The talent is in place, the NCAA sanctions are in the past, and it’s a new era for USC football.
What can Clay Helton achieve in a full season as the USC head football coach?
In the opinion of former AD Pat Haden, Helton did enough as the interim coach to warrant a permanent gig and a five-year contract. Fair enough. Helton did stabilize USC after the highly publicized ousting of Steve Sarkisian. But he also went 5-4 and closed with a whimper, so there’s been a persistent narrative that wonders if he’s the guy to restore the glory at Troy.
Since last winning a Pac-12 title in 2008, USC has made more headlines for its off-field transgressions and NCAA run-ins than its on-field prowess. Major bowl games over the past seven seasons: zero. Yet, the talent, tradition and intensity of the fan base remains as strong as ever. What the Trojans need in a post-Sark and Lane Kiffin world is someone who can finally transform the program’s blue-chippers into titles.
Helton will be working with a reconfigured staff, with Tee Martin and Clancy Pendergast serving as the new offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively.
Martin will be calling plays, though Helton’s fingerprints will remain on the offense. The staff’s biggest decision between now and the Sept. 3 opener with Alabama in Arlington, Texas will be at quarterback. Now that Cody Kessler has exhausted his eligibility, either Max Browne or Sam Darnold will get the ball. Otherwise, there aren’t many holes on a unit boasting an abundance of quality skill players and experienced linemen.
As hirings go, Pendergast was a no-brainer. He knows the program and some of the personnel after holding this same position in 2013, and he has a proven track record for inciting chaos. What Pendergast now needs is a few defensive linemen capable of keeping too many plays from drifting to the second and third levels.
While USC is loaded with potential at linebacker, corner and safety, it’s going to be an issue in the fall if those positions are forced to make too many stops.
Stripping the interim label from Helton’s title was met with a tepid response last December. Couldn’t one of the nation’s top-shelf programs done better than a novice head coach who lacks buzz? This is a big year for Helton, who can ill-afford to provide ammunition for his critics. The Trojans have tried the trendier coaches to build a bridge to the Pete Carroll era. Now they’ve got a meat-and-potatoes guy in charge of replenishing the trophy cases at Heritage Hall.