For three quarters of the game, USC was out-coached, made too many mistakes, and lacked fire in their 56-24 blowout loss to No. 7 Oregon. A disturbing trend that has haunted USC for the last two or three seasons under head coach Clay Helton. Following last season’s 5-7 record and revamping his coaching staff, the margin for error have been very small for for the head coach.
With USC no longer in control of their destiny for the Pac-12 South and three games left to go in the season, it’s in the best interest of both parties to go their separate ways and to do it as soon as possible. While last night’s game doesn’t tell the whole story, it was the final straw that should do it for his tenure at USC.
If you look at USC under Clay Helton, the last couple of years has been a major decline on all aspects. The team looked very underprepared and has failed to truly put teams away when needed. A criticism that goes back all the way to 2017 when the team won the Pac-12 Championship. 2018 USC suffered it’s worse season since 2000 when the team went 5-7. It wasn’t just the fact that the team went 5-7, but they also looked historically bad and put up historically low numbers during that stretch. With the talent that USC has, it’s baffling that they’re not being placed in the right position to win or even have a shot in games against teams of the same talent. This season it’s just about the same story that showed against Notre Dame, Washington, Oregon, and even in the loss to BYU. A game they had no business losing.
USC is currently trending towards a similar result following the loss to No. 7 Oregon. Their performance was the team self-destructing against a team they couldn't afford to make mistakes against. whether it’s turnovers or penalties that has repeatedly haunted the Trojans. It seems like that has been the norm for the Trojans through the Clay Helton era. The coaching staff continues to fail the exact same players that continue to play hard for them. It was frustrating to the point that Fox College Football and former USC running back Reggie Bush shared his frustrations with the staff during the halftime show on Fox Saturday night.
During the off-season Helton mentioned that he would take a step back from the offense and over see the team discipline and culture. Its safe to say that he has ultimately failed at that aspect. The Trojans currently sit at No. 121 in the nation in penalty yards per game at 72.8. You can make the argument about how horrible the Pac-12 officiating has been (And you would have a pretty valid argument), but that is still a baffling number for someone who was supposed to over see this. The lack of adjustments and addressing these issues in practice, such as tackling, continues to be a glaring problem. For someone who is supposed to be the “CEO” he has done a poor job of overlooking and addressing these problems. As much as he states that they will fix these problems in practice, they haven't done much from what it shows in games.
Many also questioned if Clay Helton was the right guy for the job to begin with. When Helton was hired by former Trojans AD Pat Haden, some questioned the move. Yes he helped the team through the turmoil of the Steve Sarkisian situation and coached them to a Pac-12 South championship, however the hire felt like a make up from passing on Ed Orgeron two years earlier. To Helton’s credit he has brought some form of stability and has even coached USC to a Rose Bowl victory and Pac-12 Championship game, however the fit never really felt right.
Following the loss to the Ducks, Helton shared how he felt that he is the right guy for the USC job. “I’ll fight like hell with the people that I believe in and the people that I love, until they ask me to not do it anymore.” Helton said when asked if he should continue to coach the Trojans. While he believe’s he is the right man for the job, it’s clear that he’s currently in over his head.
It’s not just on the field where USC has been lacking under Helton. Recruiting has taken a major hit. The Trojans being down has opened the door for programs such as Washington, Oregon, and ever Alabama and Clemson to come into Los Angeles/California and take some of the top talent that would typically commit to USC. Last season USC finished No. 20 in most recruiting rankings and their 2020 recruiting class sits at No. 66 which sits below teams such as North Texas, Memphis, Syracuse, and Tulane to name a few. Recently five star quarterback Bryce Young, who appeared to be a lock at USC, decommitted from the program only to flip to Alabama.
It’s expected that Cincinnati’s Mike Bohn will be named the new athletic director. You can expect that the first order of action will be to address the Football program, a statue of the athletic program for years. Given the state of the program, it’s better off if the Trojans move on from Clay Helton and allow for Bohn to get a jump on the coaching search.
The question is, where does USC go from here when they make the move? First thing is first. Mike Bohn, if/when hired, is that he has to get this hire right. Leadership in the past has made very questionable hires through the years that has lead up to this current situation. Bohn and USC has to get the hire right. As far as candidates, obviously Urban Myer is the top choice here. Former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and current Penn State head coach James Franklin have also been linked as possible candidates. USC can’t afford to swing low on their coaching search like they've done the last three times. They have to make a splash to turn this around.
Clay Helton is a great guy all around and the players do indeed rally around him. Unfortunately as a head coach for a Power 5 program like USC, the fit wasn’t quite there. There’s no salvaging his job after their blowout loss to Oregon. He’s loss the support from the fan base and it would do more harm than good to keep him any longer. It’s time to put an end to the Clay Helton era and let both parties move forward from there.