Lynn Swann and Clay Helton need to have a talk. USC’s athletic director and football coach must sit down and have a very real conversation about the future of the program. Fundamental changes need to be made if the Trojans are to ever truly return to greatness.
Helton has had some success in his first two full seasons as the team’s head coach. He won a Rose Bowl in his first year and won a Pac-12 title in his second. But dotted throughout have been consistent problems, including a decided lack of offensive continuity, horrific special teams play and inexcusable penalties.
On Saturday night, all those issues came to the fore as the Texas Longhorns ran the Trojans out of Austin in a 37-14 blowout. If Helton wants to remain the coach at USC long-term, he has to change things.
Swann must use his clout as athletic director to force Helton into fixing things. I think Helton has the personality and recruiting acumen to be a good figurehead at the top of a program. But he’ll need to have great assistants around him. Right now, he’s missing that.
Helton has a really good defensive coordinator in Clancy Pendergast and the rest of his defensive coaches are solid. The offensive side of the ball is another story.
Offensive coordinator Tee Martin is a lights-out recruiter but has a woeful track record as a playcaller. Offensive line coach — and long-time Helton family friend — Neil Callaway has overseen a horrendous offensive line for most of his three-year tenure. Martin needs to go be a head coach somewhere and the 62-year-old Callaway should retire. It’s that simple.
Swann must force Helton to bring in an offensive coordinator from outside the program. He must hire an autonomous coach with a successful track record and a completely new system. USC’s current “gumbo” offense is a joke. It is predictable and neither overpowers, nor fools opponents. Without Sam Darnold in running USC’s offense, all if its flaws have been exposed.
USC needs to find someone to run its offense and Clay Helton needs to allow whoever that is to be in complete control.
Yes, USC has a true freshman quarterback in JT Daniels. Daniels is tremendously talented and should wind up being very good. But he’s learning on the job and isn’t quite up to the level of major college football.
On Saturday night Callaway’s offensive line — which is loaded with talented players — was shoved around all game. USC couldn’t run the ball, which left Daniels having to make plays on his own. He was under duress all night and that has been the case for USC’s quarterbacks for three seasons.
Another coach who should be looking for work soon is special teams coach John Baxter. USC’s special teams have been a joke for the last two years. They can’t punt, don’t get anything worthwhile on returns and don’t make any real positive plays. It’s time for a change there.
The problem with Helton is that he’s an incredibly nice guy and he’s hired men he’s friends with. He loves Baxter, Martin and Callaway and it will be incredibly difficult to fire them. But Swann must make it clear that all three have to go before next season.
Even if the Trojans turn things around and improve this season, these same changes need to be made. Callaway and Baxter aren’t going to get better and Martin just isn’t an offensive coordinator. The offensive system is and has been a complete mess. It’s time for change.
USC can basically count this year as a learning experience with an 18-year-old quarterback. But if there aren’t changes this offseason and if things don’t get better next year, Helton can add his name to the list of USC coaches who should be looking for work.