The arrival of former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury as USC’s offensive coordinator was the silver lining in an abysmal 2018. From the embarrassing 24-7 Cotton Bowl Classic to Ohio State in early-January to a cringeworthy regular season that featured one of the paltriest offenses in Trojan memory— 2018 was a year for Trojan faithful to forget.
Alas, the nightmare is very much alive.
With Kingsbury leaving USC to become the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals just one month after committing to the Trojans, 2019 has already gotten off to embarrassing start. After reshuffling the coaching staff last month, USC still has the same issues that have plagued for almost two seasons: the offensive coordinator position needs to be addressed and Clay Helton is still the head coach.
It’s difficult to assess what happens next since there really hasn’t been much noise around potential candidates. Even when the OC position was initially available, Kingsbury was pegged to USC almost immediately when he became available. Coupled with the NFL offseason and teams hiring coaches and coordinators, the coaching free agent pool is that much shallower.
So what does USC do?
There’s many ways to go here but on thing is certain—all parties involved will be under immense pressure thereafter.
For USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann, the pressure has been there from the outset since his extension of Helton and recent retention has came under heavy scrutiny. The botched signing of Kingsbury and subsequent blocking of NFL teams trying to interview him, all the while settling for $150,000 contract buyout from the Cardinals reeks of an inexperienced AD who might in over his head.
Clay Helton signed a lucrative contract that has him as the Trojan’s head coach through 2023, however another subpar season in 2019 might perpetuate an early release. This piece of the puzzle is what gives me a sense that Helton might be calling the plays this year. As a former offensive coordinator, Helton just might bet on himself to retain his job and just bump up positional coaches Tim Drevno or Keary Colbert into that role with the coordinator title as just a formality.
If not this, then who comes in for the Trojans?
It’s a difficult situation to enter. A historically great program with one of the most talent-rich rosters in college football and the top recruiting classes for the next two season, yet you’re dealing with a seemingly inept AD and a head coach who might tank your future prospects.
Much like with Kingsbury, a prospective OC might not be privy to the idea of being barred from speaking to NFL teams especially if the Trojan offense is success next season. However, if the struggles of the team continue, a second year might not be guaranteed as Helton and the entire coaching staff might go down if the football program continues to implode.
Players, fan and alumni all hope for the program’s success, even if Helton is calling the shots—but with how the past 12 months, I wouldn’t be surprised if Swann, Helton, Clancy Pendergast and this current regime are all gone by this time next season.