Clay Helton was fired more than a month ago, and USC's search for a new head football coach grinds on. It seems that every week we get another ridiculous rumor about who the university is looking at to take the job. On Monday night, it was Jeff Fisher, in a story that was immediately shot down.
With so many dumb rumors out there, here's a list of actual potential candidates for the USC job. Bear in mind, while the Trojans haven't been consistently good in a while, the program is set up to succeed. The support staff has been beefed up over the past few years while the money, facilities and recruiting grounds are all worthy of an elite job. The right coach could return USC to national prominence in short order, and whoever does it will instantly become a legend.
Here's a look at a few who could do just that.
Fickell is obviously the hottest candidate on the market right now. He has Cincinnati at 7-0 and ranked at No. 2 in college football. He's built that program up over the past five seasons. After a 4-8 season to open his tenure in 2017, Fickell has gone 38-6, including records of 11-2, 11-3, 9-1 and 7-0 this year. He's on an absolute roll and his star should continue to shine as Cincinnati makes the move to the Big 12.
All that said, USC is clearly a superior job. It's an elite gig, where Fickell could recruit the best athletes in the nation and mold himself a team that could perennially win the Pac-12 and have an easy path to the College Football Playoff. The Big 12 without Texas and Oklahoma will barely be a power conference, so the move might not be all its cracked up to be. Oh, and if that's not enough, USC athletic director Mike Bohn hired Fickell at Cincinnati before moving to his new gig.
The drag here is that Fickell is from the Midwest, went to Ohio State and has six kids. It might be tough to pull him out of his home state to move West, especially with his program rolling. USC is the better job, but in the end it's tough to move.
Campbell has been a bit of a marvel over the past few seasons. He's taken once-lowly Iowa State and turned the Cyclones into a solid program with a penchant for knocking off the big boys. In 2020 he even took them to a Fiesta Bowl victory. He's 40-30 in his six seasons in Ames with virtually no resources. He's 41, energetic and has garnered interest from other big programs and even the NFL.
Campbell has carved himself a nice niche at Iowa State but he might have hit his ceiling there. A 9-3 2020 might be the best he can do. USC would be a big step up, but he's more than ready for the challenge. Despite his Midwestern roots, Campbell would be a hit in LA.
There is a persistent feeling that James Franklin might be done with Penn State and looking for a way out. It's nearly impossible to reach the College Football Playoff in the Big Ten East with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State standing in the way. Maybe he'd look for a flashier gig, with more fertile recruiting grounds and an easier path to a title. That's why he's been heavily tied to both the USC and LSU openings.
Franklin is an excellent recruiter and he'd likely clean up in Los Angeles. He brings with him a track record of success with three 11-win seasons at Penn State and a 65-30 record overall (40-25 in the Big Ten). He's proven he can have success on the big stage. There are concerns about his playcalling late in games and some of his decision-making, but he's built a sturdy program in Happy Valley. The lure of USC -- and a chance to avoid yearly encounters with Ohio State -- could be too much to pass up.
Petersen abruptly retired after six successful seasons at Washington citing a need to take some time off. Rumors have persisted that he clashed with the school's administration and got out before things got ugly. Now, two years removed from coaching, Petersen has let it be known he's interested in returning to the sideline.
Petersen is a California native who played at Sacramento City College and UC Davis, and grew up in Yuba City. He's currently a college football analyst for Fox Sports, so he's already spending time in LA. He's an excellent coach who compiled a 55-26 record at Washington and a 92-12 mark at Boise State before that. If he brought in some high-level recruiters around him he could absolutely clean up at USC.
The 57-year-old knows how to run a program and find success in big games. USC wouldn't go wrong by hiring him. The question would be the fatigue concerns and -- if they're real -- how long he'd actually have the job before needing a break.
Carson Palmer floated Tomlin's name on Monday as a "wild card" for the job and it's not hard to see why. Tomlin has been wildly successful during a 15-season run as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it feels like the franchise might be gearing up to retool things in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era. Could they amicably part with their long-time head coach, leaving him free to pursue other opportunities?
Tomlin has never had a losing record as a head coach and owns a Super Bowl ring. It's no mystery why the 49-year-old would appeal to USC. Given his personality and how respected he is, he'd be a dynamite recruiter as soon as he stepped on campus. He'd likely make a phenomenal college coach.
The question would be if Tomlin was ready to leave the pro ranks behind. The second he's done in Pittsburgh, other NFL teams would be lining up to offer him jobs. That's what makes him such a wild card here.