Mike Bohn — “It Just Felt Like the Right Time.”

USC set multiple performance benchmarks for Clay Helton. He didn’t make it past No. 1

Ryan Kartje (LA Times)  —  The criteria for the most consequential decision of Mike Bohn’s career was established ahead of the football season, weeks before the disastrous defeat that accelerated the end of Clay Helton’s disappointing tenure as USC’s coach.In the late summer it was understood among Bohn, USC President Carol Folt and Rick Caruso, chairman of USC’s board of trustees, that the athletic director would take stock of his embattled football coach at specific points during the 2021 season. At each pre-assigned benchmark, Bohn would evaluate the criteria they agreed upon, from the energy and culture of the team to its on-field performance and competitiveness to recruiting momentum and fan sentiment, among other variables. How would firing — or retaining — Helton affect each of those variables going forward?

Bohn ultimately needed just one evaluation. The first of four planned benchmarks, according to a person familiar with the decision to fire Helton, came last Saturday night.

As USC fell in humiliating fashion, 42-28 to Stanford, every discernible flaw of the Helton era was laid bare in front of a half-empty Coliseum. There were sloppy mistakes and ill-timed penalties, a stagnant offense and a defense that lacked discipline. The stands were draining before the fourth quarter, with USC trailing by four scores. The sideline was lifeless, sending an ominous message to the university decision-makers watching from on high.That night, Helton spoke like a coach who assumed he had time. “We didn’t play our best tonight, but I know this, at the end of the season, see where we’re at,” he said. “See where we’re at.”

But that time had run out on Helton after six full seasons, the last three of which were clouded by intense on-field scrutiny. Had he passed that first benchmark, Helton likely would’ve lasted until the bye week, on Oct. 16, which was slated as the next evaluation point.

Bohn said Tuesday that he didn’t want to make a major decision Saturday night, “in the heat of the emotions associated with a game,” but the next step was clear at the time to the program’s decision-makers.

That seemingly sudden choice would call into question why Bohn bothered to keep Helton past the 2020 season and what has changed since USC’s athletic director told The Times in January that he “can’t think of one area we didn’t improve [in 2020]”.

“I just don’t think we had that same sense of belief that with all the resources and the commitment that we put together that we could really aspire to those national championship aspirations that we talk about all the time,” Bohn said on Tuesday. “It just felt like the right time. There’s a sense of knowing when to play things a certain way and just having that gut feeling. I think that we have the right one.”

His calculus is this: With 10 games remaining, USC can still salvage its season.

But that first required navigating a potentially awkward transition. Bohn didn’t want to call a team meeting and cause alarm among players and staff. So he sat on the news through Sunday before he and his chief of staff, Brandon Sosna, met with Helton at 1:30 pm on Monday. They pulled Donte Williams aside just before a team meeting and informed him that he would be the interim coach in Helton’s place.

Helton himself had first been hired after a stint as an interim, ascending to the role of permanent coach before the 2015 season was complete. However, a similar track is unlikely for Williams.

Williams said Tuesday he had “full faith” that USC would make the right decision in hiring its coach. According to a person close to the matter, however, it was made clear to Williams that USC would conduct a full national search whether the Trojans win the next 10 games under Williams’ watch or lose them. Regardless, a person told The Times, the expectation is that USC will work diligently to retain Williams even if, as expected, it goes outside the program for a permanent replacement.

Before they moved forward, however, Bohn thought it important to allow Helton a chance to say his own goodbye. So the coach broke the news to his team during its 2:10 team meeting. Star wideout Drake London called the moment “heart-wrenching.”

“That meant a lot to a lot of players to have that kind of moment after we heard the news,” USC captain and punter Ben Griffiths said. “None of us were really ready for it.”

Meanwhile, at 2:11, Bohn posted a statement on social media that he was making a change.

