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IMHO Sunday: Trojans Holiday Bowl bound, but Folt and Bohn need national championship experience

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

Experience counts: While wondering if former USC athletic director Pat Haden was watching former Trojans’ interim head coach Ed Orgeron lead his now CFP No. 1 LSU Tigers to the top seed of the CFP after dismantling then CFP No. 4 Georgia in the SEC title game and whether the Trojans faithful will travel to San Diego for the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl against the CFP No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes, I got to thinking: If you’ve never been there or done that or experienced a national championship situation firsthand, how can you really make an informed decision on a controversial coaching decision when your stated goal is to win a national championship?

Experience counts – Part 2: Let me explain the above statement since nobody breathed USC national championships and tradition any better than “Coach O.” We all know what went down with USC President Carol Folt either mandating or strongly supporting and/or encouraging her new athletic director, Mike Bohn, to retain Clay Helton as the USC Trojans head football coach. No reason to rehash that with a distracting bowl game on the horizon, but one must look into the past history of Folt and Bohn to try and understand why they don’t truly appear to understand why USC fans and the media rose up and continue to be in such rage and anger over their decision to return Clay Helton in 2020.

Experience counts – Part 3: I wonder, have Carol Folt or Mike Bohn ever visited the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta or before that in South Bend, Indiana? I have when I visited the HOF when it was in South Bend, and the place was strewn with USC football achievements and recognition of 11 national championships, All-Americans, and Heisman Trophy winners. In fact, with the addition of former safety All-American Troy Polamalu, he is the 44th inductee with USC ties, which includes 33 players. A Trojan has been elected into the HOF in 13 of the past 20 years. This is a good place to start for Carol Folt and Mike Bohn to understand why there is such vitriol over the Helton decision, and the fear that Dr. Folt is downsizing football as a priority or should we say commitment. Her “integrity” is on the line now.

Experience counts – Part 4: Dr. Folt and Mike Bohn should for the record educate themselves that three former coaches – Howard Jones, John McKay, John Robinson and certainly in the future Pete Carroll – are in the HOF. Older USC Trojans fans experienced the McKay and Robinson eras, and those older fans and younger fans also experienced the Pete Carroll era firsthand. Depending on age, they experienced some of college football’s greatest games, experienced the passion, and experienced the national championships and glorious individual achievements. These impassioned cardinal and gold fans of all ages supported, bonded, and gave their passion to those USC football teams and their coaches and players. Many wore USC spirit items of support long before they could walk. Their loyalty is not just to a winning football team or program; their loyalty is to the expectations of realistically contending for national titles and not just talking about them.  

Experience – Part 5: Have Dr. Folt or Mike Bohn ever experienced or been part of being on top of college football greatest mountain of success or been bonded with such college football success? Have they ever walked in the shoes of a college football program that is spoken in the same breath with power schools like Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma? Folt and Bohn can dress, talk, and act like they have been Trojans for years, but for them right now it’s another challenge and paycheck in professional life. No, they don’t have the experience to really feel what it’s like to be part of the USC fan base and team expectations. USC’s storied success and passion in football didn’t happen overnight. It took generations of national championships, All-Americans, and Heisman Trophy winning players to be one of a handful of true superstar programs.

Will USC President Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn ever experience wearing a USC national championship ring in football or will they be satisfied wearing a Holiday Bowl ring (photo above)?

Experience – Part 6: Folt and Bohn have never experienced when USC is on top of its gridiron game and when the the Trojans Marching Band, Traveler, The USC Song Girls, and a sold-out Coliseum is as good as it gets. Even opponents of USC will tell you that is really intimidating. For Carol Folk, you don’t experience the success and passion in one full season or for Mike Bohn in one month. What they have experienced thus far is an 8-4 USC football team, an embattled, controversial football coach who has been on campus long before they arrived, and a soon-to-be good but not great bowl game. Folt and Bohn speak like they feel USC passion and understand it, but they haven’t had the experience here nearly long enough to really feel it in their blood. Folt attended a college (UCSB) that dropped football, and Bohn played at a college better known for its storied basketball history (Kansas) than any gridiron accomplishments. Both are fish out of water when it comes to really needing the experience to make a coaching decision while taking into account the magnitude of such a decision to retain or fire. I think they are just scratching the surface of understanding. I doubt they expected to get the reaction from all three Los Angeles Times columnists that they did, which was Helton had to go.    

