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O/NSO: Helton’s spring words and inner thoughts edition

The Obvious: The 2019 USC Trojans’ Spring Media Guide has some insightful pre-spring practice quotes by USC Trojans’ head football coach Clay Helton (photo above) regarding his goals, objectives, and overall outlook of his new team.

The Not So Obvious: With the first week of spring ball about to finish with Saturday’s 10 a.m. practice on campus and academic spring vacation to commence next week, and before things get too far along,let’s take a closer look at Gentleman Clay’s pre-spring quotes and surmise what he might really be thinking.

The Obvious Coach Helton spring guide comment: “Each year brings a new team, with new hope and new challenges. We have identified and addressed the lessons we learned from last season.”

The Not So Obvious what Coach Helton may really be thinking: “The biggest lesson I learned last season was don’t ever lose five of your last six games, especially at USC. That being said, man, let’s not forget I won a dramatic Rose Bowl game my first year as the head coach, then won a Pac-12 title my second season, and last season I was 5-7 and now people are calling for my head. Heck, in Coach McKay’s first couple of seasons here, he was a combined 8-11-1 while I was 21-6. The only difference between him and me was in McKay’s third season he won a national championship and went 12-0, while I was 5-7 and didn’t got to a bowl game. How the hell did I get into this situation? Now I am sitting on the nation’s No. 1 2019 hot seat, and people say I might not make it past the first six games of the next season? You know me, I ooze hope and the positive, and nobody loves challenges more than me. After all, Mr. Swann has confidence in me, and I am going to prove him right, and it begins with spring ball redemption. Nobody is more positive than me and that includes Santa Claus and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. That’s why I am so excited that spring ball is underway.”

The Obvious Coach Helton spring guide comment: “We have something to prove. We know we have to live with last season until Game 1 kicks off. We have been working hard to move forward and to get rid of the bad taste of last season. I have been watching our team improve every day this off-season and I can’t wait for the Trojan Family to see the results of the hard work they are putting in.”

The Not So Obvious what Coach Helton may really be thinking: “I know what people are saying. Last season in October I told the Trojans Family just wait to November and they’ll see how good this team is going to be. Okay, so we went 1-3. Feces happens. We’ve been working hard every day since last season despite not having an offense system in place, despite not having a head strength and conditioning coach for part of the time, and despite some transfer distractions. I know my jaw is set, the hair on the back of my neck is standing up, and being a quarterback coach by trade, I am ready to teach some situational mastery. Our program’s issues are no different than what happens at other places – except this is U-S-C, one of the most storied programs in college football history.”

The Obvious Coach Helton spring guide comment: “We not only will continue to develop our players–a process that started with our January workouts–but we will focus on our ‘attention to detail’ when it comes to fundamentals and technique, penalties and turnovers,”

The Not So Obvious what Coach Helton may really be thinking: “Did I leave anything out? Oh yeah, I remember Mr. Swann mentioned culture, scheme, and staff, as well. Well, we made adjustments to our coaching staff. Forget about all the nice things I said about the dearly departed when I hired them. That in itself should help take care of the fundamentals. Our new coaches this time around will instruct the proper techniques that were lacking last season. Sometimes, things just don’t work out. As Mr. Swann says, ‘That’s just football.’ And those silly penalties that killed us last season? We’re going to have game officials at a majority of our practices like Pete Carroll once did. See, I am bringing back some of the Pete Carroll culture. That should fix that. And BTW, I also took care of the scheme on offense by bringing in a whole new system that is foreign to me, but I am willing to learn just like my players. The defense? Yeah, the defense. No problem, our new offense will just score more points than we’ll give up. No more 15-14 losses to a school like Cal. Turnovers? It wouldn’t be football if there weren’t turnovers; it’s just part of the game.”

The Obvious Coach Helton spring guide comment: “My total focus this spring, therefore, will be on the discipline of the game. I’ll let our coordinators install scheme and system. And that’s how it will be in the fall and during games, when the coordinators will call the plays and I’ll manage game situations.”