In the wake of Bohn’s decision, the urgency within the department to get the next coaching hire right— and avoid the fate of so many other FBS bluebloods who have fallen further from relevance because of bad hires — is tremendously high. For Bohn, who previously hired football coaches to Power Five programs at Colorado and Cincinnati, the pressure has never been greater.

“We’re doing everything we can to show our next head coach, wherever that head coach is, that we’re fully committed to winning a national championship,” Bohn said.

USC will conduct a deliberate search, with the expectation that it could drag into December, assuming any of the university’s top candidates are still coaching into the postseason.

What that ideal candidate looks like remains to be seen, but Bohn offered some insight Tuesday into the qualities he covets.

“Leadership, high integrity, character, the ability to connect with young men,” Bohn said. “As you all know, our vision is to be the most student-athlete-centered program in the country, so we want somebody that understands the connectability with young men that are a part of this program and the ability to recruit and bring high-quality, character people to USC and again to pursue championships.”

When asked whether the ideal coach will have previously led his own program, Bohn said, “there’s no replacement for head coaching experience.”

With Helton out just two games into the season and the search for his replacement only just beginning, there will be no shortage of time to craft a fuller portrait of what that ideal coach looks like.

latimes.com

_________

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Steveg
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Steveg (@steveg)
September 16, 2021 6:16 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Please, not someone that “knows USC” again. Those days are over. Time for new.

HOF19
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HOF19 (@hof19)
September 15, 2021 4:53 pm

Wonder how much wagering is going on in reference to the USC -Wash State game this weekend or are people avoiding wagering on that game because it might be a little hard to figure out …..FIGHT ON !

Chris
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Chris (@chris)
September 15, 2021 4:11 pm

He’s a zero chance guy, but I always thought Jon Gruden would be an amazing college coach. He’s a great play caller, charismatic, crazy competitive, and would be about as good a recruiter as there would be. No chance were going to pony up 10mil a year to offer him. Just a random thought.

TrojanMPA90
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TrojanMPA90 (@trojanmpa90)
September 15, 2021 9:48 pm
Reply to  Chris

No way! Gruden hasn’t done anything in the NFL. He won a Super Bowl with Tony Dungy’s players. Since then he’s been scuffling.

San Diego Trojan
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San Diego Trojan (@san-diego-trojan)
September 15, 2021 3:57 pm

I’m glad we have a few months to find out who is truly interested, and who is just using the attention to get a better job or contract. Waiting to the end of the season usually means scrambling to find a guy before the signing period for recruits. On a side note, Petros was saying on his show yesterday that Lynn Swann was only hired because his friend, mega-booster Wayne Hughes, who recently passed, cut a donation deal with Max that included Swann’s hiring. It helped Max reach his big legacy fund raising goal, and ended up hurting Swann’s legacy… Read more »

Chris
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Chris (@chris)
September 15, 2021 4:32 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Petros is right more than he is wrong, but he clearly has an axe to grind. I don’t think he is good for USC. He is 99% negative regardless the topic.

Gabby
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Gabby (@gabby)
September 15, 2021 3:24 pm

It’s official!….Jim Mora has turned down the job.

Steveg
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Steveg (@steveg)
September 16, 2021 6:13 pm
Reply to  Gabby

Hilarious. Thank God.

volunteerTrojan
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volunteerTrojan (@volunteertrojan)
September 15, 2021 12:57 pm

I, like most of you, am ready to pen my final thoughts on the CH era if you haven’t already, and turn my attention fully to the games ahead of us and the job search. I came across this great summary of the failed CH years by Pete Thamel that I will quote as my epilogue. History will remember Clay Helton as USC’s accidental head coach. He served twice as the interim before being hired full time. He was the coach who kept sticking around, as the confluence of winning just enough and getting a preposterous contract by an incompetent athletic director enabled… Read more »

Chris
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Chris (@chris)
September 15, 2021 11:58 am

You know there have to be some slimy agents out there throwing out their coaches names into the USC rumor mill even if they don’t want the job. What an easy way to get an extension.

