely to occur. Although it may be difficult to watch the Trojans battle mediocrity through the rest of the season, relieving Helton of his duties after a 6-6 season would be an easy decision for Swann (particularly if they know Les Miles and others viable options). Plus, that would allow the Trojans to find the best coaching fit for the program once the season comes to its conclusion.
Unless the Trojans are able to make a dramatic turnaround, Helton has proven that he is not the long term answer. Miles, on the other hand, is almost everything that Helton is not and his dismissal from LSU has given the Trojans an excellent opportunity. Swann can now begin talks with Miles over his potential interest were Helton to be fired, something that would not have been possible if Miles was still at LSU. For the sake of Trojan football that looks to once again need a new leader, opening up a line of communication with the former LSU head coach would be an astute decision that could be instrumental if Miles were to be Swann’s top choice.
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