If I had a nickel every time I was asked, ‘When is [head coach Clay] Helton going to get fired?’ I would have a lot of nickels. The question is almost never “will” Helton get fired, and for a while, I was confused why USC fans and alumni were so trigger-happy.
I have spent the better part of 20 years as a Detroit sports fan. I have seen really bad teams (I’m looking at you, 2008 Lions), I have seen poor coaching and I have seen frustrated fans. We have had our fair share of horrendous coaches as well.
There is a major difference between USC and the abysmal teams I grew up supporting: USC fans can’t handle losing. USC has a winning culture. There are a lot of fair-weather fans and that’s a problem.
I completely understand the desire for fans to call for Helton’s firing. He is the figurehead of this loaded team, and he has a wealth of talent at his fingertips. USC has the potential to be the best team in the Pac-12 and compete with the likes of Michigan and Texas, but you have to step back for a second and look at everything Helton has had to deal with in 2018.
For one, he has a true freshman quarterback in JT Daniels; while I recognize Helton and his staff should have brought him up to speed, inexperience is still a factor.
The second thing is the injuries. The roster looks almost nothing like it did at the beginning of the season. The Trojans have lost so many impact players. Senior captain linebackers Cam Smith and Porter Gustin have missed significant time this season due to injuries, yet I must applaud the coaching staff and players for filling in those spots.
Then there’s the safety position. I don’t think I have ever seen a team lose so many players in a single position. Sophomore Bubba Bolden was supposed to start this season, but he was removed from the team following an incident. Then fill-in redshirt freshman Isaiah Pola-Mao suffered a shoulder injury, which was followed up by senior Marvell Tell missing time. This string of events was recently capped off with the loss of freshman Talonoa Hufanga for the season due to a broken collarbone.
But the loss of players doesn’t stop with the linebackers and safeties. Senior cornerback Iman Marshall will miss time following a couple lower leg injuries, and redshirt freshman cornerback Greg Johnson may miss time with a shoulder injury.
Even in this time of peril, the defense has remained the most solid component of USC’s play. Game after game, the defense holds USC’s inconsistent offense in the game for as long as possible.
As of now, I am not on the “fire Helton” train. I think it’s imperative to give him more time. I don’t think we have seen him demonstrate his coaching ability yet, and that takes time.
Before coming to USC, I was a Michigan fan. In a lot of ways, the Trojans are similar to the Wolverines. Both schools have a rich football history with die-hard fans and alumni. Both schools have a fantastic football culture encapsulated by massive, historic stadiums.
Michigan has been a football powerhouse for many decades, and the fans really do not like losing. The school fostered some of the NFL’s best athletes in Tom Brady, Charles Woodson and Desmond Howard. But the Wolverines were down in the dumps in the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke eras. In walked Jim Harbaugh in 2015 and he was touted as the savior of Michigan football, and although the team vastly improved, the lofty results fans had hoped for didn’t show, especially last season. Four seasons in, Harbaugh has elevated the Wolverines into College Football Playoff picture.
But coaching a football team takes time. Helton is still a fresh head coach; he has only been at the helm of USC since 2015 and has had to deal with many obstacles.
The Trojans’ final two Pac-12 matchups will serve as a litmus test for how Helton can band this broken team together, but by no means should they serve as grounds for his firing. The sample size is not big enough for Athletic Director Lynn Swann to pull the plug on Helton, not to mention the high-profile bowl game finishes of the last two seasons. One season should not define Helton’s coaching ability — especially one full of injuries, young talent and coaching changes.
The Detroit Red Wings taught me love, the Detroit Lions taught me pain and I am hoping that Helton and the Trojans can teach me patience.
Sam Arslanian is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs Fridays.