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Column: Mike Bohn’s first big play as USC’s athletic director results in a turnover

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USC athletic director Mike Bohn, left, and football coach Clay Helton.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Mike Bohn’s first decision at USC was always going to be his easiest.

As the new athletic director hired by the new president, his task was to move on from Clay Helton and hire a football coach who would turn around an apathetic fan base and an anemic recruiting class.

Finding the right coach wasn’t necessarily going to be easy, but the decision to fire Helton, who has gone 13-11 over the last two seasons and has a recruiting class ranked outside of the top 65, was seemingly a prerequisite to the job.

Bohn wasn’t hired to maintain the status quo. He was hired to right a ship that was slowly sinking after Pat Haden and Lynn Swann had been sleeping at the wheel.

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On Wednesday, Bohn decided against charting a new path and instead decided to sail right into the Bermuda Triangle. He committed to Helton and doubled down on the mistake of his predecessors.

Helton was a safe rebound for a jilted program that had been through two bad breakups when he was given a five-year contract in 2015.

USC hadn’t changed football coaches during the season in more than 100 years when the school fired Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian midseason within two years. After failing to make Ed Orgeron the permanent coach after he guided USC to a 6-2 record on an interim basis, USC tried to correct that mistake by giving the job to Helton, who had gone 5-2.

It wasn’t a popular decision among a fan base that wanted a proven head coach to lead the program back to national championship contention. Helton had never been a head coach before. He was hired by Kiffin after being an assistant coach at Memphis and was retained by Sarkisian. His most redeeming quality as a head coach was that he was nothing like the two men he coached under at USC.

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That may be a low bar for a program as storied as USC, but he offered a much-needed, mild-mannered respite to the daily soap opera created by Kiffin and Sarkisian. Helton went 1-5 in his six games as USC’s permanent head coach before Sam Darnold saved his job and led USC to a 20-3 record, including a Rose Bowl win and a Pac-12 championship in two seasons.

That run, however, seems like a distant memory after the last two seasons. The Trojans probably will be underdogs in their bowl game and in next season’s opener against Alabama.

Helton, who last year signed a contract extension through 2023, probably will have a .500 record over his previous 26 games following the game with the Crimson Tide.

Helton is the coach Haden hired, Swann extended and Bohn has now retained. It’s a common thread most believed would be cut when Bohn was hired. Unlike Haden and Swann, who were USC football legends with no prior experience as a university administrator, Bohn had been an athletic director at Idaho, San Diego State, Colorado and Cincinnati.

He was supposed to have his own vision for success. He was supposed to be a fresh set of eyes and ears to listen to a disgruntled fan base and see the 20,000-plus empty seats at the Coliseum on game days. He was supposed to offer a clean slate with no ties to the mistakes of the previous administration. He was supposed to be different but proved to be just as incompetent as his predecessors.

The issues with Helton go beyond wins and losses.

Sure, he’s 13-14 against Power Five teams with a winning record and has lost a dozen games by double digits, but his teams also have ranked near the bottom in the nation in penalty yards and turnovers per game during his time as head coach.

The Trojans are one of the most undisciplined teams in the nation, and it’s no surprise that none of California’s top 30 prospects have committed to USC and that the school’s recruiting class ranks 11th in the Pac 12.

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Almost as inexcusable as Bohn’s decision to bring Helton back is that he did not even explore possible replacements. Bohn said that he didn’t speak to anyone else about the job and that his support of Helton “never wavered.”

USC could have hired a former football player who had never been an athletic director before if it wanted a do-nothing figurehead to maintain the status quo. Bohn was supposed to represent a change, but in fumbling the first and easiest decision of his tenure, he showed USC fans that nothing has changed or will change any time soon.

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Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the biggest shopping days of the year, and sports apparel outlet Fanatics broke its single sales day record on both days thanks in part to sales in Los Angeles, which saw a 35% increase this holiday weekend compared with last year.

The top-five players for merchandise sold on Cyber Monday in Los Angeles were LeBron James, Cody Bellinger, Anthony Davis, Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Brady. Los Angeles was the top-selling city for Brady merchandise on Cyber Monday. The top-five selling teams on Cyber Monday in L.A. were the Dodgers, Oakland Raiders, Lakers, Dallas Cowboys and Rams.

The Lakers’ iconic gold jersey is a huge fan favorite, but the team keeps treating the Staples Center faithful to purple threads. What’s up with that?

The top three products sold in Los Angeles were James’ new Lakers “City Edition” jersey, a Rams hoodie and a Dodgers pajama set. James was the third-best selling player in the country across all sports behind Lamar Jackson and Brady.

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The Los Angeles Wildcats revealed their uniforms and helmets Tuesday at the team’s opening dinner in Las Vegas to kick off minicamp.

The team’s primary colors are black, red and light orange. They will wear black helmets with a red and light orange L.A. logo on the side and a red claw mark down the middle. Their home uniforms will be primarily black and their road uniforms will be primarily white.

The XFL revealed the uniforms for its eight teams. Which players are going to look the sharpest? (Hint: the ones with the dragons on their helmets.)

“I think our uniforms are hands down the best out of all of the teams,” said Wildcats coach and general manager Winston Moss. “It’s not even close. I can’t wait to see our guys wearing them out on the field.”

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An authentic jersey retails for $225, which is more than twice the cost of the cheapest Wildcats season ticket.


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