In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
A theory: Normally, I am not into conspiracy theories, but the recent and overall additions to the defensive coaching staff raised my eyebrows not because they might not be great coaches – I actually think this is going to be a much better coaching staff overall, which could have a real positive impact in 2020 – but they were probably all given at least two-year contracts, and some insiders insist three-year contracts to specific hires. Who cares, yet what does it all mean?
A theory – Part 2: We’re all aware that there’s a high probability that it was USC President Carol Folt that saved current Trojans head coach Clay Helton from standing in the college football unemployment line. Amend that, maybe it’s more like a really high probability. It's also plausible that Helton’s retention was Folt’s main directive to her athletic director, Mike Bohn (cover photo above), in like “you’re going to keep him, but you can do whatever you think you need to do to make the program better within financial reason.” Perhaps what Bohn has become – aside from the Trojans’ athletic director – is a collegiate version of an NFL general manager. A stretch? Maybe. Maybe not.
A theory – Part 3: If you go along with the previous two theories, then it’s possible in the conspiracy world that Mike Bohn is setting up the Trojans’ program to be successful without much interference from Helton. After all, Helton concedes that both his offensive coordinator, Graham Harrell, and new defensive coordinator, Todd Orlando, are calling the shots with a few admitted suggestions from the headmaster. That’s not to say that Helton doesn’t have input, but it’s basically Harrell and Orlando’s show, which allows the Trojans’ head coach to work on his halftime interviewing skills for network television, post-game media analysis, and/or working to improve the team’s discipline, which was one of his self-appointed duties in 2019. This self-appointed discipline assignment/responsibility appears to be a continuing work in progress.
A theory – Part 4: So, where I am headed here? Okay, this takes us to Mike Bohn’s overall master plan for the football program. Is it conceivable that Bohn is putting in place – by reportedly calling all the hirings and firings of Helton's football coaches –a skillful preparation that if Gentleman Clay is dismissed during the season, things will transition smoothly with an on-staff interim head coach? Is it possible that of the coordinators currently on staff, Graham Harrell – having the seniority at the moment – could assume the dreaded “interim” tag?
A theory – Part 5: Much has been made regarding the Trojans sensitive athletic financial situation, yet Bohn appears to have opened up considerably the bank vault in not only paying off those coaches that were fired (Didn’t some or all of them have at least another season in their contracts?) by spending liberally on the new hires and assuring them some security with multi-year contracts. Of course, what if Helton is fired and a new coach comes in and understandably wants to clean house and hire his own staff? Doesn’t that require a lot of outside financial help from those disconnected high-roller boosters? It is said that Dr. Folt doesn’t want to be indebted to those “creditors” that most athletic departments need to flourish.
A theory – Part 6: So, in the biggest of big pictures, could all these personnel transactions mean that if the Trojans win the Pac-12 Conference Helton stays, but if he slips along the way, Mike Bohn is more than ever prepared to transition into a new direction? In other words, is Bohn laying a master plan groundwork for a potential new beginning for the football program?
From the press box…
Give me Mo: As previously reported, the Trojans added to their quarterback shelf with the addition of Vanderbilt QB grad transfer Anthony Mohammed “Mo” Hasan, who originally started his collegiate football career as a walk-on at Syracuse and then on to Vanderbilt. With JT Daniels out of spring ball as he continues to rehab from his ACL, the Trojans needed another signal caller. Hasan is obviously not a realistic threat to unseat Kedon Slovis, Daniels, or Matt Fink if all remain healthy. Hasan, a native of Coral Gables, Florida, will be valuable for the spring, and one never knows how the injury factor will play out in the fall. Just ask all three returning Trojans quarterbacks about 2019.
The anger: More than a few Oregon Ducks fans were stunned that their ace recruiter and DB coach, Donte Williams, was forsaking Autzen Stadium for the Trojans and returning to his hometown. Williams, of course, said one of the major reasons for his return to LA was to be closer to his ailing father and to assume the duties of being the head of the household. Who can condemn him for that? Of course, the reportedly doubling of salary certainly didn’t hurt the cardinal and gold cause.
Tempered anger: Because of the sensitive explanation for his return to Los Angeles and USC, those Southland recruits that were convinced to sign with Oregon are probably understanding of Donte Williams family situation. However, the signed Ducks recruits that are upset are the defensive backs that Williams signed, and who thought Donte was going to be their coach.
Under the radar: If you know that Donte Williams is originally from LA (Culver City HS) and read his social media comments on thanking Oregon and explaining his family situation, you also read his “taking back the West and Fight On,” meaning he wasn’t shy about crowing about now being in cardinal and gold.
