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The Sports Report: What’s next for USC in the post-Clay Helton era?

USC coach Clay Helton stands on the sideline during Saturday's loss to Stanford.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Howdy, I’m your host, Austin Knoblauch, filling in for Houston Mitchell, who’s probably busy exploring a bid for the permanent USC football coaching job. Let’s get right to the news.

Ryan Kartje on USC’s decision to fire football coach Clay Helton: When Clay Helton was first elevated to head coach, after years of scandal and impropriety surrounding USC football, he was viewed as a virtuous caretaker, capable of restoring a troubled program with a fresh sense of integrity and stability.

But that virtue, unquestioned to the end, was not enough amid towering expectations. After years of unfulfilled promises and festering fan frustration over the direction of USC’s underachieving football program, the Trojans fired Helton just two games into his seventh season.

USC athletic director Mike Bohn twice chose to keep Helton as coach even in the face of fierce ire from the Trojans’ fanbase. But by Monday, in the wake of a disastrous defeat to Stanford two nights earlier, Bohn’s patience had finally worn thin.

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“As I committed to upon my arrival at USC, during the past two offseasons we provided every resource necessary for our football program to compete for championships,” Bohn said in a statement. “The added resources carried significantly increased expectations for our team’s performance, and it is already evident that, despite the enhancements, those expectations would not be met without a change in leadership.”

USC coach Clay Helton stands on the sideline at the Coliseum during Saturday's loss to Stanford.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Associate head coach Donte Williams will serve as USC’s interim coach. He is the first Black coach in Trojans football history. Bohn said he made the decision to fire Helton and elevate Williams with the hope of salvaging the Trojans’ 2021 campaign.

Williams said during the “Trojans Live” radio show that he didn’t plan to make any major changes, but rather “enhance everything we do.” Williams, who also serves as cornerbacks coach, found out about his new position just before the team was told on Monday afternoon.

“You’re really going to enjoy Donte Williams,” Bohn said in a separate interview on “Trojans Live.” “I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do. Everything is in front of us as far as our aspirations to win the league still.”

Further staff changes are not anticipated at this time. But with Helton gone just two games into the season, Bohn will have the next three months to conduct a national search for his replacement.

“With our storied history, our talented young roster, and the major investments we’ve made in the infrastructure of our football organization, I’m optimistic that we are better positioned right now than we have been at any other time in the past decade to recruit the best and right leader for us,” Bohn said.

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USC FOOTBALL

USC coach Clay Helton walks on the sideline during Saturday's loss to Stanford.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Columnist Bill Plaschke on the USC coaching search: On a day when the USC football program finally put torment in its past, there was no containing the size of its future.

It burst through my in-box Monday afternoon almost immediately after Clay Helton was fired.

It came in the form of a statement from Rick Caruso, chairman of the USC Board of Trustees.

“I appreciate everything that Clay Helton has done for our students over the last several years,” Caruso wrote. “However, it has become abundantly clear that it is time to make a change and I am supportive of the actions taken today by President [Carol] Folt and AD [Mike] Bohn. We have a proud football tradition of excellence, and I am confident in our ability to attract a world-class coach who will return the USC football program to the most competitive and highest levels of collegiate football.”

Did you hear that? “World-class coach?” “Most competitive and highest levels of collegiate football?”

Those lofty goals should go without saying, but the Trojans’ leading power broker said it anyway. The tone has been set for a football coaching search unlike any the school has conducted in 20 years.

They need to go big, go powerful, go national, go gravitas.

Go greatness.

They need to forgo the odd, inner-circle hirings of the last two decades and hire the absolute biggest, brightest and most influential figure possible. This is still a plum job, and, while it might be intriguing to uncover a diamond in the rough, don’t get cute.

Hire somebody who is somebody.