Experience counts – Part 7: Honestly, I don’t think Dr. Folt really understands what a civic treasure USC football program has meant in the Southern California region and the West Coast over the generations. It’s interesting because when I met Dr. Folt after Mike Bohn’s welcome press conference, I asked her about when she was a student at UC Santa Barbara in the early 1970s and if she was aware of the dominance of USC football and legendary coach John McKay. She smiled at me and said of course she was aware of USC football and its position in the college football world. She said she loved football because she was from Ohio. I asked her, since she seemed so enthusiastic about it, if she ever drove down from UC Santa Barbara to see a USC football game. She said she hadn’t because money was an issue and that she was trying to make ends meet by being a waitress. I felt relieved at the time that she had some understanding of USC football and its place in the public domain. Maybe if she had the means to drive down to the Coliseum and take in a game when she was a student at UCSB, it would have been an experience that would have best served her to help make a proper Clay Helton decision today.   

Dr Folt says she remembers the dominance of USC football under legendary USC coach John McKay (photo above on left) when she was a student at UC Santa Barbara, although she never got to see the Trojans play in person.

Experience counts – Part 9: USC football may or may not be important to Carol Folt as it is the Trojans fan base. She can claim she feels the passion, but actions speak louder than words when it comes to having a national championship coach. She has never really experienced a storied national championship football program firsthand at its zenith either as a former student or administrator. Dressing up on gameday in Nike cardinal and gold tennis shoes and wearing cardinal and gold pop beads doesn’t quite qualify as a person understanding the magnitude of USC football, but it’s a start. If Folt truly had the experience and understanding of cardinal and gold passion, last week’s announcement may have and should have had a different scenario. As for AD Mike Bohn, I believe he certainly has a better understanding than Folt because of his collegiate athletic background as both a former football/baseball player, but as Folt’s athletic department point man, he must take accountability and ownership, as well, for the Helton return decision. It’s not exactly a secret that many insiders believe he was Folt’s scapegoat.  

A Christmas Carol: I was curious what kind of football programs Dr. Carol Folt has been around in her educational tenures. I did some research regarding who the football coach at North Carolina was during Folt’s tenure as Tar Heels chancellor (2013-2019). During Dr. Folt’s time as a Tar Heel, her football coach was Larry Fedora (2012-2018). Fedora’s seven-year record at North Carolina was 45-43, and he was 3-5 in bowl games until the day he was fired by her and AD Bubba Cunningham after the 2018 season. In Fedora’s last three seasons at UNC, the coach was 7-13, the last two 3-9 and 2-9, respectively. Fedora’s UNC teams never won an ACC championship but did manage some ACC Coastal Conference success.

When Dr. Carol Folt (photo above) was the chancellor at the University of North Carolina, her football coach and team never won a national championship nor an ACC Conference title. In fact , her football coach Larry Fedora had a 45-43 record, and she had to fire her head coach during her tenure as a Tar Heel.

A Christmas Carol – Part 2: As chancellor at UNC, Dr. Folt’s football program went to the Belk, Quick Lane, Russell Athletic, and Sun Bowls. For the record, her Tar Heels lost their last three bowl game appearances (Quick Lane, Russell Athletic, Sun). Not exactly “great” bowl games by USC standards. Fast forward to today’s USC bowl destination, the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, which is a good bowl game but not exactly the Rose Bowl. Certainly, Dr. Folt will attend the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. If the Trojans don’t beat Iowa, get ready for another outburst over Clay Helton and frustration aimed at both Folt and Bohn.  

A Christmas Carol – Part 3: Obviously for Dr. Folt, Clay Helton’s current 2019 8-4 record and a bowl game is success based on her North Carolina football history. She talks about winning national championships in football at USC, but it’s painfully obvious she doesn’t really understand what it takes from a personnel and/or financial commitment to run a top-notch program. Mike Bohn and Clay Helton have indicated that resources (AKA money) has been increased for the program (assistant coaches salaries). While Folt wants the football program to have success, is she at all that impassioned to do what has to be done to get to the national championship level? Yes, she has bigger university issues to deal with, but other schools like Ohio State, Alabama, and Notre Dame put their money where their mouths are.

As a former Kansas Jawhawks backup quarterback and in his career as an athletic director, USC athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above) never experienced a national championship.