HOF19
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HOF19 (@hof19)
September 15, 2021 11:42 am

My brother asked me am I giving USC’s AD high marks now …I told him I could have but seeing a lot of USC fans that lovingly (The last 24 hours or so ) lovingly dream of Urban Meyer I said to my brother >>> “If USC’s AD had done this a year ago we might just have Urban Meyer now ” !….But spilt milk I guess .

Last edited 3 days ago by HOF19
Steveg
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Steveg (@steveg)
September 15, 2021 2:43 pm
Reply to  HOF19

Matt Lienart says he didn’t think Meyer was that excited about coming to USC. He said that today on Off Campus with Mark Packer.

HOF19
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HOF19 (@hof19)
September 15, 2021 10:50 am

No surprise here >>>>> Ian Rapoport

@RapSheet
·
2h

#Jaguars coach Urban Meyer answers a question about USC speculation now that the job is open: “No chance. I’m committed to here and building an organization.”

Gabby
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Gabby (@gabby)
September 15, 2021 3:26 pm
Reply to  HOF19

Give him 16 more weeks, then ask for his response

HOF19
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HOF19 (@hof19)
September 15, 2021 3:53 pm
Reply to  Gabby

I believe it will….forever ….be a case of us wanting him much more than he wants us .

San Diego Trojan
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San Diego Trojan (@san-diego-trojan)
September 15, 2021 10:42 am

Allen, I know you are probably watching or listening to Cowherd, like I am, and Joel Klatt, whose opinions I greatly respect, has his list of who he thinks USC should call, and has his lists of big names they should call, and make those names say no, and the next list of who to call. Names to call to make them say no; Urban Meyer Dabo Sweeney Lincoln Riley Brian Kelly Ryan Day The other list of next names to call; Mario Cristobal Jeff Hafley Eric Bienemy Josh McDaniels Joe Brady Deion Sanders He feels the coach should have… Read more »

San Diego Trojan
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San Diego Trojan (@san-diego-trojan)
September 15, 2021 11:23 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

It was a great promotion for the brand and what it could and should be, and how important this hire is not only to the University, but to future TV contracts.

Chris
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Chris (@chris)
September 15, 2021 11:32 am

Ok Joel Klatt, I’m all on your first five. Any of those would work for me. Aren’t all pretty much untouchable? I would think UM is the most available. The others will just have their schools pay them extra truckloads of money.

HOF19
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HOF19 (@hof19)
September 15, 2021 11:34 am
Reply to  Chris

Urban Meyer said “Not interested ” this morning.(And do not shoot me ….I am just the messenger )

Last edited 3 days ago by HOF19
Chris
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Chris (@chris)
September 15, 2021 10:17 am

So much news, so many names, and this is just starting.

So far, I am hoping for Stoops. Wondering who you all are hoping to see here.

TrojanMPA90
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TrojanMPA90 (@trojanmpa90)
September 15, 2021 10:22 am
Reply to  Chris

Urban Meyer if he wants to bail on Jacksonville but I want a coach in waiting with him. James Franklin would be okay. Eric Bienemy would be great but still wondering why he never got an NFL job. If we could steal him Mario Cristobal since he has all the West Coast ties right now.

Rock2112
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Rock2112 (@rock2112)
September 15, 2021 11:43 am
Reply to  TrojanMPA90

Franklin is Helton without the gaping mouth. Cristobal is real. Understands physicality and recruiting, and can recruit the West. I’d have to get a “no” from him before I would look much further.

Rock2112
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Rock2112 (@rock2112)
September 15, 2021 12:40 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Cristobal will probably use us to get a raise from Phil Knight, though. Get your popcorn for that.

Rock2112
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Rock2112 (@rock2112)
September 15, 2021 12:54 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Don’t know how accurate it is, but Coaches Hot Seat says he is the 33rd best paid coach at $5mil per year. Seems he is due for a raise.

