This past weekend after Stanford beat USC 42-28, USC finally fired Clay Helton after seven seasons as their head coach. This move was needed. The firing would have come earlier, but in 2018, he was awarded a six-year contract extension by then Athletic Director Lynn Swann. That extension paid him close to $5 million a year and gave Helton some cover. The cost of firing Helton will be considerable, presumably in the neighborhood of $15 million. It just goes to show you the lack of confidence in him from now Athletic Director Mike Bohn.
Helton went 46-24 at USC, which comes out to a .657 winning percentage. But when you dive into the numbers, USC went 9-12 against ranked opponents after he took over full time in 2016, with three of those wins coming during the Trojans’ 10-win campaign that year. They were even worse against top-10 opponents, going 3-6. Their last Top 10 win was against No. 10 Utah in 2019. Helton also had difficulty coaching against USC’s rivals, going 1-3 against Notre Dame, 3-3 against Stanford, and 4-1 against UCLA. He only won one Pac-12 football championship and was 1-2 in bowls. Those numbers aren’t good enough for a program like USC.
The real question is who they bring in, and can that coach keep California recruits from leaving the state. USC is located in a hotbed for recruits, and their national appeal allows them to recruit anyone in the country. Something that Helton struggled with, and it ultimately led to his demise. This next hire is one of the most critical decisions in USC history and, for that matter, Pac-12 history. With the impending super conference in the SEC, the Pac-12 needs USC to be relevant. Without USC, they could be in trouble to stay relevant, and if USC whiffs on this hire, we could be looking at the beginning of the end of USC’s prestige.
Luckily for USC, that job is still a top-five job in the country. There are also sources out there saying that money will not be a problem in this search, and they are writing a blank check for their next coach. That means whoever they want; they will get; Money talks. So let’s take a look at my top five coaching candidates for the USC job. These coaches are who I would be calling if I was USC’s AD. So you won’t see James Franklin on this list. They already had a James Franklin; his name was Clay Helton.
Since leaving Cincinnati for Notre Dame in 2010, Kelly has met expectations. He rebuilt a program that was slowly falling apart by then-head coach Charlie Weis. Kelly has a 104-39 win-loss record over the last twelve years, including one national championship appearance and a playoff appearance. In the previous five seasons, he is 45-8 and has been crushing it on the recruiting trail. He has had five straight top twenty recruiting classes and is on pace this season to finish in the top 5. Not only has he proven he can recruit, but Kelly can flat out coach and has already shown that he can rebuild national programs.
Kelly would be my first call if I were the athletic director. There are rumors that Kelly has been upset with Notre Dame’s lack of flexibility on academic requirements for players that limit his ability to recruit everyone in the country. It’s the same issue David Shaw has talked about openly with his recruiting struggles at Stanford. Since he does have limitations on the players, he can recruit Notre Dame’s ceiling, which will always be lower than Alabama’s on the national stage. This could be a good time for Kelly to go to USC, and with his recruiting ability, he could build a national powerhouse in LA. He also understands the pressure of coaching at a demanding school and realistically would have that much pressure on him to succeed. Kelly needs a change, and USC could give it to him. He’s the type of coach that could get the needle moving in LA and bring excitement back to town. If they open the checkbook, Kelly could be swayed to leave South Bend.
Do you want excitement back in LA? Give Lincoln Riley as much money as he wants to leave Norman, Oklahoma. Riley, as everyone knows, has been fantastic at Oklahoma. Since 2017 he has compiled a 47-8 win-loss record and has made the College Football Playoff three times. Riley is 0-3 in the playoff but has been one of the most successful coaches in College Football in the last five seasons. So why would he leave? One reason: The SEC.
Oklahoma and Texas have finalized their move to the SEC and will be in the SEC as soon as next season to work out the details. Even if they don’t start in the SEC next year, Oklahoma will be tested weekly against SEC talent soon. As Texas found out after getting annihilated by Arkansas this past weekend, the SEC is a gauntlet. Riley could instead make more money and live on the beaches of LA; not only that, he could have more money for recruiting and a better destination for recruits around the country. Instead of playing Florida and Alabama during the season, he could instead play Arizona State and Washington State. That decision seems like a no-brainer to me. Think of the offensive recruits he could get at USC. Riley could build a dynasty on the West Coast. I know this would be a long shot, but if the money was right, I think they might be able to pry him away from Oklahoma, and if they did, it would be the best hire since Alabama hired Nick Saban away from the Dolphins.
Alright, hear me out here. I know that Chip Kelly coaches for USC’s rival UCLA and hasn’t exactly met expectations at UCLA in his four seasons there. In Kelly’s defense, he had to fix the mess that Jim Mora left and could very well compete for a Pac-12 championship this season. He has built a solid football program at UCLA over the past four seasons but let’s face it, there’s something different about walking into a recruit’s house with a USC hat on than a UCLA hat on. Especially in the LA area. With USC’s dominance over the area in recruiting, Kelly could build something special like he did at Oregon and create a national power. He has now spent four seasons in the region developing relationships. Add that to USC’s resources, and it could be a dream pairing between the two.
With Chip’s offensive scheme leading the PAC-12 right now, averaging forty-one points per game, we could finally see USC’s offense live up to its full potential. He could also pair nicely with Jaxson Dart, the talented young freshman quarterback with the dual-threat ability that Kelly looks for in the position. Kelly also recruited Dart and offered him a scholarship to play at UCLA, so they already have a relationship. In theory, Kelly could keep Dart there and could build around the young quarterback. Kelly, in my opinion, is an underrated option for the job, and USC should give the coach a call to see if he’s interested.
The Carolina Panther’s Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady is a long shot as most have him penciled in as a Head Coach somewhere in the NFL next season, but he’s worth a call. If USC wanted to go this route or miss out on some other more prominent names, Brady is the type of coach who could still move the necessary needle in LA. In 2019, Brady led the LSU offense to astronomical highs. His quarterback Joe Burrow broke nearly every postseason record for a quarterback, including most passing yards (985), most touchdowns (12), and most touchdowns in a national championship (5). Burrow also set the NCAA record for passing touchdowns in a single season, becoming the first quarterback to ever throw for 60 touchdowns in a single season. His 65 total touchdowns responsible for was also an NCAA record. As a whole, the LSU offense became the first in NCAA history to feature a 5,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, and two 1,000-yard receivers.
If USC could bring Brady to their school, it would be a home run hire. He already seems to be helping former USC Trojan Sam Darnold develop into a better quarterback. If USC offered enough money and Brady would be willing to go back to college, we could see this hire happen. Brady has also made enough connections throughout the NFL and NCAA to bring the right coaches to surround himself with. This is one underrated hire to keep an eye on as the season plays out.
I believe I am obligated to include Urban Meyer on this list according to my contract with the site. I don’t think this will happen, but anything is possible with Urban’s track record and if the Jaguars season gets off to a bad start. Selfishly, I would love for him to go to USC because he would dismantle Ryan Day’s coaching staff, and as a Michigan fan, that would please me. If Urban did want to leave Jacksonville, then USC has to offer him a contract. Ironically, had they fired Helton last season, Urban might be their head coach now.