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WeAreSC Mailbag

Readers had plenty of questions about the USC coaching search, the state of USC football now and moving forward, even more questions about the coaching search, and other topics dealing with the Trojans.


Q: Helton retained? Why? Just, please tell me, why?


Q: Erik, why? Just tell us why?


Q: Could you hear the fanbase moan when the news that Helton would be retained broke?

One More For The Road

Q: Based on recent decisions by the athletic department, me and many of my fellow Trojans have fallen off the wagon… hard. Can we file a class action lawsuit against the university for punitive damages based on their negligence?


Q: Tough to hear so many critics considering we have zero insight into the search process, which coaches we reached out to and the responses.

The greatest service you could do is answering “what happened behind the scenes?”

A: Outrage from USC fans was strong and swift following the announcement that USC would retain head coach Clay Helton, ranging from confused to (jokingly?) litigious. Here are some thoughts about the decision, including the final result, what led to it, and the aftermath.

Based on what was reported and what we heard during and after the decision, I don’t believe that retaining Clay Helton was the clear Plan-A-with-no-other-option from the very beginning of the process, however, it was always on the table. If Helton was always guaranteed to return as head coach, it makes no sense to wait 11 days following the UCLA game to announce it.

Athletic director Mike Bohn said he did not pursue any other coaching options, but I believe the published reports that USC went after Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops to various levels. I don’t think Bohn’s explanation after the fact went over well, and I think he said some things he felt he needed to say to help Helton move forward. But I do think he did his job in looking for the best possible coach for USC, and making significant progress in doing so. And in the end, it came down to what it always does — money and power. I believe Bohn when he said Helton’s buyout was never considered as a hurdle. I also believe that what I’d suggested several times earlier this year could be a sticking point for hiring a coach like Meyer or Stoops since those names were first floated, came to be true. I don’t believe decision makers at USC understand or are comfortable with the demands that a big-name coach like that is going to have. It’s not just the salary for the head coach, it’s how much money they are going to demand for assistant coaches, as well as what they’d expect to be available for the recruiting department and operations staff, as well as control over decisions that affect all aspects of USC football. In that case, there is a comfort level with what they know they’ll get from Helton.


Q: Why a tweet instead of a press conference?

A: There was never a change in direction, so I don’t really have a problem with Bohn not announcing the decision in a press conference. I think an announcement from the official site or a press release might have been a better idea (and shielded Bohn’s twitter profile from the barrage of negative comments now permanently fixed to the announcement).


Q: Erik, do you think there will be changes in Helton’s assistant coaches? We’ve heard that the OC is looking elsewhere, and might leave on his own, so can you bring us up to speed as to any other changes?

A: I’d be surprised if this staff returns intact for 2020. Graham Harrell has had multiple interviews at this point and USC is going to have to step up in order to bring him back. Ultimately, based on the comments and phrasing we heard from Bohn following the decision to retain Helton, staff changes are completely expected. It will be extremely difficult for Helton to bring back defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and special teams coach John Baxter based on how those two units performed this past season. But he’s also very close with both of them, and there’s no telling what kind of potential replacements are out there. Just like recruits not wanting to commit to a coach with an uncertain future, the same can be said of assistant coaches.


Q: What do you think the chances are that Graham Harrell heads to Texas no matter what happens with Helton and who would be a great candidate to replace Harrell.

A: When the interest between Texas and Harrell (and vice versa) was first reported, it felt like a guarantee he would become offensive coordinator for the Longhorns. It makes too much sense for him to be able to go back home. But I would expect USC to make a big push for Harrell because they need to establish some good will with the fan base right now. I honestly don’t know where Helton would turn if Harrell heads elsewhere. It makes sense to go with another Air Raid guy since Helton has shown that’s the direction he wants to take this offense.


Q: Based upon the possible bowl matchups for the Trojans, which team would you like to see SC play?

A: I really like the idea of a Michigan matchup in the Holiday Bowl. Getting those two programs on the same field is always a treat. I don’t have the same kind of interest in seeing Texas in the Alamo Bowl, but getting Baylor there would probably be my second choice — just to see Matt Rhule’s team up close. The Wolverines would provide a nice look at how the Trojans match up physically against Jim Harbaugh’s team.


Q: How many Trojan players go to the transfer portal?

A: There will be a few, and that would be the case if Helton was replaced as well. Obviously it’s impossible to put an exact number on how many will go, but the tight end and defensive secondary spots will be interesting to watch, simply because the tight ends didn’t catch many passes this season and there might be a logjam forming in the secondary with so many bodies added last class.


