Dave Roberts’ Hands Are Tied

Dave Roberts won’t make Clay Helton decision

Ryan Kartje (LA Times)  —  On the second floor of Heritage Hall, in the recently vacated office of USC’s athletic director, the man tasked with guiding the transition of an athletic department in turmoil is reluctant to put down roots.

“If I paint the whole Van Gogh and it’s up on the wall, [a new athletic director] might say, ‘I don’t like Van Gogh,’ ” Roberts said. “I’m very aware of that.”

With the search firm “just getting underway” in its effort to find USC’s next athletic director, Roberts is still uncertain how long he’ll stay in his interim role.

But while he remains atop the department temporarily, Roberts made clear in an interview with The Times that he won’t be the one to make a decision on the future of embattled football coach Clay Helton. Or anyone else, for that matter.

To make such a major move, Roberts said, would be “unfair” to whomever is hired as Swann’s replacement.

“If a change was to be made, it would probably be the province of a new athletic director, not Dave Roberts,” the interim athletic director said of Helton. “But like I said, Clay is going to stand or fall on his record. So I mean, if he has a very successful season, I think he’ll be in good stead. If he doesn’t have a great season, the new AD is going to have to make that determination.

“I think it’s a fair statement to say that between now and the end of the season, unless something extraordinary happened, Dave Roberts isn’t going to be stepping in there, making the decision that really I think would be the province of a new AD.”

Whether new USC President Carol Folt would take that decision upon herself remains an open possibility, one many around the program have pondered. But if Folt doesn’t assert herself in athletics, Roberts’ reluctance suggests that Helton, who will lead the Trojans (3-2) on the road against No. 9 Notre Dame this week, could be safe until a new director is identified.

The same, Roberts suggests, is true for any other USC senior administrator, including Steve Lopes, the longtime senior associate athletic director who was passed over by Folt for the interim job.

USC Interim Athletic Director Dave Roberts believes beleaguered Clay Helton will be “in good shape” as long as he “has a successful season.” (Getty Images)

“What we don’t want to do is have a situation where we’re out recruiting [an athletic director] and they feel actions taken by me, before their appointment, tie their hands,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of a unique dance.”

That dance has left the interim athletic director unable to make much change during his short tenure, outside of soliciting feedback for his eventual replacement.

Roberts has met with every varsity team over the last month in hopes of finding ways to make the department more efficient. He also hired a deputy athletic director in Paul Perrier, who worked with him for six years in USC’s compliance department. But otherwise, Roberts’ role as interim has been limited to mostly “low-hanging fruit.”

When Roberts first joined the athletic department in 2010, his vision was far more straightforward. As USC’s vice president of athletic compliance, Roberts helped rebuild a culture of compliance within a department that desperately needed it in the wake of NCAA sanctions.

His work earned him respect from many longtime administrators, among them Folt, who was inaugurated as USC’s president last month. In an interview with The Times after Swann’s resignation, Folt referred to Roberts as a “steady hand at a moment of transition.”

As interim athletic director, Roberts’ directive is far less clear than it was a decade ago. He describes his role as a “setup person” for the new athletic director, who he expects will ask for his input when the time comes to make a decision on Helton and others.

But even Roberts, who speaks to Folt regularly, wonders when that hire might take place.

“I could envision a situation where there’s a pretty quick selection,” Roberts said. “But even if the selection is made pretty quickly, when will the person be onboard? Will it be after bowl season? Or after the academic year? Those sorts of decisions play into what we’re able to do.”

For the moment, that uncertainty means not settling into his office. Or firing a football coach.

But reminders of the department’s turmoil are ever-present. As Roberts considered his role in determining Helton’s future, the brass section of USC’s marching band blared loudly outside of his window.

Still, amid all the uncertainty, the interim athletic director remained resolute on one thing: He won’t decide the direction of USC’s football program.

“The new AD should be the one to decide,” Roberts said. “But if Clay has a successful season, I think he’ll be in good shape.”

latimes.com

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Steveg
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There isn’t a reason why Roberts cannot clear the table for the new AD, whoever it is. He can let Helton know he is done at seasons end and go ahead getting other clutter out of the way, like a new baseball coach, even a new basketball coach. The new AD can come in and make his hires. I am sure this is nothing but scholastic politics being played and he is a wimp for not taking the necessary steps. Are they really worried about the culture of the programs or is this like civil service where nobody wants to… Read more »

ATL D.D.S.
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I am afraid it is more that there are too many in SC’s Administration that want the school to be PC. Like an Ivy League in the Sunshine.

Steveg
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That’s a great one. I never thought of USC as equating with Ivy league, because who would want to anyway. Sunshine Ivy League, new name for the PAC12.

ATL D.D.S.
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In my opinion, the Pac-12 (until recently leaving out USC) was probably the most left wing conference outside of the Ivy League. Not a Political jab, just an honest observation. I think much of the struggles within the campus the last few years has to do with on campus people and faculty wanting USC to be more in line with the rest of the lefties in the conference versus the hard-working alumni who have turned their SC education into great financial success and in turn have been generous to the University. Lately, these successful alumni are seeing the university they… Read more »

MarkZ
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Makes absolute sense and an enticing carrot for the prospective AD candidates. Think about it: you take the reigns a storied sports tradition and start off by hiring the HC for the iconic football program… sounds like a dream come true …

Jamaica
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Dave Roberts isn’t going to let on about anything. So expect nothing coming out of his mouth.

