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O/NSO: Reading between the Helton, Bohn, and Folt statement lines edition.

The Obvious: The midweek announcement that Clay Helton would be returning for a fifth season as the USC Trojans head football coach and the accompanying statements from Helton, athletic director Mike Bohn, and USC President Carol Folt (cover photo above) further skyrocketed the anger and vitriol of the unified USC fan base and local media to a level rarely seen in the 57 seasons of the O/NSO following Trojans football.  

The Not So Obvious: Thus far on the WeAreSC Garry P message board, the reaction of Clay Helton’s return and the statements from the parties involved have lit up our message board like the 1974 Coliseum scoreboard during USC’s legendary, 55-24, comeback win over Notre Dame. The O/NSO has to say we’ve never seen such unified message board intensity in the history of our website, and we’ve had some pretty hotly contested topics since our late publisher Garry Paskwietz created this wonderful cardinal and gold website community. So, as a public service, the O/NSO would like to put on our cardinal and gold glasses and reexamine this week’s Helton, Bohn, and Folt statements and provide some biased and objective perspective. Can you have both?   

The Obvious Clay Helton statement sentence No.1: “I appreciate the support from President Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn.”   

The Not So Obvious: And well you should, coach. The O/NSO thinks even you were surprised and couldn’t believe you were coming back.

The Obvious Clay Helton statement sentence No. 2: “It is abundantly clear that we now have the support, resources, and tools to build a championship team.”

The Not So Obvious: Say what? Did the O/NSO hear that right, or am I losing it? What didn’t you have before that you’re going to have now? When you went to the Rose Bowl, you didn’t have enough support? When you won the Pac-12 title, didn’t you have enough resources? When you played in the Cotton Bowl, didn’t you have enough tools? And what about the John McKay Center, wasn’t that a building full of support resources, and tools? I get it now, the lack of support, resources, and tools is the reason that you have compiled a 13-14 record against Power 5 teams with a winning record and has 12 double-digit losses in 61 games.

The Obvious Clay Helton statement sentence No. 3: “We know the expectations of our fans are high, as they should be.”

The Not So Obvious: Coach, you’re right about the fan expectations and you’re right about that’s the way it should be. So, knowing what you know, what’s with the 5-7 in 2018 and the 8-4 regular season in 2019? I know, injuries, injuries, and more injuries, but the Trojans have injuries every season.

With the announcement that Clay Helton will return, it will allow the coach to prove once and for all that he is the right or wrong leader for the USC football program. For the record, Clay Helton has accumulated a 13-14 record against Power 5 teams with a winning record and has 12 double-digit losses in 61 games coached.

The Obvious: Clay Helton statement sentence No. 4: “Those are the same expectations I have for myself and that our staff and team have as well.”

The Not So Obvious: We all have high expectations for the Trojans every season, but coach, the O/NSO is trying to figure out how does Utah win the South Division two seasons in a row? I know they have the same high expectations as you, but I mean Salt Lake City is such a little population center and not a large hotbed of prep recruiting talent. What’s their secret?  

The Obvious: Clay Helton statement sentence No. 5: “Our future is bright.”

The Not So Obvious: The old O/NSO guesses it depends how you define “bright,” coach. In the last two seasons the Trojans are 13-11 and in 2018 no bowl appearance. Sure, the Trojans are going to a bowl game this season, but I am still trying to figure out how you go undefeated in the Pac-12 South Division and don’t go to the conference title game. Just kidding, you lose to a mediocre Washington team in Seattle and get blown out by Oregon in the Coli. Just yanking your chain, coach, couldn’t resist.

The Obvious: Clay Helton statement sentence No. 6: “We have a young team on the verge of doing somethings special.”

The Not So Obvious: Coach, it seems that every season you say your Trojans are a young team and are on the verge of doing something special. In your case, your team is young, but with the constant turnover in today’s college football game it seems every team is young each season. As far being as on the verge of something special, you said your 2018 team was also on the verge of being something special in November, and we all know how that all turned out. And this season, you did say this team will be special in the second half of the season, and it did win its last five of six games, although the teams you beat had a combined 27-33 overall record. 

True freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis (photo above) returns in 2020 and is one of the big reasons for Clay Helton’s optimism upon learning he, too, is returning to coach the cardinal and gold next season.

The Obvious: Clay Helton statement sentence No. 7: “We have seen what this team can do, have the season we have had despite going through adversity and injuries.”