Bohning up on history: As for new USC athletic director Mike Bohn, he, too, has never been part of a national championship football program nor did he play in one as a University of Kansas Jayhawks back-up quarterback. Ironically, when I was involved in the powerhouse Huntington Beach (Calif.) Edison High School football program back in the late 70s and early 80s, we won two CIF Division 1 football titles and our 1979 quarterback was Frank Seurer, who was recruited by Kansas. It’s significant because Mike Bohn would become Seurer’s backup at KU. Yeah, it’s a small world. Anyway, during Bohn’s time, Kansas – thanks to some other 5-star Edison recruits like a superstar running back named Kerwin Bell – the Jayhawks became a competitive team but never won a Big 12 title let alone contend for a national title in a conference dominated by Oklahoma and Nebraska. Historically, Kansas football has had one really good football heyday, which came in the late 1960s when a tall, left-handed quarterback named Bobby Douglass was spinning the ball. So, as a player, the closest Bohn came to view a national championship program in action was watching his beloved Jayhawks from the sidelines get waxed by Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Bohning up on history – Part 2: Then there is Mike Bohn the athletic director. Prior to coming to USC, Bohn had been the AD at Idaho, San Diego State, Colorado, and Cincinnati. Idaho, San Diego State, and Cincinnati football will never be remotely compared at the success level of USC football. As for Bohn’s time in Colorado, the Buffaloes never won a conference title or a national title for that matter. He hired and fired all three head football coaches during his tenure before submitting his own resignation (some say fired). His claim to fame at Colorado was that he helped usher in the Buffaloes transition from the Big 12 Conference into the Pac-12. For the record, Colorado did win a national title 15 years before Bohn’s 2005 arrival in Boulder. For his part, Bohn has never experienced being on a national championship college football team nor has he presided as an athletic director of a national championship football team or program. Thus far, Bohn is a lot of talk, but we’ll seen how much action matches the rhetoric. Bohn should be forewarned that USC fans have the experience of football success, have heard AD bluster before, and didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

In the photo above(left to right), are USC athletic director Mike Bohn, retiring Trojans Marching Band director Dr. Arthur C. Bartner, and Dr. Carol Folt. Only Bartner can claim to have been part of a national championship of the trio. In fact, Bartner experienced five of them. Perhaps he can impart some words of wisdom to Bohn and Folt when it comes to USC national championships in football and what it means.

Bottom line: This is not to say that neither Mike Bohn or Dr. Carol Folt won’t eventually turn out to be major driving forces for the USC football program returning as a national championship contender, but for right now what they have in common is neither has any experience in being associated with a football program of USC’s stature. Right now, that’s not even debatable. Right now, they are obviously in over their skis and just don’t get it or are not on the same page as an administrative team. The retaining of Clay Helton is all the evidence you need to make that evaluation. Will they ever get it? Well, it’s safe to say they don’t right now, and the fear of USC fans is that they never will get it or simply football is not as important (AKA commitment) as it was to former USC presidents and athletic directors during the John McKay, John Robinson- Era 1, and Pete Carroll tenures.

From the press box…

A Holiday Bowl reservation: During early Sunday afternoon, the CFP No. 22 Trojans (8-4, 7-2 Pac-12) found out their bowl destination will be the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27/5 p.m. PT) and the opponent will be the CFP No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes (9-3 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) from the Big Ten. It’s a good match, and you know that Iowa will bring a massive amount of fans. The big question, good reader, is will you be going with the game so close to home?

The Trojans will be playing playing the Iowa Hawkeyes in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl in SDCCU Stadium (photo above) on Friday night, Dec. 27 , at 5 p.m. PT.

Clay Helton ready for Iowa: “We are proud and honored to be part of the 2019 Holiday Bowl. The game is a terrific matchup between teams that finished very strong down the stretch.  To have the opportunity to compete against a team coached by Kirk Ferentz, who is so respected in our profession, is an honor.  Our players are excited for this game, which is almost a home game for our fans. We look forward to heading to San Diego and experiencing the first class hospitality that the Holiday Bowl has given us in the past.”

The waiting: There is no official word on whether Trojans’ offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has turned down an offer to be the new Texas Longhorns OC, and word is the Trojans are offering a massive increase in Harrell’s current USC coach’s salary. Maybe that’s what Clay Helton and Mike Bohn meant this past week when they were talking about new and increased resources. Do ya think that AD Mike Bohn has opened the purse strings a little bit to keep Harrell and his version of the air raid offense intact?

The waiting – Part 2: If current Trojans’ offensive coordinator Graham Harrell elects to leave for Texas, how would that affect the Trojans’ air raid offense? Does Clay Helton think he knows enough about the offense to name himself the new OC? And who would come in as the new quarterback coach to teach the offense and tutor Kedon Slovis’s development? The father of Kedon has publicly stated that Harrell has had a great impact on his son’s development as a college quarterback.

Will Trojans offensive coordinator Graham Harrell (photo above) be returning to USC for next season or will he accept the OC job if offered by the University of Texas?

Changing of the guard: I think we all have an idea that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is probably going to be relieved of this command as part of a coaching revamp.  If he goes, I can say that Clancy was very professional and very respectful to the media. If you asked him a question, he was never snarky or disrespectful.

