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USC fired Clay Helton two games into the 2021 season. Who are 5 possible candidates to replace him?
Clay Helton was fired by USC. Now it’s time to shoot for the stars.
There’s no excuse whatsoever for USC to be anything but in the College Football Playoff chase every single season.
It might be asking too much to replicate the Pete Carroll era, but USC should be an automatic preseason top ten program with the ability to hang with anyone in the nation – it shouldn’t be getting hammered by Stanford.
Clay Helton was okay.
He won a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl, and his 2020 team would’ve had a theoretical argument to be in the College Football Playoff had it beaten Oregon for the Pac-12 championship.
Even so, there was a 5-7 season in there, 2020 was the only time he lost fewer than three games – and that’s mostly because it was a shortened campaign – and it doesn’t help that the UCLA program up in Westwood is starting to look like a thing under Chip Kelly.
Helton is a likable guy – it’s partly why he was given every shot to make USC into a powerhouse again – but 46-24 isn’t okay if you’re in charge of that program.
The recruiting has been fine, and Kedon Slovis is an NFL prospect, but – for example – was USC able to keep DJ Uiagalelei in the state? No. Was it able to keep Bryce Young to his commitment? No. Losing JT Daniels was inevitable, but that goes to an overall issue that it all just didn’t work like it was supposed to.
And now Helton is done, Donte Williams will take over in the interim, and USC has to find a new head man.
First, let’s start with this. No, Urban Meyer isn’t leaving Jacksonville for the USC job.
And no, Pete Carroll isn’t leaving the Seattle Seahawks to come back.
And no, Ed Orgeron isn’t an option.
And no, Lane Kiffin isn’t going to return, even if he’s the perfect fit and a far, far better coach than he ever got credit for.
But USC can’t hire just anyone. It has to reach out to the elite of the elite because it really can get almost anyone – it’s that big a gig.
Here are five possible candidates who at least need to get a phone call.
5. Luke Fickell, Cincinnati head football coach
Everyone loves him right now after winning 31 games in three seasons as he turned Cincinnati into a Group of Five powerhouse.
This would be a huge jump in every way, but considering his Ohio State background – and the lessons learned from a 6-7 2011 season as the head man with the Buckeyes in a strange transition year – he’s hardly a stranger to big programs with massive expectations.
At 48 he’s entering his prime, he proved he could coach up okay recruits and turn the team into something great, and he certainly knows how to recruit the five-star types after his ten years in Columbus.
He checks all the boxes, including being the hot coaching prospect the fan base would gush over.
NEXT: Chris Petersen, FOX college football studio analyst
4. Chris Petersen, FOX college football studio analyst
It had been suggested at the time that the move from Boise State to Washington back in 2015 was a temporary stop until he could move on down to LA on the Steve Sarkisian plan of Washington to USC.
But he created powerhouse in Seattle – winning two Pac-12 titles in three years, got to a third, and went to the College Football Playoff – before a disappointing 8-5 2019 season that finished with his retirement.
However, he’s only 56.
There’s no questioning his coaching chops, going on an epic run at Boise State winning 92 of his 104 games with six conference titles and a whole lot of big bowl games in his eight years.
As is the theme with everyone on this list, he’s got the personality to handle the USC pressure and the LA market, he’s got the resumé, and he might have the rejuvenated spirit after a little time off.
He’s not coming out of the studio for just anything. This would be the right job for him.
NEXT: Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator
3. Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator
It’s not going to happen, but …
It’s worth a phone call.
Eventually Bieniemy will be an NFL head coach, and even though Karl Dorrell is doing a good job, it would’ve been amazing if he landed the Colorado gig when it was open a few years ago.
As the next eventual star head coach under head coach the Andy Reid coaching tree, Bieniemy is more than ready after taking an already good situation with a whole lot of superstars to a whole other level.
While his forte might be as a running backs coach – and as a former college star at Colorado – the Kansas City passing game has taken off thanks to Mr. Mahomes – obviously – and the coaching to make this all work. Bieniemy has been the OC since 2018 – he knows what he’s doing.
He’s got the energy and intensity that’s perfect for the college game – he’d be a killer on the recruiting trail – and USC might just be big enough to keep him from stepping up in the NFL world.
NEXT: Matt Campbell, Iowa State head coach
2. Matt Campbell, Iowa State head coach
Seriously, who wins at Iowa State?
Forgetting what happened to Iowa this last weekend, Iowa State was considered a top ten team coming into the season based on what Campbell has been able to build since taking over in 2016.
Does he have elite recruits and talent to work with? Not really, but he and his staff have been able to take what they get and coach them up. Now, get ready for a whole slew of Cyclones to be in the 2022 NFL Draft.
A winner at Toledo, he took over Iowa State in 2016, had one mediocre year and then everything took off, winning 32 games and a Fiesta Bowl in his last four seasons at a place that has never won an outright conference championship.
He’s still young – just 41 – he’s under a long contract that goes through 2028, and the NFL might be his next stop, but USC would be the right gig at the right time for him if it’s not …
NEXT: James Franklin, Penn State head coach
1. James Franklin, Penn State head coach
This is it. This is the guy. This is the head coach who would fit just about everything USC could ask for and want.
Has he dealt with tough situations before and succeeded? You think?
The guy took Vanderbilt – Vanderbilt – to a bowl game going 24-15 in his three years.
At … Vanderbilt.
He stepped into a brutal situation at Penn State, dealing with a program on a bowl ban and a discussion or two away from possible being put on some type of probation that could’ve gutted the program, if not make it go dark for a while. Three years later it was in the Rose Bowl.
There’s no issues with his recruiting chops, his teams play hard – the 2020 Nittany Lions could’ve easily gone in the tank, but it battle back after the worst start in the program’s history – and the guy has the personality to make LA his.
Of course, he’s already at a powerhouse program in the midst of a strong season, but after seven years in Happy Valley, this would be the right move.