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O/NSO: Did early December signing period save a Helton post-Holiday Bowl firing? edition

The Obvious: The early December 18th signing period has come and gone, and the results from this somewhat controversial rule may have actually saved Clay Helton’s job, although the results of the first signing period left the storied USC football program 12th and last in Pac-12 recruiting.

The Not So Obvious: And now for this week’s conspiracy theory. Because of that early December signing period and the fear of losing an already perceived weak recruiting class, is it possible that because of the aforementioned recruiting dread and deadline, there was actually a rush to judgment to prompt Trojans’ athletic director Mike Bohn to issue his “pleased” to announce declaration that Clay Helton (photo above) would be returning as head coach in 2020? What if USC President Folt and Bohn had decided to wait until after the SDCCU Holiday Bowl – a USC 49-24 mugging to Iowa – to decide Helton’s fate? What if the two Trojans administrators decided to say heck with the early signing period, we want to make the right decision and we’ll wait until after the Holiday bowl game?

The Obvious: Hindsight is always 20/20.

The Not So Obvious: Obviously from the time the Trojans destroyed a lousy UCLA team, 52-35, on Nov. 23, there were almost two weeks before Dr. Folt and AD Mike Bohn came forward to announce that Helton had a job in 2020. Again, what if the two administrators decided they’d wait to after the Holiday Bowl to make a final decision? If they had waited, it’s possible that Helton would have been fired. The only way he wouldn’t have been fired is if Dr. Folt just didn’t want to fire him even after her new favorite college football team got blistered in San Diego. Certainly, Mike Bohn’s job would have been easier had the two waited, but that December signing period probably pushed Bohn with Folt’s insistence to make an announcement of Helton’s return.

The Obvious: Would holding off the announcement on Helton’s future been detrimental to the early signing period?

The Not So Obvious: In hindsight, it appears that nothing of great value would have been lost recruiting wise for the Class of 2020 had the Trojans waited until after the SDCCU Holiday Bowl. If you ask the old O/NSO what we would have done given the same situation, Helton would have been relieved of his command no later than the following Monday after the Holiday Bowl. We would have made no announcement of Helton’s future prior to it. We would have let it all play out, but again, hindsight is 20/20.

The Obvious: The credibility of Clay Helton is now at an all-time low, especially after his post-game SDCCU Holiday Bowl news conference.

The Not So Obvious: When Helton basically said the next step is to take the Trojans from being a good team to a great team, almost all the eyes in the media rolled in unison. First, Helton’s history is always going to put the best spin on any situation. Secondly, Helton is assuming that by repeating over and over his viewpoint that USC in 2019 was a good team, the media and the general USC fan base will drink the Kool Aid, which is pure poppycock. Finishing the season at 8-5 might be a successful season at Oregon State, but it is not a good season at USC – not by a long shot if you consider 2018 when the Trojans went 5-7 with no bowl game. A good season at USC is finishing 9-3 at the very worst but still going to a Rose Bowl or at least a Cotton or Fiesta Bowl.

Clay Helton (photo above in middle) drew some media skepticism and scrutiny with some of his comments made after the SDCCU Holiday Bowl.

The Obvious: The Oregon Ducks defeated the Wisconsin Badgers with a large contingent of players that were once recruited by the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious: Much has been made who the Trojans didn’t sign in early December, but it should also be noted how many players Clay Helton was unable to sign – nor did UCLA for that matter either – in the past couple of seasons. If you read the Times columnist Bill Plaschke’s column after the Rose Bowl, Bill hits on how Oregon has recruited SoCal like it owns it. https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2020-01-01/oregon-wins-rose-bowl-with-players-who-should-be-on-usc-or-ucla

Mycah Pittman (photo above), the younger brother of USC All-America receiver Michael Pittman Jr., is one of a large contingent of former Southern California prep stars that helped the Oregon Ducks defeat Wisconsin in this New Year’s Rose Bowl.

The Obvious: To the best of anybody’s knowledge, USC President Carol Folt was not seen in attendance at the SDCCU Holiday Bowl.

The Not So Obvious: To the best of anybody’s knowledge, Folt did not tweet out a public message of congratulations to Clay Helton and the team for having a “good” season.   

The Obvious: Former Trojans All-America linebacker, NFL head coach, and rumored candidate for the defensive coordinator position for Clay Helton’s Trojans, Jack Del Rio, has agreed to be the DC for the Washington Redskins under new head coach Ron Rivera.

