The Helton Hire

THH. The Helton Hire. Or maybe I meant Taper Hall of Humanities. Hopefully you weren’t sitting there when the hiring was announced. At 7:30am on a Monday morning, most of us probably weren’t expecting this. I wasn’t even awake yet. Meanwhile, the trigger was pulled about 0.1mi away from THH at Heritage Hall.

Haden hired Helton as the permanent head coach of USC Football. Okay. I don’t necessarily disagree with Clay Helton as head coach, but what’s with the timing?

For Pat Haden and everyone else’s sake, I really hope a thorough and exhaustive search was actually conducted. After the last hire, a bitter taste was left in everybody’s mouth. The announcement of Sark received an underwhelming response and it turned out much worse than everyone had imagined. We saw an end that nobody wanted. Perhaps Haden felt like he was forced into this Helton hire by circumstance. After four different head coaches in the past four years and the first two midseason football head coach firings in USC history, the team could not experience stability. Whoever they would’ve hired is probably a bigger risk for failing than Helton. They may also have a bigger upside, but if you’re evaluating purely for risk, then you’d probably choose Helton. And if you choose Helton, better sooner rather than later because recruiting periods start now.

If they weren’t settled on Helton yet and went ahead with it to save the recruiting class, then that’s just ridiculous. You’re tying yourself to a man for five years over one class. Hopefully this didn’t play into the decision-making. Regardless, the timing may hurt more than it helps…

As Helton himself said, he’s got the “Trees” to prepare for in about 5 days. The Pac-12 title game is a huge deal because of the implications. If they win, it’s taking down a top 10 opponent and a Rose Bowl berth. Lose and you’ve now got 5 losses and some low tier bowl game. His team could even finish 8-6…

We all want him to win, but do the extra distractions really help? The contract negotiations, meetings, press conferences, and questions have taken away valuable time for game planning. Then there’s the players. They were all motivated to play well to help Helton get the job. Will the emotional high of succeeding detract from their goal? Will they play with the same chip to get the job done in the rematch against Stanford? All things we’ll just have find out now that the deed is done.

All the fans, alumni, former players and rival fans can argue and and call each other losers, whiners, spoiled or whatever the heck they are tossing around at the moment, but the fact of the matter is that Helton is the guy for the next 3 years at the bare minimum—barring some huge scandal. And I doubt very many scandals will happen under his watch. That’s one of the things I like about him. However, that’s part of why I don’t know how to feel about this hire.

It’s so hard to evaluate what he can do based off his previous work. He’s never been a head coach prior to being interim and his offensive coordinator position the past few years have been obscured by Kiffin and Sarkisian. There’s really only his Memphis OC days to fall back on. However, he’s likely grown and changed from that point after serving under three different head coaches. Things to consider are:

  • Does he have the contacts and evaluation ability to assemble a good coaching staff?
  • Does he have the personality to fire any or all of his assistants if they underperform even if they are his friends and have been there for years?
  • Can he consistently replace assistants that move on from the program?
  • What kind of offense and defense would he install now that he has control?
  • Will he be effective at creating his own playbooks for offense and defense?
  • Can he effectively develop players over a span of four years?
  • Will he retain playcalling duties on gameday?

I don’t take particular issue with Helton being hired as head coach as long as due diligence was done during the hiring process. The problem is, I don’t really believe that they went through the whole process. If someone can concretely prove me wrong, I’d welcome it. But because we’re stuck with it, I’ll focus on the positives:

The first and probably most obvious is that he can start recruiting in full force and confidence. He won’t have to face the awkward question of, “Thanks for the offer, but who’s going to be the coach?”

As mentioned previously, he offers stability. However, this is not just in terms of avoiding turnover, but also emotionally. Even critical errors by players have not resulted in him exploding in an out of control fashion. He seems to be a high character guy who will actually mentor these student-athletes.

With that being said, it’s doubtful that players will declare for the NFL draft in anger or frustration like they did back at the end of the 2013 season. This will mean more continuity for the team in 2016.

If USC makes a decent bowl (like the Rose Bowl), there will be plenty of practices for Helton to start grooming the expected starters for next year (like Max Browne). He can mold these players more into the style he wants. A coaching change would mean that this could’ve been a wasted effort.

He’s also shown that he can adjust the gameplan at halftime. This will be crucial going into the bowl game. Opponents will have weeks to prepare and a season’s worth of a film to study. A coach that cannot utilize that will be at a severe disadvantage. Helton will be able to start making major tweaks to the playbook that he couldn’t have done during the season. This can give him a jumpstart on retooling the playbook for next season, which he will definitely need. Things won’t start slow in 2016; USC opens with Alabama in Arlington, Texas.

I hope Helton does well—I really do, but I don’t know if I agree with the choice. I may not figure that out before he answers the above questions with results. I just know for sure I don’t agree with the timing.

CommBro Breaker

Stupid “Clay Clay” puns are going to be the norm…chow. GOSH DAMN, I DID IT MYSELF.

Misleading Stat: Helton could have been some sort of champion for about half the games he’s been head coach. (Las Vegas Bowl, Pac-12 South, Pac-12 Title, Rose Bowl)

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