Clay Helton's time at USC is over. The head coach was fired by the team last night after starting the 2021 season 0-2. It doesn't come as a big surprise to anyone whose been paying attention, especially after getting stomped by Stanford on the Trojans' home turf last Saturday. Helton, named head coach after the Steve Sarkisian debacle in 2015, had a good couple of years to begin his tenure but everything slowly began to fall apart in recent seasons. He ultimately went 46-24 over seven years but went 1-3 in bowl appearances.
Now USC has to start thinking about who will take the reigns for the program. It'll obviously be a little difficult to find an ideal candidate in the middle of the year, so presuming the administration waits until the offseason for a full-fledged search, just about everybody is on the table. USC is a historic program with a lot of local recruiting potential. It's sunny out there. The job will be coveted.
So with that in mind, here are five possible Helton replacements at USC.
Oh yes. You knew this was coming. Meyer's first game as a professional football coach was an abject disaster. There have been rumblings all summer about his "struggles to adjust" to coaching pro athletes. The masses are already starting to assume it's when, not if, Meyer abandons the sinking ship he's supposed to captain and head back to the familiar world of college football.
If he does, USC will be calling him immediately. He has the aura of an all-time college football coach, and we saw how good his teams are when paired with the aura of a historically good college football school. There's no indication Meyer is leaving Jacksonville quite yet, but it's a long season. USC will be keeping tabs.
Fleck is eternally a candidate to rise to a higher-profile school while he remains worshipped at Minnesota. Such is the life of a great coach at a Big 10 school that isn't Michigan or Ohio State. Fleck loves Minnesota by all accounts, but USC will go after him because he's young and carries a Pete Carroll-type energy around. This would certainly qualify as a home run hire for the Trojans, but Fleck has resisted the calls of much bigger programs than Minnesota so far.
Franklin has flirted with the USC job in the past and has done a great job at Penn State. Particularly in the recruiting department, which will appeal immensely to the Trojan administration after watching Helton fail to secure the best talent from the team's home state year after year. Franklin has a pretty great setup at Penn State and has one of the best recruiting classes in the country for 2021, which would make leaving Happy Valley a tough sell. But USC will try.
Fickell is another smaller-school coach who will be getting yearly offers from larger programs around the country. USC would be the biggest so far. He's gone 37-14 in five seasons with the Bearcats and won two of three bowl games. He's a good coach and a good recruiter. It may not be the highest-profile name USC can land, and name recognition matters more for a program like USC than it does for other schools, but from Fickell's body of work at Cincy it would be a smart hire. Fickell also has a big advantage here in that USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn was the one who hired Fickell at Cincinnati in the first place and saw the near-instant success the coach brought with him.
Matt Campbell, Iowa State
Campbell got legit looks from NFL teams last year and still stayed put at Iowa State. Can USC entice him enough to leave the program he's worked hard to turn completely around since 2016? Campbell's lone losing season was his first as head coach of the Cyclones. Since then, Iowa State has been a consistently good team and made four bowl appearances under Campbell, finishing No. 9 in the AP Poll in 2020. He doesn't have a strong connection to the Trojan program or years of national acclaim on his resume, but Campbell should be on USC's shortlist.