Jamaica
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Jamaica (@jamaica)
September 15, 2021 1:04 pm
Reply to  Rock2112

Cristobal is amazing listening to him talk football and his philosophy. It will take a truck full of money & maybe his realization he can’t recruit enough of the right players willing to go to Oregon before he possibly looks elsewhere. But you can tell he is after National Championships.

Jamaica
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Jamaica (@jamaica)
September 15, 2021 12:57 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

We can have fun tossing every name of a current HC in Div.I football on this website for the next month and a half but honestly none of them are going to say-hint-speculate-anything but deny interest while they are coaching another program. All Bohn can possibly do is research the names he feels fit into the category of championship level coaches, make a list then give it to Folt to scrutinize her approval. Then wait until the college and or NFL season is about to finish before going forward.

Rock2112
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Rock2112 (@rock2112)
September 15, 2021 1:16 pm
Reply to  Jamaica

He can talk back-channel with anyone. We just won’t hear about it, and no announcement is likely until December. Which means, unless there is a really strong rumor out there, our early signing period is toast this year.

Trojan5
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Trojan5 (@trojan5)
September 15, 2021 12:59 pm
Reply to  Rock2112

Rock, you might be right about Franklin. I don’t agree with you and would be fine if he were to get the job. But he is like every other legitimate candidate out there. Namely he is flawed. Just like PJ Fleck, Campbell, Fickell, etc., etc.. Realistically there is no failure proof , guaranteed success out there. Saban, Dabo, Riley, Urban or Cristobal are pipe dreams. None of them have a reason to come to USC. Each is in a better situation now and have nothing to prove to anyone by taking the SC job. FWIW, I live in the NW… Read more »

Rock2112
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Rock2112 (@rock2112)
September 15, 2021 2:28 pm
Reply to  Trojan5

Helton was 46-24, at USC. Frankin is 56-23 at Penn State. Helton at least won a Rose Bowl, albeit years ago. Who did he win that against? Oh, it seems that was James Franklin. What’s Franklin’s bowl record at Penn State. Hmmm, 3-3. What’s his biggest win? A narrow 35-28 bowl win over Washington in a non-playoff Fiesta Bowl (2017). And James Franklin is employed at a traditionally strong football school. Franklin has no west coast ties, his teams are soft like USC, and they lose when they go up against ANYONE real. AM I MISSING SOMETHING? Really, is there… Read more »

Steveg
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Steveg (@steveg)
September 15, 2021 2:52 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I 100% agree with Rock on Franklin. Let him stay at PSU and win 8 or 9 a year. That is about how good he is. He was a hot commodity a few years ago because he coached Vandy to some wins. Vandy was due for some wins sometime, Franklin took the bows and bailed out to PSU. He would be a tragic mistake.

ATL D.D.S.
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ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
September 16, 2021 10:38 am
Reply to  Trojan5

If we are going to bring up Franklin’s name; then why don’t we give Kevin Sumlin a call! /sarc/. Franklin is a 5% upgrade from Sumlin (and Helton).

Trojan5
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Trojan5 (@trojan5)
September 16, 2021 4:41 pm
Reply to  ATL D.D.S.

Whoa. I am not advocating for Franklin or any other candidate. My wish list has one requirement that is more important than any other consideration. IMO the new coach must have prior HC experiencing. I think the task confronting the new coach is too large for a first time HC learning how to be HC.

Trojan5
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Trojan5 (@trojan5)
September 15, 2021 10:14 am

I love to see all the conjecture about the possible new HC. It is times like this where we clearly see that not all reporters or insiders are equal. I smile at the TBD posters I consider to be less than informed because they are only offering their opinion & aren’t paid for it. But to the guys that get paid for their opinion I say well done. Not everyone can not know squat from diddly and have someone pay them for their obviously uninformed opinion. I don’t fault them for their BS or fault them for taking the money.… Read more »

San Diego Trojan
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San Diego Trojan (@san-diego-trojan)
September 15, 2021 10:07 am