LawyerJohn
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Personal South Bend Memories: 1993, it is less than 30-degrees, and SC scores first. I had a seat at field level where I could not see much of the action because the Trojans’ players were standing on the benches. But I could hear them. After going ahead 7-0 to start the game a player exclaims, “All day, guys, all day.” Famous last words. 31-13 Irish. And it felt as if we were watching the slaughter in a freezer. Worst football experience of my life except for perhaps the 20-16 1965 upset to sucla. And I was so beside-myself that instead… Read more »

LawyerJohn
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Do You Recall?—

Biggest turn-around was SC losing in 1966 to ND, 51-0 (I was there. Ugh!) to 24-7 with O.J. in South Bend that set up a Trojans’ national championship…That ND did not lose to SC during a 13-year run up to 1995….That Carroll had an 8-game winning streak against the Freaking Irish….

ATL D.D.S.
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LJ, you’re talking John McKay and Pete Carroll. Two of the greatest college coaches in NCAA history and the two best EVER at USC. Their accomplishments came as a result of applying much better coaching principles that we are likely to see from dear old Clay Helton.

So, no, I am not expecting the Trojans to rock the world with a major smack-down of the Irish in South Bend Saturday Night.

Wilson_Reade
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Howard Jones

ATL D.D.S.
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Yes, should bring him up. But Jones and Rockne coached in the leather helmet era. Not sure if we are comparing apples to oranges here….

Steveg
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I always wonder if they had the concussions like what we have now when they played in leather helmets. Nobody used their heads as a weapon back then

LawyerJohn
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2-cents worth has been down-graded to 1-cent: SC will show the ‘Vegas oddmakers are idiots for installing Troy as an 11 point underdog when Troy loses by 21, with a score of about 34-13 Bad Guys…Getting into a hotel bed at midnight will produce a sluggish Saturday for the teenagers…The team and coaches still are hearing the maddening, self-defeating fans’ “noise”… The bad news for most “fans” is that Helton will not lose the game with any blunders, all those instead belonging to his boys…..ND will play by the Book, with the quarterback’s combo of passes and occasional 3rd down… Read more »

Eastern Ave.
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ND Favored by double digits.
Penalties and turn overs will determine the outcome.
CH’s Trojans are averaging almost 80 yards in penalties every week. Averaging.

Fight On!

RialtoTrojan
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Don’t expect any favors from the hometown refs. They have been known to overreact to USC’s presence on the field. I have heard a story which is probably a fabrication, that McKay threatened to tell the Pope if the refs didn’t knock it off. Robinson was said to be ready to forfeit because of the refs (again a home spun legend repeated enough to make it true)

Jamaica
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How well the Irish play in this game will determine the final score. USC will only play up to a certain performance & discipline level. That is how they are coached!

Rock2112
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I expect a closer game this year than two years ago, but we won’t win. Once again, the coaching differential will show itself. Our buddy Clay likes to tout all of our near wins … but that that narrow edge between victory and defeat is where coaches make their money on game day. The right adjustment, the right call, the right reaction to mistakes, the right clock management, the speed of decision-making, etc. Yes, Clay, we have lost a lot of winnable games while you hold raw talent back from development and opportunities. We’re at the point of hoping to… Read more »

ATL D.D.S.
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I am at the point where I want the kids to look good but the head coach to look bad through poor preparation, poor control of his sideline, dumb 4th down decisions, poor clock management, etc. Based on what acting AD Roberts said in the article above, Hugs has to really REALLY stink it up before upper management sees the gravity of the situation and senses the urgency the rest of us do (except, apparently, Lawyer John). lol

Rock2112
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Roberts’ statements were all about preserving the status quo for the next AD. He was clearly just trying to walk the middle line. I wouldn’t read any more into that. Now, does that mean one of the options he is preserving for the next AD is retaining Clay … sure. What if, against all odds, Clay wins out, beats ND, wins a Pac-12 title, wins the Rose Bowl, and SC finishes the year in the Top 10 at 12-2. Does Roberts then want to be on record hinting at Clay being “dead man walking” and saddle the new AD with… Read more »

TrojanMPA90
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12-2 would be amazing but would probably lead even the new AD to keep Clay. I don’t see that happening but see maybe 7-5 or 6-6 as the more likely scenario with Clay being let go before or after a bowl game.

You’re right about “dead man walking”. It feels like we waiting for the execution to happen.

Paul_Muad_dib
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I for one really enjoy this blog. I work full time and I am in my final semester in grad school. I haven’t really had time lately to hang out with family and friends to talk USC football. I appreciate that this blog is here for me to come and vent my frustration with the current state of things. Lot of comic relief here.

ATL D.D.S.
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I think Dave Roberts must now be considered the Alfred E. Neuman of Athletic Directors. “What, me worry?”