The Not So Obvious what Coach Helton may really be thinking: Good Lord, did I really say ‘the coordinators will call the plays and I’ll manage game situations?’What was I thinking? What I really meant to say is that Clancy Pendergast will handle the defense, and we don’t have to install a new system. Okay, maybe a little something to stop the run and maybe a little something to sack the quarterback. As for the offense, I’ll really try not to interfere with the offensive play- calling and game planning. I know what some of you are thinking, just wait to the fall. Okay, maybe I’ll throw in some ideas in the red zone because I am a former play-caller – it’s in my DNA, and my job is on the line. However, I must admit, I am not quite sure I know what I meant when I said, ‘I’ll manage game situations.’ Somebody help me out on that one. I guess that means I’ll be in charge again of calling timeouts, which I include as part of ‘situational mastery.” Okay, I admit everybody can learn in spring ball, and I guess I will ‘spring’ to work on my ‘timeout situational mastery.’”    

The Obvious Coach Helton spring guide comment: “The practice field will decide who plays, and that begins in spring practice and will continue in the fall. Nobody owns a job, no one can be comfortable or stagnant. We won’t even have a depth chart until the day before each game because players will be competing for playing time on a weekly basis.”

The Not So Obvious what Coach Helton may really be thinking: “I know that some or many of our team believe that at times I play favorites. The proof is in the pudding, so I suggest our players watch how I handle the quarterback situation. Actually, watch Coach Graham Harrell. Don’t blame me or hold me accountable if he selects JT Daniels and not Jack Sears or Matt Fink. Remember, I am just going to work on how to better manage game situations and mastery, so I am out of that equation. What’s important to me is that the players like me personally. Okay, so some believe I am a little ‘soft,’ but what’s wrong with that? Since when is being soft and gentle and spreading love a bad thing?”    

The Obvious Coach Helton spring guide comment: “Obviously, this is an exciting time for us offensively as we move to Graham Harrell’s new system. The system fits our current personnel well and allows us to use all our weapons. There will be a learning process, so the spring is crucial to get a jump on it.”

The Not So Obvious what Coach Helton may really be thinking: “I have to admit, me and my previous staff have withheld a little secret; we’ve actually been recruiting for the Air Raid offense for the past three years. It’s all been hush-hush. Y’all just didn’t know it, but honestly my staff didn’t really know it either (LOL). I know you thought I was recruiting for a balanced offense, which means a strong running game, but sometimes you have to go out there and recruit the best players possible and that might not include the best offensive linemen. Anyway, you didn’t mind our “gumbo” offense when Sam Darnold was the quarterback. It just turns out that our current personnel fits the new Air Raid system or whatever Coach Harrell wants to call it.”

The Obvious Coach Helton spring guide comment: Regarding the defense, “I’m excited to continue the system we’ve had in place here under Clancy Pendergast. Our veterans have a great grasp of the system, which should give us a head start heading into the season as we bring along our newer players.”

The Not So Obvious what Coach Helton may really be thinking: “Come to think about it, UCLA and Chip Kelly are probably pretty excited that we are continuing Clancy’s system, too. Just kidding. At least we know what we must address: a run defense that leaked like an old faucet, the lack of sacks, a pass rush, a secondary that must be rebuilt, and increased physicality. Other than that, thank goodness, the system is still intact.”    

The Obvious Coach Helton spring guide comment: And finally, “This is a mature group of newcomers that has a sense of urgency to be great. I am very optimistic about our program’s future with all of them on our roster.”

The Not So Obvious what Coach Helton may really be thinking: “I know I say this every season, but this season I really, really mean it. This season will be different than last year and not because my job is in jeopardy, not because the fans continue to be incensed regarding the Coliseum renovation and seat relocations, and/or not because Urban Meyer’s name pops up every other day in L.A. It will be different because Sam Darnold is coming back! Sorry, sorry, sorry, my bad, Sam still plays for the New York Jets. Okay, it will be different in 2019 because I am an optimistic, positive, and good person. Take it to the bank, the Trojans are going to be back!”

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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