Call for Claiborne: BTW, perhaps the greatest inside linebacker in USC history, Chris Claiborne, is now available to coach after resigning his position as head coach at Calabasas (Calif.) High. Believe me, Chris has more than enough experience to coach at SC and would be a valuable addition to Clay Helton’s staff if the coach is looking for a linebacker coach. Chris would also be a helleva recruiter, I can guarantee you that.  

Bathing at Baxters:
Yeah, I know, some of you immediately thought of the old Jefferson Airplane vinyl album. No, we’re talking about Trojans’ special teams coach John Baxter, who didn’t exactly have a great special teams season outside of positive performances by field goal kicker Chase McGrath and punter Ben Griffiths. For the sometimes-flippant Baxter, he has to take ownership of the too many special teams blunders that were so painfully visible. From penalties for too many men on the field and poor kickoff return coverage, it certainly wasn’t what this coach wanted to tout his positive special teams achievements. Baxter’s status of employment is really one of the more interesting question marks because the coach seems to have a very special friendship with the Trojans’ head coach.

Will special teams coach John Baxter (photo above) be returning in 2020 or will Clay Helton make a change?

The post-game show…

Getting a line: Give Trojans AD Mike Bohn credit for publicly identifying that one of the greatest areas of football need is for the offensive and defensive lines to become more physical. I’d sure like to know what Bohn is going to suggest to Clay Helton to correct the lack of physicality on both sides of the line, which has gone on for years under Helton. There is some thought that Bohn will also “suggest” that practices become more physical and tackling needs to be addressed.

A deserving soul: On Wednesday in a conference call with reporters, Mike Bohn said, “Recruiting is going dramatically better than anybody wants to admit.” I’d love to admit it, but on Friday, offensive lineman Joey Wright from Reno decommitted. Wright was considered Troy’s best OL commit. Looking for a potential recruiting positive, keep an eye on Upland (Calif.) High’s All-World inside linebacker Justin Flowe, who is said to be leaning heavy to Clemson but whose parents want him close to home. Flowe will shortly take an official visit to USC.    

Upland (Calif) High superstar inside linebacker Justin Flowe (photo abov e) will make an official visit to USC in the near future.Flowe could be the key to the Trojans having a respectable recruiting Class of 2020.

The distance: So how long between Wednesday’s announcement that Clay Helton is returning to when the USC email goes out for season ticket renewals?   

The Call-in Show…

Mr. Katz, with Clay Helton returning, what happens if the Trojans get blown out or painfully lose in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. And, BTW, do you think our guys will come ready to play? The Trojans will play in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl. Will the Trojans be the underdog against Iowa? If the Trojans lose or get blown out, Dr. Folt and AD Bohn can expect a wave of negative comments and maybe more so than the original announcement that Helton would be returning. Yes, I do think the Trojans will come to play, but will they practice hard and that includes working on their tackling?

Wow, Katz, I can’t believe that Clay Helton is coming back, but my question is will that kill recruiting? Not according to either Clay Helton or Mike Bohn. Helton is already saying this recruiting effort for the Class of 2020 will be outstanding, and Bohn says he knows but can’t say there are some silent but bigtime commits. Let’s hope they know more than the recruiting services, which have projected the Trojans to have a very dismal recruiting Class of 2020.      

Will decommitted tight end Jack Yary (photo above), son of legendary USC offensive tackle Ron Yary, eventually sign with the Trojans when it’s all said and done? Yary is said to be visiting UCLA.

GK, will the Trojans be better next season even with the return of Clay Helton? Yes, I think the Trojans will be better next season and perhaps significantly better because Kedon Slovis and others will be a year older. If Graham Harrell returns as OC, all the better. If he doesn’t, yikes! Based on talent and attrition at other Pac-12 schools, IMHO, I believe the Trojans will probably be picked to win the conference. However, what we don’t know is who is going to the NFL draft early and who will enter the NCAA Transfer Portal.

Coach Katz, do you think that both Dr. Folt and Mike Bohn gained some goodwill and political capital by announcing the return of Clay Helton? Is this a trick question or are you just trying to be funny?

Dude, how will Helton’s return affect season ticket holders and booster donations? Well, dude, the interesting part is that on paper the Trojans should be pretty good in 2020. I would say there could be a significant decrease in season tickets sales and booster donations, and it’s really going to be difficult to fire up the masses especially in the off-season. I will also say that I wouldn’t want to be the person(s) in charge of season ticket sales or marketing heading into next season.

What will be the eventual USC season ticket holders reaction with the return of head coach Clay Helton (photo above) in 2020?

The final word: The best thing to say about this past week’s revelations as they pertain to Clay Helton, Dr. Folt, and Mike Bohn is that we all now have even a better idea of these three USC representatives, and most of you have stated your opinions of their undefined definition of “integrity.” Anyway, it’s now on to San Diego and beat the Hawkeyes!

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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