Nothing has been confirmed yet, but it sounds like USC may be burning and even if all of the details aren’t completely true, I am a longtime believer in the theory of where there is smoke there is fire, and there is no denying the USC program is at least starting to smoke right now. The Trojans are 1-2, the schedule is tough the rest of the way (case in point, they play at 3-0 Utah Friday) and the team looks fragile right now so the odds against Clay Helton surviving the entire season are at least getting slimmer than they used to be.
If Helton doesn’t make it through 2016 it will mean the Trojans will bring in a new coach and have four coaches in just four years. What will also likely happen is whoever is hired by USC will be described as having a job that is pretty easy that you just have to not screw it up.
However, I no longer think that is true. I believe USC has made three really bad hires in a row, but overall, I cannot look at the track record of USC coaches in the past 30 plus years not named Pete Carroll and their lack of consistent, elite success and help but think that winning big at USC might be harder than we think.
I’m not saying USC isn’t an easier job than a lot out there, I’m just saying it is far from the cakewalk we sometimes think it is. It is not as simple as sign the best players in southern California every year and roll. Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian, Clay Helton, Paul Hackett, The Return of John Robinson, Larry Smith (to an extent) and Ted Tollner have coached rosters loaded with homegrown NFL talent and only done one thing pretty consistently - underachieve.
The obvious reason which is always cited about why USC is sneaky tough job is actually the same exact thing which makes it a good job - the program is an easy sell to elite talent and the egos, attention, and synergy of a team loaded with those kinds of players is very difficult. The distractions of playing/living in a market/city like LA is frequently mentioned and I have to agree with both arguments, but the list does not end there.
The fact that the USC athletic department has been run much in the same way it seemed the Raiders were in the twilight years of Al Davis has been just as damaging. The Trojans seem to focus on legacy, random vanities, history, and prestige over the bottom line in a time when analytics and modern business acumen is taking over sports (cough...Oregon...cough).
Lastly, the expectations could not be much higher. USC is a program that hasn’t been to a Rose Bowl in three coaches and yet still expects to win them every year. The kind of patient building process which allowed Oregon and Stanford to rise to dominance or for a program like Washington to potentially rise out of the ashes might not be possible at USC because of a short leash provided by all of the reasons above.
For example, let’s say things came together in the way they could/should have a couple of years ago and USC hired Chris Petersen instead of Steve Sarkisian. Would USC have been able to stomach the pains Washington experienced in the past two seasons installing Petersen’s philosophies and systems without panicking and blowing the whole thing up before it really got started? I don’t know, but I certainly have my doubts.
Now, the tough thing for USC is I don’t see any of these things going away anytime soon. Sometimes the problem with being an institution is that you are an institution and USC football is one that is long overdue for a hard look in the mirror.
So, with all of that considered...can we still keep calling USC an “easy job?”