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IMHO Sunday: A real Kliff hanger

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.

Whoa, Nellie: Where’s Keith Jackson when we need him??? What the Hell-ton is going on? Former Texas Tech head coach, offensive guru, and No. 1 offensive coordinator candidate Kliff Kingsbury (photo above) is on campus: No, he isn’t…yes, he is…no, he isn’t… yes, he is… Kliff Kingsbury has agreed to be the new USC offensive coordinator: Yes, he has…no, he hasn’t…yes, he has…no, he hasn’t…Kliff Kingsbury is about to sign a contract as Trojans OC: Yes, he is… no, he isn’t… yes, he is…no, he isn’t. Feeling dizzy, confused, or starting to get just plain uneasy or even a little bit angry?

Whoa, Nellie – Part 2: If hired – and the longer this thing drags on, the bigger the “IF” – is Trojans’ head coach Clay Helton going to allow Kliff Kingsbury to run the offensive show and decide on the quarterback he feels can best get the job done, assuming Kingsbury is also the new QB coach? Does Helton have a choice? If Helton yields offensive control to Kingsbury, it could save Gentlemen Clay’s job after the 2019 season, and it’s pretty clear that what Sam Darnold did for Helton might be what Kingsbury could do from a coaching and play-calling perspective.

Whoa, Nellie – Part 3: And then there’s the Lynn Swann factor, who is now completely attached to the hip with Helton and vice versa. By Swann’s edict, Helton may have no choice but to agree to Kingsbury’s demands – especially if the Trojans’ athletic director opens up the USC purse strings and makes a big investment. One is getting the impression – rightly or wrongly – that Swann is calling the shots now, and Helton will call them as it pertains to the games and practices, although Helton may be told that one day in full pads isn’t cutting it during the season and that two days will be the norm.

Whoa, Nellie – Part 4: If you want to some strong external reasons why Kliff Kingsbury might want to become a Trojan, knowledgeable sources have revealed that not only is Kingsbury a partner in a Manhattan Beach restaurant along with former USC quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Brandon Hance, Kliff’s girlfriend also lives in Southern California. On this information alone, you’d have to think that would also play a positive factor in the former Texas Tech coach’s decision-making process in wearing cardinal and gold.

Whoa, Nellie – Part 5: But what if Kliff Kingsbury moves on to greener pastures (NFL), is it a moral victory for athletic director Lynn Swann and Helton that they missed on a big fish? Sorry, but there are no moral victories. If you’re an Oregon State, maybe it’s a moral victory to be in the ballpark for Kingsbury’s services, but not if you’re the USC Trojans. It would be a major cardinal and gold setback if the Trojans couldn’t get the man they wanted, and it’s all being played out on the national stage. Sorry, but a whiff is a whiff, and it’s back to offensive coordinator candidates square one. Looking at the cup half full, maybe Swann or Helton can come up with a comparable choice. If not, prepare for another heated round of USC message board mutiny.

Whoa, Nellie – Part 6: What a week of change or was it really enough in revamping the 2019 USC Trojans football staff – predicted, promised, and statement driven? First, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast: He has been fired…No, he hasn’t…yes, he has…No, he hasn’t … Yes, he has…No, he hasn’t and here we go again. But DLC Kenechi Udeze, OC/WRC Tee Martin, and DBC Ronnie Bradford have. Well, that pretty much sums up the firing carrousel of progress as Clay Helton and Lynn Swann attempt to right the Trojans’ football voyager. It was a start, but was it enough? A rhetorical question? And let it be made public that Pendergast is now on the road recruiting, something that hasn’t been the norm for Clancy. Perhaps another Swann directive?

The dominoes are falling: Well, it didn’t take much time for Clay Helton to dismiss wide receiver coach/former OC/recruiter extraordinaire Tee Martin, defensive back coach Ronnie Bradford, and defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze. All were gone on Monday. Then there was announcement that one-season-only QB coach Bryan Ellis was headed back to Western Kentucky as its OC. Along with the potential of Kliff Kingsbury replacing Ellis as QB coach and assuming the OC responsibility, it’s also possible that there could already be a replacement for Udeze. The hot rumor is the return of Austin Clark, a former USC grad assistant (2016 and 2017) before taking a fulltime DLC position at Illinois.

The dominoes are falling – Part 2: There is absolutely no shock that Ronnie Bradford is gone. For two seasons, Bradford has been on the cusp of firing rumors, but he was a “Clancy Pendergast guy.” You knew something was up this season with the secondary coaching when former Dallas Cowboys’ head coach Dave Campos was brought in to help with the secondary. As for Bradford’s replacement, a new potential candidate has surfaced in former Trojans’ All-America safety Mark Carrier. A name already in the rumor mill is current Oregon DB coach Donte Williams, but the thought of Carrier coming back to Troy could have a major impact on the Trojans’ defense and recruiting.

The dominoes are falling – Part 3: It would be a real coup for not only Clay Helton but defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast unless Clancy feels threatened in some capacity if Mark Carrier came aboard. Carrier, the old Long Beach Poly Prep All-American, is Troy’s first Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nations’ best defensive back – and from there went on to the NFL as both a standout player and later a secondary and defensive line coach at the professional level. It would be a real headscratcher if Clay Helton didn’t jump on the chance to bring a qualified favorite son home to coach. As the old saying goes, “It seems too good to be true.” Since Swann is involved in personnel decisions, this could be a case of Swann wants Carriers, therefore a done deal. We’ll see.