More on USC football

Here are 13 candidates to replace Clay Helton as USC’s football coach

Five things you need to know about interim coach Donte Williams

Clay Helton thanks USC, players ‘for opportunity of a lifetime’

DODGERS

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw celebrates with his teammates in the dugout after exiting the game in the fifth inning.
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw celebrates with his teammates in the dugout after exiting the game in the fifth inning of a 5-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Jorge Castillo on Clayton Kershaw’s first game since July 3: The scene Monday night at Dodger Stadium was familiar: Clayton Kershaw jogging out to the mound to pent-up roars in his return from an extended stint on the injured list. The circumstances, with less than three weeks left in the regular season, were not.

In the past, the Dodgers needed Kershaw to round into top form for the playoffs for a real chance to win the World Series. This year, barring injury, the team has three other Cy Young Award candidates — Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías — primed for the heavy postseason lifting. As the Dodgers stand, they don’t need Kershaw to front the charge.

But a Dodgers postseason run wouldn’t be right without Kershaw, a future Hall of Famer and beloved clubhouse leader grateful for every October opportunity, and Monday was an encouraging step in the right direction. Pitching in a big league game for the first time in more than two months, the left-hander, desperate to help his club in a pennant race, gave up one run over 4 1/3 innings in the Dodgers’ 5-1 win over the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks.

“There’s not a lot of better feelings in the world than getting to pitch here and getting a win,” Kershaw said. “It’s a special thing. I missed it. It was good to be back.”

Kershaw struck out five (all swinging), walked one and threw 50 pitches with his high school teammate, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, in the stands. His 89.2-mph average fastball velocity was a tick below his usual mark this season, but he compiled 11 swinging strikes anyway. Three of his strikeouts came on a slider. The other two were on curveballs. To top it off, he beat out an infield single in his only plate appearance, bumping up his batting average to .258.

“It felt right having him back out here,” catcher Austin Barnes said. “He’s been our guy here, our leader. It was just good to have him out there competing again.”

PRO FOOTBALL

A flag is unfurled on the field before the start of Monday's game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
A flag is unfurled on the field before the start of Monday’s game between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Baltimore Ravens at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Dylan Hernández on the spectacle that was the Las Vegas Raiders’ season opener: This isn’t a place for children. That’s not my verdict. That’s the verdict of the fans who attended the Raiders’ first-ever regular-season game at Allegiant Stadium played in front of a live audience.

They kept their offspring at home.

Walking around the stadium’s main concourse before the Raiders’ 33-27 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens, the absence of the children was striking. The handful of them who were here looked as out of place as those 7- or 8-year-olds who are dragged by their parents to a supermarket or convenience store at midnight.

Maybe there weren’t any children because it was a school night. I’m guessing that wasn’t the reason.

The Raiders aren’t playing in a dump anymore, but the energy in the stands remains the same. This was a Raiders game, and Raiders games are adult entertainment. This place has an edge to it, which is further accentuated by the stadium’s silver-and-black color scheme.

The hours leading up to the game were a reminder of that.

A ride-sharing service’s algorithm determined the 2.8-mile drive from my hotel to Allegiant Stadium was worth $56, prompting me to participate in what promises to become one of the most painful pregame traditions in American sports.

I crossed the Hacienda Avenue bridge on foot.

I wasn’t alone, with hundreds, if not thousands, of others also walking down the eastbound lanes of the blocked street.

Most of the marchers wore Raiders colors. Even more were holding beers.

Occasionally, someone screamed, “Raaiiiiiders!” The calls elicited hoots and hollers from the intoxicated crowd.

UCLA FOOTBALL

David Calvert hugging UCLA linebacker Bo Calvert after the Bruins' win over LSU.
David Calvert hugs his son, UCLA linebacker Bo Calvert, after the Bruins’ win over LSU on Sept. 4 at the Rose Bowl.
(Steve Cheng)

Ben Bolch on UCLA linebacker Bo Calvert’s life journey: The father-son talks usually started with a text message.

“How’s it going?” David Calvert would ask his son Bo, the UCLA linebacker.

“Yeah, it’s all right,” Bo would respond.

“You need to talk?”

“Yeah.”

