Clay Helton signed a contract extension in February that ties him to USC until 2023, but the Trojans need to pull the plug on the coach who is in over his head.
I’m writing this as I see USC getting thoroughly outplayed at home against Arizona State as Herm Edwards is coaching circles around Clay Helton. USC trailed 24-7 before a last-second touchdown by USC before halftime. ASU had more than double the yards than USC and the Trojans are just getting mauled and the Sun Devils are playing much more physical. Regardless of the outcome, and despite the fact USC is playing their third-string quarterback, this is a bad look for Helton’s team and I think exemplifies why Helton isn’t long for this job.
When you look at Helton’s record the last two seasons and look at what USC accomplished under his watch, it’s not all bad. Helton led USC to their first Pac-12 title since 2008 last year after going 11-3 and led the Trojans to a Rose Bowl win over Penn State two seasons ago. That’s a pretty sterling resume on the surface, but without Sam Darnold under center, Helton has found this season to be a living nightmare.
USC had to turn to true freshman quarterback JT Daniels, who looks like he’ll be a nice player for the next few years, but they have fallen far short of expectations and haven’t been able to develop talent as they need to. USC hasn’t had an issue recruiting talent, as they’ve had Top 10 classes the last four years, including the No. 1 class in one of those years. The problem comes from turning the four and five-star recruits, especially the offensive linemen into dominating All-Pac-12 performers and NFL Draft picks.
If you put the USC roster in a different set of uniforms, you wouldn’t think of them as an elite program blessed with elite talent up and down the depth chart. They’re a middle-of-the-pack team in the Pac-12 South, arguably one of the two weakest divisions in college football this year.
Beyond the lack of developing talent, the lack of physicality on both sides of the ball is a glaring issue and something that many fans have been concerned about for the last couple of years. Darnold was great at escaping the pocket and making plays with his feet, but that was also a distraction from the fact that the offensive line wasn’t able to control the line of scrimmage and dictate play. The years of USC having great play along the front seven and in the secondary are gone. There is talent at select spots but collectively, the unit hasn’t been able to put it all together.
There are issues with the playcalling and I wonder if Tee Martin will have to be the one to fall on the sword instead of Helton who signed a contract extension last February that has him under contract through 2023. The terms of his buyout remain a mystery, but that’s the one pressing question that fans want to know. I’d speculate the buyout isn’t that significant. At least, not that significant for a place like USC to get out from a coach who isn’t going to be a guy who has them competing for the College Football Playoff on an annual basis.
What should get Athletic Director Lynn Swann’s attention is the apathy from the fanbase, who left thousands of empty seats at the Coliseum for Saturday’s game with Arizona State. The announced crowd of 47, 406 seemed high, but even so, that’s 60 percent capacity. When the fans stop going to games to support the team and the coach, it’s a telling sign that a change needs to happen. Think of this as their protest.
Helton is by all accounts a really nice guy, but I question if he’s a really nice guy that should be running one of the blue blood programs in college football. I think he’s in over his head. I think he’s coaching on borrowed time. And I think USC fans deserve so much better than what they’ve seen so far this year.
The best solution is to peel off the stop-gap solution that Helton has always been and find a coach with an offensive identity who can recruit at an elite level and restore the pride and passion from this outstanding group of fans.
Helton should coach out the rest of this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a coaching change at USC in December.