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Musings from Arledge: Summer Signing Day, Helton’s Hopes, and Pat’s Promise

It’s been a long time since my last Musings.  I’ve spent most of the last three weeks in the Superior Court in trial.  It was supposed to be a jury trial.  After spending a day picking our jury, six of them demanded to be placed in the transfer portal.  Not kidding.  Apparently, they had not been cleared for a trial that long (though they should have been), and they panicked.  One of the jurors turned into Spartacus and started a juror rebellion that was about to lead to a mistrial.  In any event, disaster averted, case over, and now we can talk USC football again.

In my absence, it looks like we cleaned up on Summer Signing Day.  Congrats to Clay Helton for landing two five-star players at a time when I didn’t think it was possible to land five-star players.  I mocked his “I’ll love you forever” talk about Bru when McCoy gave Clay a wedgie in front of the whole country.  But Clay’s approach seems pretty astute in retrospect, doesn’t it?  That bridge came in handy.  Good job, coach. 

By the way, am I the only one who would rather see Bru on defense?  I’m sure he’ll be an excellent wide receiver.  But USC never has trouble finding elite wide receivers.  I think that size and athleticism is more needed on the other side of the ball.  Of course, I thought JuJu should play defense as well, so what do I know?

Greg Katz discusses in his latest article how many wins Clay Helton needs this year to save his job.  Being that we have no idea who will even be making the decision, much less what they expect of the football program, it’s obviously very hard to predict.  I will note that some losses are more tolerable than others.  Back-to-back losses to Chip Kelly?  Stack that on top of last season and I suspect that would be tough to survive.  And only five USC coaches have lost three straight to the Irish: Jeff Cravath, Jess Hill, Don Clark, Ted Tollner, and Larry Smith.  I’m pretty sure you don’t want to join that list if you like your job. 

I will say that I disagree with Greg a little on the idea that it will all be resolved this coming season.  I hope it will, one way or the other.  But probably the worst place for a program to be is in that no-man’s land where the coach isn’t performing, the fans and alums aren’t happy, but he isn’t failing quite badly enough that those in charge want to fire him (and eat the buyout).  Another 5-win season and there’s nothing to talk about.  Even the most die-hard sunshine pumpers on this board will be all out of ‘shine in their buckets.  Win the conference and that’s easy too.  You don’t win the conference and get fired.  But what happens if we’re in 7 or 8-win purgatory?  You know, where Washington was before Pat Haden decided to take their burden away and allow them to upgrade their program at USC’s expense.  That’s where we really don’t want to be.  Clay needs to win big, or he needs to leave.  It really needs to be one or the other.

Speaking of Haden, who is now apparently under investigation for alleged criminal wrongdoing, what a fall from grace.  Even if he doesn’t get indicted on this nasty admissions business, other than OJ, has any Trojan had a bigger, more spectacular fall than Pat Haden?  I was frustrated by his apology tour when he first got hired, angry because he seemingly bought into the NCAA’s false narrative.  But knowing what we know now, those quotes from his initial hiring are almost comical:

“We want to compete ferociously – but to do it ethically and within the rules,” Haden told reporters. “We want to have the best compliance program in the country.”

Haden said his meetings as new A.D. will “begin and end” with compliance issues – noting that the university is on NCAA probation until 2014.

So the single most important thing, the thing that matters more than any other, is to have a department that ensures USC follows the rules … and this commitment to the rules results in USC selling off admissions tickets to rich kids through the athletic department and gives birth to multiple indictments, including, possibly, Haden’s own?  And possible sanctions on the basketball program? 

What a treasure Pat Haden turned out to be.  Cato the Elder wouldn’t have wished on Carthage the damage that Pat Haden inflicted on Troy.

Did anybody else see that Dabo Swinney hired a new unpaid graduate assistant?  Terry Bowden.  Yes, that Terry Bowden, the former head coach at Auburn.  No, Bowden wasn’t the greatest head coach of all time.  But he did coach an undefeated season in the SEC, and he finished at Auburn with a .731 win percentage.  (He crashed and burned at Akron, but so does everybody else.)  Is it weird that Dabo Swinney has an unpaid graduate assistant who has better paper qualifications than anybody on Clay Helton’s staff?  I actually don’t mean that as an indictment of Clay, but it’s weird. 

There was an article on espn.com last week arguing through analytics that pass blocking is more important to winning than is pass rushing.  In other words, a team with great pass blocking is more likely to be a winning team than a team with a great pass rush.

This is NFL data, so I’m not sure how well it translates to college.  And there are a lot of questions here.  Is this because teams with great QB’s – the most important asset for any NFL team – focus their energies on protecting the franchise QB?  Teams without great QB’s focus on other areas, like edge rushers? 

I don’t know.  But it is another reminder of something we all know to be true: this year’s USC team will go only as far as the O line allows.  USC got a major upgrade at O line coach, I think.  And he has his work cut out for him.  There is no bounce-back season unless those guys up front get dramatically better.

Chris Arledge

Chris Arledge is a graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law and is the co-founder and managing partner of an intellectual property law firm. Chris’s forgettable football career started at Elsinore High School, where his Tigers defeated Kyle Wachholtz’s Norco squad for the league title (Bring on Brad Otton’s team, too!), and ended at William Jewell College, where Chris was a team captain and an all-conference defensive back.

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