The dominoes are falling – Part 4: As for the firing of Kenechi Udeze as defensive line coach, it’s always sensitive to see a “favorite son” drop by the wayside. BKU did some good things, but this year’s pass rush was almost non-existent as getting sacks were few and far between. What should be reminded is that Kenechi was a serious consideration to leave the program after last season pursuant to NFL rumors, mainly the 49’ers. BKU’s recent departure could have an immediate effect on the D-line recruits for this recruiting cycle.

The dominoes are falling – Part 5: On a personal level, I always enjoyed interviewing Tee Martin. Tee is not just a great recruiter but a class guy and chill. There was always the question: Why Tee, the starting quarterback for a Tennessee national championship team, was never given the opportunity to tutor the Trojans’ quarterback as the QB coach? Don’t worry about Tee, just on his recruiting alone he’ll find a job, and the rumor is UCLA.

From the press box…

The message: When you finish 5-7 and aren’t going to a bowl game – especially at a storied program like USC – accountability is splattered on everybody. Near the conclusion of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio in anger over the tragic violence between the Capulets and the Montagues, turns to the two families and says, “A plague o’ both your houses.” In this Trojans’ football drama, the plaque could be directed at both the football program and the administration that supports it and monitors it.

The administration: If you go by the statements released last Sunday by USC athletic director Lynn Swann and head coach Clay Helton regarding what has transpired and what needs to be done in retaining Helton as the head coach, it begs the question of why certain admitted admissions  – “Coach Helton and I (Swann) meet extensively each week to evaluate our program from top to bottom. We acknowledge and understand our deficiencies in areas that include culture, discipline, schemes, personnel and staff. We agree that changes need to be made, and they will” – weren’t addressed at the first signs of trouble?

The administration – Part 2: Lynn Swann is the top dog in the athletic department, so why were these acknowledged “deficiencies” not addressed at the time and/or allowed to fester and grow? It’s possible that Swann did bring up the problems during his weekly meetings with Clay Helton, but the fact these “deficiencies” weren’t stopped is a real issue. As athletic director, isn’t Swann held accountable for seeing these deficiencies don’t happen or happen repeatedly?  Is it acceptable to use the old adage of “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission?”

The coach: Helton says he will try hard to fix the problem, which is the expectation by Swann. However, nobody I’ve talked to in the football universe doesn’t add that Helton is going to try and fix a number of these problems that he created. The big question: Why did these admitted multitude of issues even became a problem? We’re told there is a plan, so what is it? As for Helton changing his personality, there’s no way that Gentleman Clay can change into Nick Saban. The players know who their coach has been, and as my mother used to say, “A leopard doesn’t change its spots.” Players know their coach and credibility will challenge accountability.

The players:
One of the strongest supporters for Helton’s return is QB JT Daniels. Earlier this week, JT said, “This game, you don’t blame a coach for two-fumbles in the red zone. You don’t blame a coach for throwing the ball too high or half a yard out of bounds. Those aren’t things you blame a coach for. It’s backwards. It’s a players’ things. Me personally, I would blame (blind snapper) Jake Olson’s dog before I would blame the coach for a loss. We’re 18-to-23-year-old-men. It’s on us, if you we want to win football games, to go out and win football games.”

The players – Part 2: JT Daniels comments are commendable about taking accountability from a player’s perspective. However, senior captain and senior linebacker Cameron Smith said he thought there was not team buy-in in committing to the cause of winning. Fellow senior captain and center Toa Lobendahn inferred there should have been accountability by some players. Translation: At the very least, the 2018 Trojans were not a unified team.

The fans: You can argue that those passionate USC fans that paid money to fly that “fire Helton” banner above the Coliseum and campus was classless. As I told Times columnist Bill Plaschke before the Notre Dame kickoff, the only thing worse than flying the banner was not flying the banner because that would have been the first sign of apathy along with the lack of attendance. Trojan fans need hope right now for the 2019 season and they aren’t seeing it at the moment. This isn’t even debatable. If Lynn Swann thinks that the USC fan base will wait to the end of next season to showcase their anger by not attending games, that would be a huge misstep on the athletic director’s part. If the Trojans start off next season with early season losses, this season’s end-of-the-year anger will arrive in September and it won’t be pretty. I don’t think I am going out on a limb on that one.

The post-game show…

The Herd: Like him or not, FS1’s Colin Cowherd made a fair comparison on his Twitter regarding Lynn Swann’s statement on retaining Clay Helton. Cowherd tweeted,Can you imagine a movie studio “we realize there are problems with our actors, script, casting, directing and producing but we are not making any changes.” Good point, Cowherd.

Herbie: I like ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, but his support of Clay Helton exhibits his general lack of knowledge about the current state of Trojan football. This is especially disappointing when you consider that Lynn Swann public admitted Helton and his program showed a number of glaring “deficiencies.”

The Lane-ster: Leave it to former Trojans’ head coach Lane Kiffin to give his two cents on Clay Helton returning. Kiffin tweeted out the Lynn Swann statement to his following and gave a thumbs up emoji. Wow, what an important endorsement.

The switcheroo: Los Angeles Times national columnist Bill Plaschke has done a complete reversal in his support of Clay Helton and Lynn Swann. I can tell you Bill really wanted to see Helton succeed but was always cautious regarding Swann’s hiring. It takes a lot of incidents, events, and episodes to turn Journalist Bill 180 degrees to write that scathing column on Swann and Helton in Monday’s Times. Sad actually for all party’s concerned, but the truth no less.

The last word: Well, the season it over and one of the last things that the Coliseum public address announcer told departing fans after the Notre Dame loss was to look forward to next season and a completely renovated Coliseum. With that in mind, we’ll turn our weekly attention to the renovation project through its completion in August.  If you have not been attending USC games this season, here is how things are looking as of today with the real time camera: https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation  

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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