Well, we are still relevant nationally.USC was a leading story on all media outlets from ESPN to all the prominent Sportstalk shows. Speculation is rampant with names being mentioned everywhere. Dan Patrick, who had two kids that attended USC, and has his own sources that have been right on just about everything,throughout the years on matters involving every league, says he was told that James Franklin has shown interest and is on a short list, and he also heard, what we all kind of figured, was that the reason a change wasn’t made two years ago, was that the administration… Read more »

Last edited 4 days ago by San Diego Trojan
Rock2112
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Rock2112 (@rock2112)
September 15, 2021 1:18 pm

If we hire Franklin, I renew my “Death of USC Football” article. The wheel rolls over again.

TrojanMPA90
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TrojanMPA90 (@trojanmpa90)
September 15, 2021 9:54 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I don’t think we want to go down this road again. This is a crucial hire for Bohn and he needs to get it right. I’m fine with interviewing Kiffin but would prefer they hire someone else more proven.

Trojan5
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Trojan5 (@trojan5)
September 15, 2021 10:05 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Allen- this is directed at you specifically as you were previously involved in the recruiting world & had access to coaches and insiders. You and many on TBD have complained for years about the vapid commentary from CH. I am now seeing writers and those who get paid to follow SC make the same criticisms of CH. Though they critiqued the team, the coaching, the results and the overall failures of the program I do not recall any reports of or videos of contentious press conferences where anyone pushed back on CH and his obvious empty rhetoric , let alone… Read more »

San Diego Trojan
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San Diego Trojan (@san-diego-trojan)
September 15, 2021 10:16 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Would not want to go down that road with Kiffin again. If he hadn’t been hired there before, then he would have been a natural on the list of candidates. I think it would be the kind of negative scrutiny that they are trying to avoid at this time.

RialtoTrojan
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RialtoTrojan (@rialtotrojan)
September 15, 2021 7:13 am

So Mike’s hired coaches at Colorado and Cincinnati, I would say, “Who?” I am not that stupid. At the same time I have to ask if the hires were impacting. Although we have to, can we trust Mike to find the right guy? At this point fans are gun shy. Some are calling for robbing the NFL of Urban renewal, but after seeing hit pieces based on his temper, he might not fit with the team. Everyone has a favorite, mine is the guy who fits the program best. I love the idea of keeping Donte Williams as was done… Read more »

LawyerJohn
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LawyerJohn (@lawyerjohn)
September 15, 2021 6:10 am

So Drake London found the Helton firing “heart-wrenching.” Well, Drake, ol’ man, you had the biggest hand in that loss that led to his dismissal. The team looked good at the start of the second half, pulling to within a score of Stanford, 21-13, and the Trojans had the ball. But London bobbled a pass and let it slide through his hands into Stanford’s hands, a Pick-6, SC is demoralized, and the game is now effectively over at 28-13. 9 times out of 10 London either makes that catch or has it fall harmlessly to the ground. You could call… Read more »

Steveg
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Steveg (@steveg)
September 15, 2021 7:10 am
Reply to  LawyerJohn

That one play is like picking on one little bump on your skin while having chicken pox. The malaise was there from the opening kickoff and never changed because nobody knew how to change it, they played like they practiced. Stanford is so bad that even with USC playing without energy or determination kept it close until then. Stanford saw they had the chance to win and became totally energized to do it. Momentum. We can’t point at players, they are the product of the leadership.

Chris
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Chris (@chris)
September 15, 2021 7:13 am
Reply to  Steveg

Also, the last 4-5 years. That too.

UtahTrojan
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UtahTrojan (@utahtrojan)
September 16, 2021 10:18 am
Reply to  LawyerJohn

I don’t believe this one play caused the whole game to go down the crapper. But if it did it goes down in infamy as the torpedo that sank Helton.
I do agree any player making the statement they were shocked by this is only saying it because it is the right thing to say. This has been coming for years.