Former Trojans’ All-America linebacker and NFL head coach Jack Del Rio (photo above) has agreed to be the new DC with the Washington Redskins.

The Not So Obvious: Although it was probably farfetched that Del Rio would have taken the DC position for the Trojans, ask yourself, “Do I really think that Jack Del Rio would want to work ‘under’ Clay Helton?”    

The Obvious: Clay Helton made public that his firing of both his DC and special team coach was in consultation with athletic director Mike Bohn.

The Not So Obvious: Being a company man is good up to a point, but why is USC paying their head football coach a perceived 3.5 million dollars a year to be told who to fire and hire on his staff? Of course, there’s no evidence that Bohn is forcing anybody on Helton’s staff, but it’s possible that Bohn gives Helton a list of candidates he’d like his head coach to strongly consider. The O/NSO is sure that Pete Carroll would have agreed to such a process with his athletic director, Mike Garrett.  

In consultation with USC athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above), Clay Helton said he was able to make changes in his firing of Clancy Pendergast as defensive coordinator and John Baxter as special teams coach.

The Obvious: The firing of special teams coach John Baxter also leaves a coaching hole at the tight ends coaching position, since Baxter did both.

The Not So Obvious: Since the Trojans rarely utilize their tight ends, do they really need a tight ends coach?

The Obvious: The Iowa defense certainly knew how to deal with the Graham Harrell’s Trojans air raid offense.

The Not So Obvious: Avoiding a fierce Iowa pass rush throughout the game to neutralize Harrell’s Air Raid offense, the Trojans were in the game until quarterback Kedon Slovis eventually went out of the game with an elbow injury after being sacked by Hawkeyes standout DE AJ Epenesa. Backup Matt Fink came in as the Slovis replacement but was unable to produce much magic on the field.

After Iowa knocked out Trojans QB Kedon Slovis in the second half of the SDCCU Holiday Bowl, Troy backup QB Matt Fink (photo above- No. 19) was also under duress from the Hawkeyes physical defensive front.

The Obvious: Former Trojans Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinart was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame on Tuesday.

The Not So Obvious: Normally not a controversial figure when it comes to the gridiron doings at his alma mater, Leinart has been bluntly critical of the circumstances surrounding his former football program, tweeting out a comment about the current status of the Trojans recruiting and blogging that Oregon is the new recruiting power in Southern California. Coming from Leinart, it’s quite an indictment on Helton’s program. 

Former Trojans Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinart (photo above) has made it public that he is not pleased with the Trojans’ recruiting effort for the early signing period.

The Obvious: Alabama defeats Michigan, 35-16, in the Citrus Bowl.

The Not So Obvious: Do you think that Alabama and Nick Saban will have something to prove when they open the 2020 season against the Trojans in Arlington, Texas? One thing that Michigan proved against the Crimson Tide, you’d better have a running attack to go along with a passing attack if you want to compete with the lads from the SEC. And also make sure you bring a very physical defense, as well. And even that wasn’t nearly enough for Michigan to overcome the storied Tide.

The Obvious: Former Trojans grad assistant and secondary coach Chris Hawkins has taken the fulltime secondary coaching position at Arizona State.

The Not So Obvious: The job opportunity for “Hawk” is well deserved but is a blow to the Trojans recruiting in a couple of ways. First, Hawkins is an excellent recruiter, and his dad runs the very successful Ground Zero traveling team. The Trojans will feel the Hawkins departure when the Trojans and the Sun Devils meet in the Coliseum next fall. The prediction here is sometime in the distant future Chris Hawkins will be the Trojans’ secondary coach.

The Obvious: On New Year’s Day, Class of 2021 stud linebacker Raesjon Davis (Santa Ana, Calif./ Mater Dei HS) committed to LSU and head coach Ed Orgeron.

The Not So Obvious: There is nothing not so obvious about this latest SoCal defection. You can obviously read between the lines.

Standout junior Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei HS linebacker Raesjon Davis (photo above on right) has made a verbal commitment to LSU of the SEC.

The Obvious: And finally, some folks are saying that the 49-24 loss to Iowa in the SDCCU Holiday Bowl is a wake-up call for Clay Helton and the football program.

The Not So Obvious: The O/NSO thought the 2017 Cotton Bowl loss, 24-7, to Ohio State was a wakeup call or was it the 2019 56-24 loss to Oregon in the Coliseum?

Greg Katz
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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