In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
Famous last words: When the Trojans basically delivered a 3-star recruiting class at best in the early December signing period, head coach Clay Helton (cover photo above) deflected the criticism by looking forward to the February signing period and telling the media, “I look forward to revisiting with you in February.”
Famous last words – Part 2: Apparently after signing only one player (TE Jack Yary, son of legend Ron) on Wednesday’s February signing day – capping the incoming class at 13 signees – Helton thought better of not “revisiting” the media, and therefore did not hold a post-signing recruiting media conference. Instead, the Trojans’ head football coach gave a recruiting assessment on the “Trojans Live” KABC radio show. Gentleman Clay did reveal his overall impression of this year’s recruiting class by saying on the broadcast, “This may not be the sexiest class when you sign big men, but it’s what wins championships.” True enough, but only if you sign quality big men. All but one of the new offensive linemen was listed as a 3-star, which, of course, is below a 5-star or a 4-star ranking.
Famous last words – Part 3: There’s no getting around it, IMHO, this is the worst USC football recruiting class I have seen in my 57 years of following the program in one form or another, and certainly the poorest since there have been recruiting rankings. Raised eyebrows to Clay Helton for putting the best possible spin on the class, but it’s – to be gentlemanly about it – totally unacceptable no matter how limited the available scholarships. The Trojans have had small numbers before but made up for it with high quality recruits, which includes “big men.”
Famous last words – Part 4: As you are probably aware by now, the Rivals recruiting site places the Trojans’ Class of 2020 last in the Pac-12, and 247 composite ranks the Trojans 10th just in front of No. 11 Washington State, which underwent a coaching change, and No. 12 Arizona, which needs no explanation. To be blunt, the current Trojans’ recruiting is a direct reflection by high valued recruits of their perception of the program compared to others. At some point, these type of recent recruiting classes are going to come back to bite the Trojans – whether Helton remains the coach or not. This is certainly not the type of recruiting results one would expect with a head coach heading into his fifth season at the helm.
Famous last words – Part 5: It doesn’t take a genius to understand why this all has happened. Yeah, kill the messenger again if you must, but you can change all the assistants you want in the Trojans football program, but only winning big (10 wins and a Pac-12 title) or a head coaching change can redirect the program. It is what it is. It was breathtaking to see the final results of the 2020 recruiting class.
Housecleaning: When the combustible decision was made to keep Clay Helton for another season,we are reminded again that AD Mike Bohn said he was going to help with the football program. As we know, the Trojans have fired four defensive coaches and a special teams coach, which again brings up a question: Who made the calls on all or most of the coaching firings? Athletic director Mike Bohn or head coach Clay Helton. If it’s AD Bohn, shouldn’t your head football coach, who is being paid $3.5 million dollars a season, be hiring and firing his own staff? What makes this an eyebrow raiser is that it’s pretty much on record that Clay Helton is extremely loyal to some of his assistants, and it’s like pulling teeth to have him remove one of his favored coaches, although it should be said that no original staff members remain from his first full time back in 2016.
Housecleaning – Part 2: And if you’re looking for answers to some of these legitimate questions from Clay Helton, the last time the coach addressed the media in person was after the first signing period on December 17. Obviously, a lot has transpired since the disappointing Holiday Bowl loss to Iowa and the firing and the eventual departure of Helton’s entire defensive staff and special team’s coach John Baxter. The media was hoping to engage with a Q&A session with Helton this past Wednesday, but that February signing day tradition – and was the once annual recruiting dinner between the coaching staff and boosters – was cancelled for the obvious reasons and Helton apparently wanted to have his entire staff in place before taking questions and introducing the new members of his coaching staff.
The fallout: Maybe some of the recent firings of coaches didn’t shock you, but it sure did recruits that attended last Saturday’s USC Elite Day (Classes of 2021, 2022 and 2023). Just ask some of the recruits whowere talking to whom they thought might be their USC position coach only to learn the next day (Sunday) that the coach they were interacting with was fired. To be fair, this is not an unusual occurrence around the country. The life of an assistant can be that of a vagabond or revolving door.
The fallout – Part 2: Players on the current Trojans roster were also shocked to learn of the dismissal of their position coach. DB Chris Steele tweeted out a heartfelt appreciation and support of competence regarding his “former” DB coach Greg Burns. During Wednesday’s “Trojans Live” radio show, true freshman early enrollee and defensive lineman Kobe Pepe said he came to USC for some good reasons and that included his now former D-line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a, who was fired after Pepe had enrolled for the spring semester.
The fallout – Part 3: One has to wonder what effect the firing of Polynesian recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach Johnny Nansen and D-line Chad Kauha’aha’a will have in the Poly recruiting community? Well, maybe not as much as you’d think, as the Trojans Class of 2022 received a very early commitment from Mission Hills (Calif.) Alemany linebacker Niuafe Tuihalamaka. Of course, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Trojans filled one of their remaining defensive coaching positions with a coach of Polynesian roots. Right now, there are ongoing rumors that address this issue.
From the press box…
Money ball: One of the great talking points coming out of Heritage Hall concerns the financial budget of the athletic department. Well, one can only speculate just how much of a payout or should we say severance pay the fired USC assistant coaches will be receiving as compensation and how much Mike Bohn is willing to pay the coaching newcomers.
A rumor: Is it true that one of the sticking points with previous candidates for the defensive coordinator position was that Clay Helton wanted to keep some or all of his eventually fired assistants? This brings us to the point that if this is true, how was Todd Orlando able to call his shots in not only acquiring Craig Naivar as safeties coach but also pry loose at least two more defensive assistant coaching openings? Considering that previously the Trojans were sensitive in trying to save money and Helton’s loyalty to his assistants, is it possible that new DC Todd Orlando may have held the upper hand in negotiating by demanding that unless he could bring in his own defensive staff, he wouldn’t except the job?