Q: Out of our 11 commits so far, it looks like we’re focusing on unheralded, underdeveloped 3-star recruits (maybe with the exception of WR Josh Jackson) that will probably take time to eventually develop. I can understand that we’re having trouble getting interest from 4-star and above players, but in the event that Helton and staff do return next year wouldn’t it have been a lot wiser to recruit grad/portal transfers who can play right away and not 2 or 3 years down the road– especially if you’re on the hot seat again next year?

A: I don’t think you can sit back and just wait for guys to jump into the transfer portal. There has been a huge influx of names going in there this week, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see USC start recruiting a number of those players. But players coming out of the portal who can play right away are limited to grad transfers, and that’s just a portion of the total transfer players available. The USC coaches are going to trust their evaluation skills with this class and after so many true freshmen in the 2019 class showed how capable they were, I think the staff feels like they have some potential impact guys in this class already, and will add plenty more.


Q: Why is SC recruiting against Kansas and Northern Arizona ? The athletic difference between us and Oregon was shocking. Your thoughts?

A: USC just doesn’t recruit as tenaciously as other programs throughout the season (or overall). Oregon clearly has the blueprint in the Pac-12 right now. The Trojans are going to turn it on at this point and will absolutely close with some significant additions. But it’s becoming clear that USC isn’t making the impact early in the process that other programs are making. And the combination of recruits feeling as though players aren’t being developed at USC and USC simply isn’t winning enough has them in a tough spot right now.


Q: What does the practice schedule look like these days? I think the team is only allowed a specific number of practices to get ready for a bowl game?

I don’t recall hearing anything about “practice” last week while we were waiting to find out if we were playing in the championship game. Would those practices have counted against the bowl practices? Technically it was a bye week so I think we could have had practice — obviously a holiday week also.

A: Helton mentioned before the UCLA game that they would hold practices on the Monday and Tuesday following that game that would focus on developing younger players. We haven’t heard of a practice schedule for the bowl games yet, and the USC coaches are all out on the road recruiting right now.


Q: What is Porter Gustin up to these days? One of my all-time SC favorites…

A: Gustin is playing defensive end for the Browns. He had his first sack the other week.


Q: Hi Erik,

I read an article about how USC could save its recruiting season by hiring Chris Claiborne as a LB coach and possible DC and the TE coach from the University of Miami who they say has access to every high school coach in the nation and has been killing it over his coaching career. The article all but thought the addition of Claiborne would secure a commitment from Justin Flowe who I believe is the single most important recruit at any position in the nation for USC. What are your thoughts on this as a possibility?

A: You’re referring to the USCScoop article about steps USC could make to improve its recruiting. I don’t like when programs hire people solely to make inroads with a specific recruit or recruits, but the two guys mentioned in that story are absolutely worthy of being brought in. Claiborne seems like he’s on a collision course toward a position at USC, and the sooner the better, as far as I’m concerned. I think USC needs to boost its recruiting department. We’ve seen a few additions there over the past year, but just trying to keep pace with the Pac-12 isn’t going to cut it anymore. It’s time to start pumping up that department so that it’s operating at the same level as the national recruiting powers.

Ventura Trojan

Q: Just throwing this out there. We all know Clancy needs to go. What would you think about Jack del rio as defense coordinator. If he would do it. It would also be a plus if things went south for clay next year he could step in as interm.

A: It’ll be very interesting to see who Helton brings in if decisions are ultimately made to go a different direction with assistant coaches. I think Del Rio would be a nice addition as a defensive coordinator, but I don’t know if he’d take that position at this point in his career. It would also require Helton to go out of his way to bring in a guy who, like you mentioned, would be constantly mentioned by fans and media as a potential replacement after every loss or unimpressive win. Although Helton did show he would do that last year, when he brought in Kliff Kingsbury as offensive coordinator.


Q: Hi Erik, I have been a reader of this site for years, but just recently felt the need to start posting (venting). My anger stems from my belief that the leadership at USC isn’t just making mistakes in regards to the football program they are de-emphasizing it intentionally.

Do you believe that the current leadership at USC has become more interested in USNWR rankings, and are of the belief that great academics and championship football can not coexist? Are there people in power that just don’t like football? And are they intentionally trying to bring down the football program?

A: I don’t think anybody is intentionally trying to bring down the football program, but I believe it is being emphasized nearly as much as USC football fans would like it to be. There is so much damage control that USC needs to do right now with a vast majority of the public who don’t follow football at all, I completely understand the decision to not rock the boat right now by potentially bringing more negative publicity to the school by hiring Urban Meyer (not saying I agree with it, but I understand the sentiment). Truthfully, it absolutely feels like just being good enough at football is good enough for everybody at USC right now. Until we see the necessary funds and attention being poured into the program, it’s going to be impossible to believe that it ranks highly on the list of priorities for the administration.

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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