The Not So Obvious: Yes, coach, we’ve seen what your team can do. Against less talented teams you win – except for that little overtime loss at BYU. Ah, yes, again injuries, injuries, and more injuries. It’s true you had three different quarterbacks, but the one you finally selected early in the season (Kedon Slovis) may have saved your job and the season. And, BTW, it’s my understanding you were the only team in Division 1 to have injuries, but I may have been misinformed with that information. Again, just toying with you, coach.

The Obvious Clay Helton statement sentence No. 8: “We are headed to a great bowl, and we plan to finish the season strong.”

The Not So Obvious: Coach, your Trojans are going to probably either the Alamo or Holiday Bowl with a slim formula to actually make the Rose Bowl. Sure, the Trojans have never been to the Alamo Bowl and have appeared in the Holiday Bowl in the last 10 years. However, I don’t think we’d all ever confuse the Alamo or Holiday Bowl with the word “great.” I think “good” probably best describes both bowl games. When I think of “great,” I now think of the CFP post-season games or the Rose, Sugar, Orange, or the Fiesta Bowls. As to finishing strong, the O/NSO suggests winning strong means it would behoove you to win your “great” bowl game, especially with having to open the 2020 season with Alabama. Lose these two games back-to-back and next September’s home opener with mighty New Mexico may look like the United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Mausoleum.

The Obvious Clay Helton statement sentence No. 9: “And we are putting the final touches on an outstanding recruiting class.”

The Not So Obvious: Did the O/NSO miss something here, coach? Did the O/NSO misread the latest recruiting rankings? Last time we checked, the Trojans were hovering a little above or below Appalachian State and the service academies. None of the recruiting sites we know have projected the Trojans with an “outstanding” recruiting Class of 2020. Now, you have shown you are a really good closer, but if you even make the Top 20 after the double signing periods. it will be quite an accomplishment but not USC standards. Then again, the USC fans base of today isn’t quite sure what USC standards are these days.  

Despite all the turmoil regarding Clay Helton’s return, the coach is optimistic as usual that the recruiting Class of 2020 will be “outstanding.” If Helton can get Upland (Calif.) High insider linebacker Justin Flowe to sign with the Trojans in either December or February, the coach would be taking a big step to having an “outstanding” recruiting class.

The Obvious Clay Helton statement sentence No. 10: “I believe in our team and in our fan base.”

The Not So Obvious: Coach, it’s good to know you believe in your team because if you don’t, who else will? As for the fan base, coach, your fans base will start believing in you when USC football looks and plays like USC football, which means tough, physical, disciplined, and organized at a national championship level. Is that asking too much?

The Obvious: Clay Helton statement sentence No. 11: “I know we will all come together to succeed.”

The Not So Obvious: Now, that is the type of optimism that the O/NSO likes! I think you can make that happen if you go can no worse than 10-2 next season, win the Pac-12, and advance into the CFP. I know you agree that it’s time for actions to speak louder than words. Opening the 2020 season against Alabama, closing against Notre Dame, and road games at Oregon and Utah should give you plenty of strength of schedule opportunities.

The Obvious Clay Helton statement sentence No. 12: “I am excited about the future of our team and our university.”

The Not So Obvious: Coach, your fan base will feel the same when you prove that you can win some conference championships on a consistent basis, legitimate “great” bowl games, and it would certainly help your cause if you could get into the CFP post-season tournament every three or four years. Loved how you that plug in for the university in the above quote knowing that would please Carol.

If Clay Helton really wants there to be excitement within his football program and with the university, he will need to show the core of the USC fan base (photo above) that he can deliver with conference championships and national championship runs.

The Obvious Mike Bohn Twitter tweet statement No.1: “I am pleased to let you know Coach Helton will continue to be our head coach”

The Not So Obvious: Well, Mike, at least somebody is pleased. You really didn’t interview or contact any other potential candidate? Not even their agent? Not even their favorite Lyft driver? Wow, but what about the time gap between the day after the UCLA game and this week it to announce that Coach Clay was coming back. I am so confused.

The Obvious Mike Bohn Twitter tweet statement No. 2: “His (Helton) commitment to our student-athletes and to leading with integrity is vital to restoring our championship program, which is the goal for all of our teams.”

The Not So Obvious: Ah, yes, there’s that word ‘integrity’ again. Last time the O/NSO checked, “integrity’ didn’t win games but toughness, discipline, good coaching and good players do. I’ll admit, the O/NSO isn’t quite not sure what integrity means as it pertains to USC football. I wonder if Pete Carroll might know?

The word “integrity” is used by both USC athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above) and President Carol Folt when describing what they look for in an athletic coach and program..