The count: Let’s see, how many coaches now on the Trojans staff either hail from Texas or have a Texas connection? If they’re good coaches, who cares? However, there is a Lonestar feel to Clay Helton – another Texan. Maybe USC’s football program should be renamed the University of Texas at Los Angeles. Just kidding.
Officially hired: The announcement on the offensive side of the ball that John David Baker, formerly a Trojans football analyst, was officially the new Trojans’ tight end coach begs this question: Since he has past Texas roots with second-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, is there reason for hope that the Trojans will look more to their tight ends than last season. And let’s not forget that tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe returns if he is granted a 6th year of eligibility, which adds great depth and pass catching ability this unit. No one cannot say the Trojans don’t have talented returning tight ends.
Rumor: Is it true that Trojans radio play-by-play voice Pete Arbogast once was the coach of a recreation basketball team that featured Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid as one of his players?
Rumor – Part 2: Is it also true that Pete Arbogast and Andy Reid both attended Los Angeles Marshall High? How do you do!
The post-game show…
Table for two: Only Trojans offensive tackle Austin Jackson and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. were invited to the upcoming NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Yes, it’s a small number compared to other powerhouse programs, but some of the other underclass Trojans (ex. DL Jay Tufele, WR Tyler Vaughns) elected to remain in school for another year.
Next HOF: It says here that the next Trojan to join the 13 other USC Pro Football Hall of Famers will be offensive tackle Tony Boselli, which should be a no-brainer.
Spring game: In a statement to USC alumni and friends,USC President Carol Folt announced that the spring football game will be played on Saturday, April 11. That’s the first the media had heard of it regarding a spring game. Normally such announcements come directly first through the sports information department.
Seriously: The Big Ten is pushing the idea that for a new policy regarding transfers. The mighty Big Ten is advocating that transfers be given a one-time transfer that would make them immediately eligible universally the next season without penalty.
Seriously – Part 2: In regard to the Big Ten transfer proposal, are you freaking kidding me? With the way things are with the NCAA Transfer Portal, early departures to the NFL, and recruiting reneges prior to signing, the new proposed transfer policy would unleash unbelievable chaos in college football if this proposal is passed.
Musical note: “The Golden Legacy”, which will celebrate 50 years of Dr. Arthur C. Bartner and the Spirit of Troy will take place on May 2 on Cromwell Field.Watch for on-sale information this month and an announcement about special guest speakers and artists. All proceeds will benefit the Trojan Marching Band Initiative honoring the legacy of Dr. Bartner. For more info, go to: uscband.usc.edu/celebrate50
The call-in show…
Caller No. 1: GK, the recruiting Class of 2020 looks like a disaster based on the final recruiting rankings. What does it mean? To be honest, it’s a referendum by high-end recruits on the current state of the football program. This is a big deal because the Trojans have been the traditional standard-bearer of West Coast football and one of college football’s all-time programs. However, since the NCAA probation and what has transpired since, it’s been extremely hard to maintain the recruiting edge with so many negative episodes regarding the football program, athletic department, and the administration. The image has been badly stained. Most would agree that the only real opponent that can take down a football program like the Trojans has to come from within.
Caller No. 2: Mr. Katz, how much of an effect do you think the firing of former Trojans’ defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a had to do with recent verbal commitment by Corona (Calif.) Centennial defense end Korey Forman to Clemson? It didn’t help. Right now, just compare the success and stability of Clemson compared to the Trojans, and you have the answer. Until the Trojans get their house in order from the top down, you can expect more of the same from SoCal big-time recruits.
Caller No. 3: Gregor, were you surprised that former Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello entered the NCAA Transfer Portal and ended up at Mississippi State? No, not at all. Costello, a very talented QB, already had his degree from Stanford and needed to show the NFL that he is a much better passer than what he displayed at Stanford where a lot of his playing time was cut short due to injuries. Going to Mississippi State with first-year head coach Mike Leach was a godsend for both Leach and Costello. Leach knows Costello from the Pac-12, and Costello saw firsthand what Leach can do with a grad transfer, or have you forgotten Washington State QB Gardner Minshew?
Caller No. 4: Sir, I know it’s very early, but how many games do you think that Clay Helton needs to win to keep his job for 2021? Hold on there, Caller NO. 4, we haven’t even had spring practice yet to bring up that question. However, I may not be the one to answer the question. I don’t even know if AD Mike Bohn knows the answer either. No, winning is all about Carol Folt, who saved Helton’s job a few months ago. It’s what she thinks based on her recent experience and interactions with her head football coach. That being said, I would think no less than a Pac-12 title would be grounds for removal.
Caller No. 5: Coach, with the Academy Awards on Sunday night, give me your favorite top-10 movies of all-time. Caller No. 5, it depends on the genre. I think that in no particular order I would have to say Ben-Hur, The Graduate, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Mash, It Happened One Night, Godfather 1, Annie Hall, Fiddler on the Roof, Schindler’s List, and All The President’s Men. For the record, I thought that Gone with the Wind was way too long and boring as was Dr. Zhivago for those of you that remember that flick from yesteryear.
The Final Word: On a sad note, Pro Football Hall of Fame DB Willie Wood, who played safety for the Green Bay Packers and the first African-American quarterback for the Trojans, passed away last Monday. Willie was 83 years-old and was a two-time Super Bowl champions. He was a great one.