17 min Read

O/NSO: The USC revolving football door edition (UPDATED)

The Obvious: Like a revolving door, Clay McGuire heads a list of official comings and goings this week within Clay Helton’s football program.

The Not So Obvious: Because of the Trojans porous running attack in 2020 – last in Pac-12 team rushing – the spotlight of coach/player changes focused first on the official hiring of new offensive line coach Clay McGuire, who was last seen as the O-line coach at mighty Texas State (2019-20). Besides the announcement of McGuire, there was also the transfer arrival of former Texas Longhorns running back Keaontay Ingram, and the shocking departure of offensive quality control analyst Chris Claiborne, USC’s legendary linebacker and lone Butkus Award winner, to ASU as the Sun Devils new linebackers coach. Late Friday, Clay Helton announced that USC quality control assistant and former Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege had been promoted to tight ends coach.

The Obvious: The past three USC offensive line coaches under Clay Helton, Mike Goff, Neil Callaway, and Tim Drevno, have either been not retained or were fired. “Interim” Trojans head coach Helton inherited Goff from Steve Sarkisian’s 2015 staff and choose not to retain Goff for his 2016 staff.

The Not So Obvious: FYI, Mike Goff just completed his second season as the O-line coach at Western Kentucky under head coach Tyson Helton, former Trojans assistant and brother of Clay Helton. As for new Trojans offensive line coach Clay McGuire, a buddy of OC Graham Harrell dating back to their coaching days together at Washington State (2014-15), it should be fascinating watching what the new guy can accomplish both on the field and in 2021 recruiting, especially along the recruiting trail, given the uncertainty of Helton’s tenure and perhaps even Graham Harrell’s future.  

Former Trojans offensive line coach Mike Goff (photo above) just completed his second season as the O-line coach at Western Kentucky.

The Obvious: Clay Helton is counting on new offensive line coach Clay McGuire to bring some stability to all facets of offensive line production. 

The Not So Obvious: Regarding McGuire, Helton said, “We are excited to welcome Clay McGuire to the Trojan Family. His extensive knowledge of our offensive system and time spent under great offensive minds like Mike Leach and Kliff Kingsbury made him a top target for us. His ability to develop players and build relationships in recruiting will help our program grow.  We look forward to the passion and competitiveness he will bring to our football team.” For the record under Clay McGuire, Texas State left tackle Dalton Cooper was named to the 2020 Freshman All-American second team. 

The Trojans have officially hired former Texas State offensive line coach Clay McGuire (photo above) to mentor the 2021 USC offensive line.

The Obvious: Clay Helton, the son of an NFL and college offensive line coach, is experienced when it comes to giving glowing evaluations of his newly hired O-line coaches.

The Not So Obvious: When Helton rehired Tim Drevno in 2018 as running backs coach and then back to his natural coaching position as offensive line coach, Gentleman Clay said, “Through his experiences with elite college program and in the NFL, he has gained a reputation as a great teacher and he has grown his expertise in both the run game and pass protection. Adding Tim to our coaching staff will help continue the success we have had offensively and will help us reach our goal of winning a national championship.” For the record, in Drevno’s three seasons, the Trojans did not win a national championship or a Pac-12 title and was promptly fired following the conclusion of the 2020 season.

Trojans head coach Clay Helton was effusive in his praise of Tim Drevno (photo above) when the running backs and offensive line coach was hired in 2018.

The Obvious: When Clay Helton formed his first full staff for the 2016 season, he hired former Western Kentucky offensive line coach and family friend Neil Callaway.

The Not So Obvious: When Clay Helton hired Callaway, he gave high praise to Callaway by saying, “He brings us Southern hospitality, Southern gentlemanship and very much a Southern toughness. I just knew that experience, that knowledge, that toughness and physicality was something that I really wanted for our culture. I said, ‘Guys (USC offensive linemen), just understand, you’re going to think this guy is literally the devil. But after a month you’re going to love him, because you’re gonna know he’s going to make you better as a player.’” For the record, Callaway was fired midway through the 2018 season.

Trojans head coach Clay Helton was very excited in 2016 when he announced the hiring of Neil Callaway (photo above) as his offensive line coach.