Titles: As you’re probably aware, Donte Williams was hired not only as a defensive backs (corners) coach, but he was also given the title of “ defensive passing game coordinator.” So, what does a “defensive passing game coordinator” do? Well, I guess we’ll all find out when either Clay Helton, Todd Orlando, or Donte Williams is available to the media. You win a cookie if you can remember when Helton last addressed the media. How about after the Holiday Bowl loss to Iowa?
The post-game show…
Still a factor: The question is with all the coaching changes, will Clay Helton still retain his philosophies when it comes to practice methods? Despite comments about being physical by new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, do things start off physical in spring ball, and then taper off in the fall? This aspect is actually very intriguing if Helton goes along with Orlando’s demand to have physical practices. Helton’s integrity is also on the line if he guaranteed Orlando that training camp and fall practice would be physical, which harkens back to the Pete Carroll era.
Tougher practices: So, it appears the Trojans will be having more physical practices when spring practice convenes in early March. The challenge is having physical practices when the Trojans attacking new defense goes at it with the not-so-physical Air Raid offense. Can the two co-exist to benefit both sides of the line of scrimmage?
Strength and conditioning: With all the changes and the apparent switch in practice philosophies, will that have an effect with the Trojans’ current strength and conditioning program under Aaron Ausmus? Will some philosophies of the new coaches have an impact on how the Trojans train in the weight room?
The new league: I am not much into watching the new XFL, but friends tell me it was different and entertaining with its new rules. For the players in the league – some who were borderline NFL cuts – it’s still a paycheck and keeps alive the dream for those still trying to attain a spot on an NFL roster.
The new league – Part 2: Former Trojans currently on XFL rosters include OL Chris Brown, WR De'Quan Hampton, DB Ajene Harris and OL Damien Mama.
The call-in show…
Caller No. 1: Mr. Katz, were you shocked that Ohio prep running back Michael Drennen 11 snubbed the Trojans on signing day for the University of Kentucky? No, not at all. If you look at the kids of this current recruiting cycle, the Trojans running game won’t be confused with the days of Reggie Bush and LenDale White. To be blunt, the Trojans’ running is basically token at best. How do you recruit 5-star running backs when there is obviously no priority to run the ball? Sorry, but this isn’t even a debatable argument. When you run the ball 18 times for 22 net yards in the Holiday Bowl, it’s not going to convince a high caliber back that USC is still Tailback U. In fact, that is more myth than reality at the moment. I would think that one of the hardest coaching positions to deal with in terms of recruiting would be running backs coach.
Caller No. 2: GK, seriously, how much of a factor will the new coaches have in recruiting when Clay Helton is still the head coach? Good question, Caller No. 2. I think the new coaches are aggressive young bucks, and they will do a good job in spite of the “Helton factor.” By all accounts, the new guys on defense are already really going after it in the recruiting wars, and there have been some positive results. However, the shadow of Helton’s perception has to change, and the only way that happens is if the Trojans win the Pac-12 in 2020 or he gets fired. In other words, it’s either feast or famine, IMHO.
Caller No. 3: Gregory, it appears that AD Mike Bohn is living up to his statement of getting involved heavily in the football program. Is it your gut feel that Bohn will make other decisions in the football program beside coaching ? Well, why stop now when the perception is that Bohn could be making a difference? If you go by the theory that Dr. Folt saved Helton’s skin but gave Bohn flexibility to make football decisions, it’s safe to assume that the Trojans’ athletic director isn’t going to step back now. It’s really a question now of how much leeway Bohn is allowing Helton to make decisions or think he’s making decisions?
Caller No. 4: Sir, how do you think the new coaches will be received by the team in time for spring ball? I think the players will be very receptive on the defensive side of the ball. I believe a key will be how much the players believe that certain practices from the past have been cast aside and how much more physicality will be infused during spring ball. From that standpoint, this could make for one very interesting spring. The big question, however, is how much freedom will Todd Orlando give the defensive line to attack as opposed to simply being conduits to clogging holes for the linebacker and safeties to make a play.
Caller No. 5: Mr. GK, I love USC football, but changing topics a bit, Valentine's Day recently passed, so what do you think it takes to have a good romantic relationship? Where the heck did that come from? However, since you asked, my recipe is that in order to make a relationship work, the person of interest has to become your best friend, soulmate, and lover. If one of the three is missing or dies out, the relationship will sooner or later come to an end. Dude, that was heavy.
The Final Word: Rumors that there wouldn’t be an official Trojans 2020 football recruiting gathering appear to have been premature. For those willing to pay $150.00 per person (no dinner but those proverbial hors d’oeuvres) and belong to the Trojans Athletic Fund (TAF), invitations have gone out for the “2020 Trojans Football Spring Preview and to Welcome the Recruiting Class to the Trojans Family.” Special guests include the new spring signees, current players, Clay Helton, and the head coach’s staff. The event will be held on Wednesday evening (5:30 p.m.), March 4, in the Scholarship Club Tower of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. For more information, call USC Athletics at 213-740-4155.