Maybe he wants to finish the job that the NCAA started with our school–SMU 2.0….

LawyerJohn
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Boring. It is a bore. Badgering Helton over and over and over. And this started in earnest one-year ago after the 2018 season. One year. Did I mention ‘one year?’ Saying the same thing again and again. It is a little like a nagging husband or wife. I mean, isn’t there a game this week somebody wants to talk about?

LawyerJohn
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Allen, you just never get it. But that’s ok, too.

Jack B
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LawyerJohn,

Please do tell us what Allen doesn’t “get” in your opinion. You’re just slightly vague here, in case you didn’t know.

USCJojo
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Everyone has shown some frustration over the coach. I have lost excitement with this staff and believe they the team is just mediocre. I’ve only predicted one game this season and I just can’t wait for the season to end. I just hope a change will be made late November.
At least here you don’t get ridiculed like you do at SW’s blog, huh John.

Steveg
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Roberts brings the changes to a new light. The time for an AD to get selected, situated, and taking charge could be a longer time than what we envision. Then there is the letting go of Helton and the charade of selecting a new HC when we all can see the writing on the wall already (Meyer). How long that will take is anybody’s guess, and there goes a recruiting class down the drain. Even more reason for us to rise up and email the president Folt.

UtahTrojan
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That was my takeaway as well. Kiss this recruiting class goodbye with how many kids sign during the early signing period.

RialtoTrojan
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Imagine having the cure for cancer, the common cold and gentile warts all in one pill but being undecided what shape the pill should be, because of how the manufacturer will see the decision. I give you Dave Roberts. This is a guy who knows how the fans, media and anybody associated with Trojan football feels, but is afraid to pull the trigger for fear of insulting the next guy? The ship is sinking faster than a stone sailboat and he’s saying wait and see? The brand is being bashed and laughed at across the country and he’s saying I… Read more »

alfa1
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I’m reasonably sure Pendergast and Baxter are gentile(s)
The warts you describe are related to genitalia, external reproductive organs.
Hope this helps !

Paul_Muad_dib
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Baxter is definitely the genital warts lol. Pendergast is the common cold.

ATL D.D.S.
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John Baxter, genital warts. I just can’t unsee that in my mind. And I don’t want to see gentile warts, either….

Paul_Muad_dib
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He’s one big gentile genital wort.

RialtoTrojan
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This is what I get for posting before breakfast. can’t even spot a silly mistake, but at least I’m not coaching English classes anymore. Thanks to those who spotted it. Be gentle with my gentiles who have genital warts they are still working for the team.

ATL D.D.S.
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lol

LawyerJohn
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Some good wisdom, Scipio. However, I believe words do matter.

LawyerJohn
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In other words, Sports Fan, your 1,340,433 negative words on this blog about Coach Helton mean zilch….And move over Helton, there is a No. 1 Sheriff in town, a new king of the Fans’ wrath. And his name is Clayton Kershaw. And yes, Wallace, I use the term “poor Coach Helton” because he and Kershaw don’t deserve this non-stop badgering, of which you are one of the band-leaders.

Damn, sports was supposed to be fun, but I don’t see many in L.A. having a high time. Sports ‘is’ sports, and nothing more.

Scipio
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JD I have never been under the impression that the words spoken on this board had any effect on the PTB at USC. It is merely a place to share our common interest and vent. There has been a lot to vent about for the last 10 years, and it is being led my no one individual. Its unfair to lay that on Allen. Words mean nothing, here on this board, and in the world we all live in. Its not until USC football fans stop going to the games that their words will have meaning. Words without action are… Read more »

PN4SC
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Kershaw deserves better, Helton doesn’t. He gets paid millions to do a job, and he performs that job very poorly.

Paul_Muad_dib
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What do you suggest we talk about regarding USC football then? There’s absolutely nothing good to say. The program has turned into a joke. Worse than the 90s.

LawyerJohn
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Well, Paul, and you too won’t probably read this response, but I’d be more interested in discussing particular player’s growth and improvement thru the season. I love to reach back into the history of our next opponent, and discuss ways to beat that school. Mr. Katz on WeAreSC is fantastic in his analysis of the team and SC’s opponents. There is life after Helton.

Paul_Muad_dib
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I read your post. I don’t really enjoy researching other teams. I enjoy talking about USC and unfortunately there’s nothing good to say. I have to keep myself entertained some how. I enjoy a little comic relief of a tragic situation. We’ve witnessed the crash and burn of a once national powerhouse. Now we are a laughing stalk.

I’d be happy to discuss player growth, but on a Helton coached team there is non. Only regression…

Rock2112
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LJ, I suppose your answer to enjoying sports more is just making peace with mediocrity, lackluster effort, stubbornness and cluelessness? Well, ignorance is bliss, I guess.

LawyerJohn
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Actually, Rock, and you probably won’t even read this late reply, I get excited just because it is an SC football game. I don’t let the quality of the team that particular year interfere with my passion. It is my only sport, you know.

Scipio
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It’s my only sport and my only team JD also. I understand you completely on that matter.