The Obvious: Chris Claiborne, former legendary USC All-America linebacker, the Trojans only Butkus Award winner, and who in 2020 had been a Clay Helton offensive quality control analyst, has left his alma mater to accept the linebacking coaching position at rival ASU.

The Not So Obvious: Pinch me and say it’s not true; this is a dream, a bad dream, right? With an immediate coaching opening (tight ends) on Clay Helton’s USC staff, wasn’t hiring Chris Claiborne as a full-time assistant in some capacity a no-brainer? Wouldn’t it have made sense to hire Claiborne as a linebacker coach – inside or outside – or even as the tight ends coach? Then again, the O/NSO could never really understand why Claiborne was hired by Troy as an offense quality control analyst and not on the defensive side other than Helton making sure he had the valuable Claiborne in the USC program.

However, maybe Todd Orlando, Graham Harrell, and/or Clay Helton weren’t buying into either of those aforementioned ideas but were willing to lose the legendary Trojan to Pac-12 South competitor ASU, which already has two former Trojans on Herm Edwards’ Sun Devils coaching staff (DBC Chris Hawkins and WRC Prentice Gill). With this week’s personnel movements, would it be a stretch to say that OC Harrell and DC Orlando are calling their respective hiring shots, and Helton is giving his stamp of approval? With the promoting of offensive quality control analyst Seth Doege to tight ends coach – perhaps Doege will be outstanding although neither he nor Claiborne have coached tight ends in the past – by any objective observation in losing Claiborne, it isn’t a good look.    

Former Trojans legendary All-America linebacker and 2020 USC offensive quality control analyst Chris Claiborne (photo above) has been hired by Arizona State as its linebackers coach.

The Obvious: News of Chris Claiborne to ASU has been a firestorm of anger on the Garry P. WeAreSC message board.  

The Not So Obvious: Some posters are already asking why did Seth Doege get promoted to tight ends coach and not Claiborne? Again, neither have coached tight ends before. There has been a lot of tough decisions and negative game results for USC fans to swallow during the Helton era, but this Claiborne to ASU is especially unsettling. And you don’t think Claiborne won’t kill it in recruiting in SoCal?

The Obvious: Mike Bohn is the athletic director at USC, and many consider him now the guardrails or master planner of the Trojans football program past, present, and future.  

The Not So Obvious: The O/NSO wonders what Mike Bohn really thinks of the Claiborne move to ASU or do actions speak louder than words? For the present, like it or not, USC football takes another needless PR football hit. Don’t kill the messenger, but just when you think…    

Trojans athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above) has been considered the man behind the curtain in running the USC football program, but the Chris Claiborne to ASU move with a current USC coaching opening has left a large following of Trojans fans just rolling their eyes and shaking their heads..

The Obvious: Trojans tight end coach John David Baker has left the John McKay Center to officially join Lane Kiffin at the University of Mississippi.

The Not So Obvious: Why is it the O/NSO feels there has to be again some reading between the lines here? Why would a first-year tight end coach leave USC to take the same position at Ole Miss? Maybe Ole Miss dumped more money in Baker’s bank account, and the cost of living is much lower in Oxford. However, maybe it just gets down to the divergent job status of Clay Helton and Lane Kiffin. The O/NSO is no conspiracy theorist, but is this yet another move that “more than meets the eye”?

The Obvious: Former Texas Longhorns running back Keaontay Ingram, a former UT starter until freshman sensation Bijan Robinson arrived in Austin last season, is transferring to USC.

The Not So Obvious: Although Keaontay Ingram is an exciting back with very quick feet, the O/NSO will get excited about the running back transfer when the Trojans prove they can produce more than a “token” running game.

Former Texas Longhorns running back Keaontay Ingram (photo above – No. 26) announced he is transferring to Troy. (Photo by Texassports.com)

The Obvious: Last Saturday, in what seemed like just a matter of hours in between, the Trojans got a Class of 2022 monster commitment from five-star corner Domani Jackson (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei), California’s No. 1 recruit for his class, yet earlier saw the decommitment of Class of 2022 four-star inside linebacker Niuafe Tuihalamaka (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany).

The Not So Obvious: The commitment of Jackson and the decommitment of Tuihalamaka could be the poster children of today’s recruiting across the nation. This is how recruiting comes and goes not only with the Trojans but even schools such as Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State, and even Alabama. In the evolution of recruiting, it’s only official with the signing of a LOI.