With that, David would grab his car key and head out the door of his Westlake Village home. Sometimes he’d pick up Bo from his campus dorm and head over to BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse in Westwood Village for a dessert pizza.

Their chats on those dark nights three years ago invariably ended in the parking lot outside Bo’s dorm while sitting inside David’s black Dodge Ram.

“Sometimes we wouldn’t even talk,” David said. “The last hour, we’d just sit there and he’d say, ‘OK, I’m good’ and then get out and go to sleep.”

The heavy silence reflected Bo’s inner struggles — the repeated concussions, the 16-hour days of drudgery on a team that went 3-9, the almost giving up on football.

They also made what would follow more exhilarating.

Calvert logged his first collegiate sack a little more than a week ago in a nationally televised game against Louisiana State, surging into the backfield to pummel Tigers quarterback Max Johnson.

In the Rose Bowl stands, David Calvert celebrated the play as well as the son whose perseverance symbolized his resurgent team.

“I thought, man, I’m glad he pushed through that freshman year,” David said.

On the field, Bo contemplated the payoff finally arriving for his blind belief in the Bruins.

“What kept me going,” he said, “was the thought that I’d be able to contribute to a team that’s going to be a winning team; that’s going to be really good.”

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1923 — Jack Dempsey knocks out Luis Firpo in the second round for his last successful defense of his world heavyweight title, at Madison Square Garden in New York.

1947 — Jack Kramer beats Frank Parket to win the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association championship. Kramer wins 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.

1959 — The new $32 million Aqueduct, operated by the New York Racing Association, opens.

1968 — Jimmy Ellis wins the WBA heavyweight title by beating Floyd Patterson in the 15th round in Stockholm, Sweden.

1986 — Chicago’s Walter Payton rushes for 177 yards, to reach the 15,000-yard plateau and scores his 100th career rushing touchdown as the Bears beat the Philadelphia Eagles 13-10.

1991 — Freshman Marshall Faulk of San Diego State rushes for an NCAA record 386 yards and scores seven touchdowns in his second collegiate game. Faulk sets an NCAA record for most rushing touchdowns in a game by a freshman as the Aztecs beat Pacific 55-34.

1991 — Texas A&M freshman Greg Hill has the greatest debut by a freshman running back in college football history as the Aggies rout LSU 45-7. Hill sets a major college record with 212 yards rushing in his first game and scores twice on 30 carries.

1994 — The baseball season, already shut down by a monthlong strike, is canceled along with the World Series in a vote by 26 of the 28 teams.

2002 — Tim Montgomery of the United States sets a world record in the 100 meters, clocking 9.78 seconds at the IAAF Grand Prix Final in Paris. The previous world record of 9.79 was set by fellow American Maurice Greene in 1999.

2003 — Jamal Lewis rushes for an NFL-record 295 yards on 30 carries in Baltimore’s 33-13 victory over Cleveland.

2006 — Tiger Woods’ five-tournament winning streak finally ends when Shaun Micheel knocks him out in the first round of the World Match Play Championship. The score was 4 and 3, matching Woods’ worst loss in match play.

2010 — Reggie Bush announces he is forfeiting his Heisman Trophy. The running back releases a statement saying he would give back the award that he won in 2005 while he was at Southern California. It’s the first time college football’s top award is returned by a recipient.

2011 — The Pittsburgh pirates clinches its 19th consecutive losing season, a record for a major league franchise in North America, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2.

2014 — Mirjana Lucic-Baroni beats Venus Williams 6-4, 6-3 to win the Coupe Banque Nationale and set the record for the biggest gap between WTA titles. Lucic-Baroni wins her third WTA title and first in 16 years and four months.

2014 — New England’s Bill Belichick becomes the sixth head coach in NFL history to reach 200 regular-season wins with a 30-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Belichick has a 200-106 (.654) record in the regular season.

And finally

Las Vegas Raiders fans had plenty to cheer about Monday night following their overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens. Check out how Raiders quarterback David Carr broke down the game here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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