Analysis: USC coaching search casts shadow over season

Sep 13, 2021, 11:31 AM | Updated: Sep 14, 2021, 8:33 am
Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal, right, celebrates their 35-28 win over Ohio State after an NCAA ...

Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal, right, celebrates their 35-28 win over Ohio State after an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

              Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell paces the sidelines during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa won 27-17. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)
            
              Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell speaks with quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) prior to an NCAA college football game against Miami (Ohio), Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
            
              Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal, right, celebrates their 35-28 win over Ohio State after an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Southern California is about to embark on a coaching search that will cast a shadow over the entire college football season.

Clay Helton’s time as the Trojans coach came to end on Monday, 11 weeks before the conference championship game will be played and with eight days left in the summer.

One of the biggest dominos in the sport has been knocked over.

“I want to be exceptionally clear: our university and its leadership are committed to winning national championships and restoring USC to football glory,” athletic director Mike Bohn said. “This decision represents our next step toward that goal in what has been a thoughtful and strategic process to build a comprehensive football organization equivalent to the premier programs in the modern landscape.”

USC appears to be serious about this statement. Since Bohn arrived in 2019, the school has invested millions in its recruiting department, assistant coaches and staff. The plan was two-pronged: Give Helton as much support as possible and, if he failed, the job would appeal to any coach in the country.

Who could be a candidate at USC? Outside of Nick Saban and maybe Dabo Swinney, there isn’t a coach who wouldn’t take a call from one of the few schools in the country capable of being a national championship contender.

Because of that, be prepared for about three months of rampant rumors and social media conspiracy theories about who USC is, and is not, interested in.

Is this the job that draws Bob Stoops back to college coaching? The former Oklahoma coach will be spending a lot of time in Los Angeles this season as part of Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” pregame show.

Mario Cristobal just registered maybe his most significant victory as Oregon coach, beating Ohio State with a team loaded with the type of high-end California recruits who have traditionally gone to USC. Would he be tempted to move south so he doesn’t have to persuade those players not to go to USC?

Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell has a team poised to be in the playoff conversation and was hired to coach the Bearcats by Bohn. Could the former Ohio State Buckeye embrace a Hollywood lifestyle?

How about another Ohioan, Matt Campbell of Iowa State? Does the shine come off Campbell if the Cyclones don’t turn out to be the playoff contender they were hyped to be?

Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck would seem to have the personality to stand up to the spotlight. As does Penn State’s James Franklin.

The possibilities are endless and the USC watch will be relentless. Any up-and-coming coach who goes on a run this season will get sucked into the vortex of speculation.

What if it’s the Trojans who go on a run and reach the Pac-12 title game? Does that make interim coach Donte Williams a serious candidate?

Coaching searches have never been a more dangerous game for athletic directors.

They can get messy as leaks spring about who is drawing interest. The USC opening will no doubt be leveraged for contract extensions by coaches who never really wanted the job.

At some point, a coach who USC doesn’t want to hire will announce that he is staying put at his current school, a show of “loyalty” that will go over great with fans who get to boast that their guy turned down USC.

It’s not just about who replaces Helton. It’s also about who replaces the coach who replaces Helton.

“Over the next few months, we will conduct a national search for our new head coach. We will actively and patiently pursue a coach who will deliver on the championship aspirations and expectations we all share for our football program,” Bohn said.

USC is not going to win a national championship. It’s highly unlikely the Trojans will make the College Football Playoff. Even contending in the Pac-12 South might be a stretch.

None of that will stop USC from being the most talked about program in college football.

___

Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://APpodcast.com

___

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster speaks to the media during the NFL football Su...
Associated Press

New receivers helped Chiefs get to Super Bowl without Hill

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs lost one of the NFL’s most dynamic receivers when Tyreek Hill was traded to the Miami Dolphins. The loss did nothing to slow them down. Kansas City revamped its receiving group in the offseason and the new players quickly meshed with quarterback Patrick Mahomes, riding a high-scoring […]
16 hours ago
FILE - Kyle Busch watches during NASCAR Cup Series auto race qualifying at the Michigan Internation...
Associated Press

Kyle Busch violated Mexican gun laws on recent vacation

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Kyle Busch was detained at a Mexican airport late last month when a handgun and ammunition were discovered in his luggage, the NASCAR star acknowledged this week, apologizing for the incident and calling it “a mistake.” Busch was sentenced this month to 3 1/2 years in prison and ordered to pay […]
16 hours ago
FILE -  Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Det...
Associated Press

Irving has first practice with Mavericks, preps for debut

Kyrie Irving had his first practice with Dallas on Tuesday, and was asked if he envisioned any problems playing alongside Mavericks star Luka Doncic. Irving’s answer: “No.” The Mavs clearly see it the same way. Irving’s Dallas chapter has started, with a practice in Los Angeles preceding what’s expected to be his debut game there […]
16 hours ago
FILE - United States' Paul Goldschmidt (44) walks off after striking out during a first-round game ...
Associated Press

No pitch clock, shift limits for World Baseball Classic

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball’s new pitch clock, limits on shifts and larger bases will not be used during the World Baseball Classic. The three innovations will be debuted during the spring training exhibition season that starts Feb. 24. The 20-team national team tournament runs from March 8-21, and players will return to […]
16 hours ago
FILE - Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman watches during an NFL football practice, T...
Associated Press

Eagles GM Howie Roseman again shows his resilience

PHOENIX (AP) — The “Howie! Howie! Howie” chants at the team’s send-off party in Philadelphia followed Eagles general manager Howie Roseman to Super Bowl opening night. They were yelling obscenities at Roseman not too long ago. The once-exiled executive who was cast aside for Chip Kelly for a year and returned to lead the Eagles […]
16 hours ago
New York Jets quarterback Joe Flacco (19) aims a pass during the first half of an NFL football game...
Associated Press

Revolving door at QB ruined season for Jets, other NFL teams

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets’ season began with aging Joe Flacco starting at quarterback. It ended the same way. And that was the problem. Well, along with all of the other switching, struggling, injuries and inconsistency at QB in between. It sent what appeared to be a Jets squad on the […]
16 hours ago
Analysis: USC coaching search casts shadow over season