Trojans fans were celebrating when Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei Class of 2022 corner Domani Jackson (photo above) announced he plans to attend USC.

The Obvious: Before he made national headlines that he was going to be a Trojan, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, DE Korey Foreman, had at one time committed to the Clemson Tigers before decommitting.

The Not So Obvious: As the story unfolded, Korey took a step back in this COVID world and reevaluated his future, which was his right. No question that Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was not pleased with Foreman’s decommitment, and the celebrated Tigers coach pursued other options immediately. In the end, nobody was more excited than Clay Helton, his staff, and the Trojans family that Korey was all cardinal and gold. The residual effects may show up during this Wednesday’s National Signing Day.

The Obvious: In December of 2020, nationally pursued inside linebacker Raesjon Davis (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) decommited from LSU and Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron.

The Not So Obvious answer: Word on the street is that when it’s all said and done, Raesjon Davis will be a Trojan, although last weekend he and his family visited Ohio State, which had some noteworthy Californians on its 2020 Buckeyes roster (All-America guard Wyatt Davis and WR Chris Olave). One always has to respect the fact that if Raesjon and his family recently visited Ohio State, the Buckeyes could still be a serious option, especially when mom is on the trip. There were rumors that there might even be a future second visit to Columbus.

The Trojans are hoping that a recruiting trip to Ohio State last weekend doesn’t stop Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei inside linebacker Raesjon Davis (photo above) from signing with the Trojans.

The Obvious: This coming Wednesday, February 3, is the second National Letter of Intent Day for the Class of 2021.

The Not So Obvious: There may or may not be a surprise or two in the Trojans nationally acclaimed 2021 class, which currently stands at No. 8. If somebody along the lines of a Raesjon Davis signs with the Trojans, the Men of Troy could approach Pac-12 rival Oregon, which stands at No. 6 in the national recruiting rankings.

The Obvious: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be playing the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, February 7, and Tampa Bay will be the first NFL team to play pro football’s ultimate game in their own home stadium.

The Not So Obvious: For USC fans old enough to remember, the first head coach of Tampa Bay was the former Trojans legendary leader John McKay. In the expansion team’s first season in 1976, the Buccaneers finished a depressing but not surprising 0-14 and went on to lose their first 26 games combined in a two-year span.

However, in 1979 McKay’s Bucs went to the NFC title game against the Rams but lost, 9-0, on three field goals by Rams placekicker Frank Corral, whose alma mater ironically was UCLA.    

Former Trojans coaching legend John McKay (photo above) was the first head football coach for the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Photo by Buccaneersfans.com)

The Obvious: John McKay, who is in the College Football Hall of Fame, was USC’s head football coach for 15 seasons (1962-1975) and recorded four national championships.

The Not So Obvious: FYI, McKay’s coaching record at USC was 127-40-8 overall and 70-13-3 in conference.

The Obvious: Besides being one of football’s best coaches ever, John McKay had a very sharp wit and tongue.  

The Not So Obvious: During his struggles in Tampa Bay’s first season in the NFL, McKay was asked, “What do you think of your team’s execution, coach?” To which McKay replied, “I’m in favor of it.”

Football fans and the media often enjoyed the wit and sarcastic humor of former USC head football coach John McKay (photo above).

The Obvious: It’s not unusual for Trojans to be participants in a Super Bowl.

The Not So Obvious: Tampa Bay will feature former cardinal and gold running back Ronald Jones along with former USC running backs coach Todd McNair, who now tutors the Bucs ball carriers.

The Obvious: And finally, the Kansas City Chiefs will be looking to win their second consecutive Super Bowl if they can beat Tampa Bay and legendary quarterback Tom Brady.

The Not So Obvious: It’s not like Kansas City doesn’t have a USC connection. The Chiefs’ third-year running backs coach is Deland McCullough, who was the Trojans running back coach in 2017. Unfortunately, McCullough, who drew raves during his brief USC coaching stint, lasted just one season before advancing to the NFL Chiefs. Some say that arguably Deland McCullough has been the best assistant coach Clay Helton has hired during his USC head coaching tenure.

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.

More Articles By Greg