After years of speculation, USC fired head coach Clay Helton this week. As a double-digit point favorite, the Trojans fell to Stanford 42-28, which proved to be the final straw for the underwhelming Helton.
USC is one of the top jobs in college football, and is a major key to bring the Pac-12 back to prominence. The program has really struggled to fill the job with someone who can replicate what Pete Carroll accomplished in Los Angeles, even as it continues to hire former Carroll assistants and Helton, who comes from the post-Carroll USC coaching tree.
Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian were both offensive coordinator under Carroll. Clay Helton joined the staff in 2010 as Kiffin’s quarterbacks coach, and has been there ever since, including two interim stints after Kiffin and then Ed Orgeron departed in 2013, and Sarkisian’s ouster in 2015.
At this point, it is hard to argue that USC should keep going to the “in the family” well, but a tidbit dropped by Dennis Dodd is fascinating. He reports that the Trojans will not hire a search firm to fill the job.
USC will not use a search firm for its football search.
— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) September 15, 2021
College football search firms were the subject of derision for years. Many big-time hires don’t wind up being big surprises, leading many fans and others to assume that an athletic director shouldn’t have to pay out significant money to these firms to find the same names that message boards dredge up.
In recent years, however, the importance of these companies has become more clear, especially in the wake of the Les Miles scandal at LSU that wound up costing him his job at Kansas. Search firms do far more than just identify candidates. They also vet them and try to uncover information that could lead to something like a Miles situation.
From ESPN‘s Adam Rittenberg:
The only winners from the Kansas situation are the search firms that assist college programs with coaching hires. Search firms are a third-rail topic among many fans and media. They’re expensive and emblematic of a sport where money is thrown around without care or consequence, even during a financially crippling pandemic. Many question the rationale for using search firms after athletic directors and schools make familiar or seemingly obvious hires. But there are misconceptions about the firms. They don’t make hires. They assess interest among coaches, conduct background checks and provide an extra layer of protection for the schools.
Would a search firm have flagged Miles’ issues at LSU that surfaced last week in the Husch Blackwell report? It’s hard to know for sure. But Long’s decision not to use a firm exposes him and Kansas to more criticism about what they could have or should have known about Miles. Long’s decision ultimately could cost him his own job.
Search firms aren’t without flaws. There’s some back-scratching involved when athletic directors, hired by certain search firm executives, then use those same firms/executives for their coaching searches. Search firms have assisted in hires that turn out very badly. But they’re a necessary part of a critically important process, and Kansas made the right call in using one to help find Miles’ replacement.
Those are valid concerns with any hire. Throw in USC’s lack of creativity in its recent hires, and its constant penchant for hiring from the same coaching tree, and Dodd’s report is notable. Of course, athletic director Mike Bohn was very much an outsider when USC brought him in back in Nov. 2019. Now, he is the first major program to jump aboard the coaching carousel. We’ll see how he takes advantage.