The USC Trojans football team has gone through quite a bit in the last half-decade, and the future of head coach Clay Helton has been the topic of conversation throughout. Even after going undefeated in the shortened coronavirus-impacted regular season, many people have still talked about replacing him.
Helton is 45-23 as USC’s head coach, with 12 of those victories against teams ranked in the AP Top 25, and he’s gone 18-13 in the last three seasons with back-to-back 10-win seasons in the two before that.
To USC fans, he isn’t doing enough. A few things have to happen in order for Helton to get off the “hot seat.”
USC Needs To Have A Winning Season
Not just a winning season — an undefeated regular season. The Trojans have a packed schedule this time around, so they have to be convincing to those that might think it was luck twice in a row.
What comes with an undefeated season in a Power Five conference is the college football playoffs — usually. The Trojans have to show that they belong in one of those four spots in the big postseason — and that gets easier if they win the Pac-12 championship game.
To be that much more convincing to the critics, the Trojans should be in the top-five in the nation in offense and defense.
Yes, both sides of the ball.
USC was ranked first in the conference offensively — 11th nationally — last season behind Kedon Slovis’ arm, and they ranked low in the top-50 defensively despite a dramatic improvement in total yards allowed and takeaways.
Helton Must Solidify Himself As The Reliable Coach He Has Been
He’s entering his sixth season as the permanent full-time head coach, but he’s been on the Trojans’ sideline since Lane Kiffin took over for Pete Carroll in 2010. He’s been the assistant for three different head coaches and stuck around the entire time.
The school’s best coach in recent history is Carroll, who had a record of 83-18 at USC, and critics will probably always compare head coaches to him — but in reality, no one has been there for the players like Helton.
In order for Helton to get his respect at USC, he has to show the world that the school is more versatile in positions.
USC was known as the “Tailback U” — or the university of tailbacks — in the past for their production of elite running backs, and has been considered “Wide Receiver U” recently for their production of wide receivers that succeed in the NFL — but they produce more than just those two positions.
To make Helton’s case, junior quarterback Kedon Slovis has to win the Heisman trophy and he has to go somewhere in the top-three in the 2022 NFL draft.
Slovis is versatile enough to win the trophy and raise his draft stock, but he can also use the help of a solid running game. If Helton and Slovis can establish a consistent two-player running game, it would help tremendously to get them to the end goal.
The Trojans have some of the best wide receivers at the moment, so their reputation as the university of wide receivers is pretty accurate.
Staff Means Everything. He Needs To Keep Good Ones Around.
To go with a solid offense and a solid defense comes a solid set of assistant coaches.
Helton brought in offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell in 2019 and he has done great work assisting Helton with the play calling and working with Slovis on his game. Under Harrell, the offense improved a lot from the prior year and continues to get better.
Assisting Harrell on the offensive side is Mike Jinks with the running backs, Keary Colbert with the wide receivers, Clay McGuire with the offensive line, and Seth Doege with the tight ends. Jinks has been with the program since 2019, Colbert since 2016, and McGuire and Doege since this offseason.
Helton brought in defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Todd Orlando last offseason, and the defense improved a lot from 2019. The inside and outside linebackers have been some of the most versatile players on the field under Orlando, and the position is in good hands with junior Ralen Goforth and company on the inside and junior Drake London and company on the outside.
Assisting Orlando on the defensive side is Craig Naivar with the safeties, Vic So’oto with the defensive line, and Donte Williams with the cornerbacks. Naivar, So’oto, and Williams all joined the program last season, and Williams is an even more key piece to the staff considering that he’s one of the nation’s best recruiters.
247Sports named Williams the nation’s seventh-best recruiter for the 2020 class — and first in the conference — so he must be even higher for the 2021 class after bringing in the nation’s top-ranked recruit in Corona native Korey Foreman.
It’s easily overlooked, but special teams coordinator Sean Snyder is one of the best in the business — joining the program last offseason and helping the Trojans rise to be the No. 1 ranked special teams in the nation with Ben Griffiths as the punter, Parker Lewis as the placekicker, and Gary Bryant Jr. as the main kick returner.
Helton is doing good as the Trojans’ head coach, and he’ll be around a long time if he continues having the right people around him. Thanks to Harrell, Orlando, and Williams, players are coming to USC and they are hungry to play for the Cardinal and Gold.
USC continues their Fall training camp until mid-August and prepares for their first game of the season against San Jose State at home on September 4.