The Obvious Mike Bohn Twitter tweet statement No. 3: “Heading into 2020, Coach Helton and I will work together to take a hard look at all aspects of the football enterprise and will make the tough decisions necessary to compete at a championship level.”

The Not So Obvious: The O/NSO knows I speak for all Trojan fans in taking comfort you will work with Clay Helton to get this thing right, which means right now not everything is not right. It’s also good to know that you will work with Coach Helton in making the tough decisions like bringing in a new group of assistant coaches on the defensive side of the ball or maybe I am jumping the gun. I’ll tell you what, maybe if you’re working with Clay Helton and it brings positive results, maybe you should consider – being a former backup quarterback at Kansas – being the new Trojans’ offensive coordinator and quarterback coach if Graham Harrell depart to UNLV or Texas.

Maybe Coach Clay Helton and AD MIke Bohn should contact Pete Carroll (photo above) on how to build a national championship program.

The Obvious Dr. Carol Folt in a statement to the Los Angeles Times: “I hired Mike to make this important decision, and I expect him to show outstanding results.”

The Not So Obvious: Dr. Folt, judging by the reaction of USC fans regarding Clay Helton’s return for 2020, would you consider the fans’ reaction as a Bohn “outstanding result”? And, BTW, there are those conspiracy theorists that believe that you, Dr. Folt, had a bigger hand in Clay Helton’s return than was made public. No big deal because maybe you were swept off your feet by the recruiting warmth and charm of Coach Helton.

The Obvious Dr. Carol Folt in a statement to the Los Angeles Times: “He (Bohn) believes very strongly that Coach Helton has led the football program with integrity. He’s deeply committed to student-athletes’ success, on and off the field. I’ve seen it myself. I think he and Mike both know that there’s important work to be done. We have very high expectations.”

The Not So Obvious: Say, may I call you Carol since we’re about the say age and are baby boomers? Now, there’s that word “integrity” again, Carol. Do we see a common theme. If Clay Helton can’t coach our team to a national championship, a firmly stated goal said by you at Mike Bohn’s introductory press conference, does that mean Gentleman Clay has violated the ‘integrity’ clause? The O/NSO, however, feels much better that you’ve addressed the fact that you have come to the positive deduction (a scientific term?) with your own eyes that the coach is successful both on and off the field.

USC President Carol L. Folt (photo above) says she has seen enough of Clay Helton to warrant another season as Trojans’ head football coach. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

The Obvious Dr. Carol Folt in a statement to the Los Angeles Times: “I think Mike said when he came in, he wanted to see that season come to a close. He wanted to have a chance to evaluate people, to get right in the ground. You don’t want to make any decision without putting any real effort and thought into it, especially for something that’s so clearly important not only to our fan community, but to our players and our prospective players.”

The Not So Obvious: Dr. Folt, since you’re a scientist by trade, here’s a question: Has the USC fans base correctly come to the right conclusion that, based on the past four seasons, Clay Helton has hit his ceiling of competency as the Trojans’ head football coach? The O/NSO isn’t a scientist, so I can’t answer that question in the same manner as you.

The Obvious Dr. Carol Folt in a statement to the Los Angeles Times: “I’d say to the fans, you’ve been loyal for so many years. That has been something the university has always really valued and still values now. We want you to be loyal to a university you’re proud of.”

The Not So Obvious: Trust the old O/NSO, Carol, the USC fan base wants you to be loyal to them, which means perpetuating USC football at the highest level and living up to its glorious past. Loyalty, I think you’d agree, is a two-way street, and honestly, most are starting to believe that there is a systematic downgrading of the football program. On, and BTW, the university has always placed great value in the great football program, and the O/NSO is hopeful that you and Mike Bohn understand the USC football culture and what it really means to the city of Los Angeles, former players, alumni, students, and friends of the university. Carol, think of the USC SoCal community like the Chapel Hill followers for University of North Carolina basketball except on steroids.

Dr. Carol Folt is banking on the loyalty of USC fans (photo above) to override any current displeasure Clay Helton’s football program is causing them.

The Obvious: And finally, after taking well over a week to announce that Clay Helton would be returning to coach USC next season, everything has a happy ending, right?

The Not So Obvious: Okay, so maybe bringing Helton back isn’t a happy ending as of yet, but at least it’s a temporary end to one of USC football’s more controversial episodes. And, by the way, Coach Clay didn’t hire himself and he doesn’t fire himself, so folks, cut the guy some slack. As mom used to say, “Honey, all we want is for you is to try your best because that’s all we can ask.”

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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