Over the course of a whirlwind first week that saw him crisscrossing campus, meeting with coaches and players, glad-handing with donors and fans and attending every possible event he could fit into his schedule, Mike Bohn didn’t exactly ease his way into his new job as USC’s athletic director.
“It’s been exhilarating and it’s been inspiring,” Bohn said during a brief respite outside of Heritage Hall on Tuesday.
Though the new athletic director has hurried to ingratiate himself with the university, Bohn told The Times in an interview that there’s no such urgency to make a decision on the status of embattled football coach Clay Helton, even as questions over his uncertain future loom large over the final week of USC’s regular season.
“Any time you’re a part of a significant enterprise in something that so many people are invested in, it’s something we don’t want to race into,” Bohn said. “We’re not on a specific timeline that would do anything to jeopardize momentum or opportunities that exist, regardless of what those are. Revealing any type of timeline or plan at this point would be premature and probably inappropriate.”
With only USC’s rivalry matchup with UCLA remaining, there aren’t many opportunities left to build on its recent momentum and extend the season. The Trojans still trail by a half-game in the Pac-12 South division, with just a slim chance of sneaking into the conference title game.
Any such appearance would require Utah to lose to one of its final two games against conference bottom-feeders Arizona and Colorado. That remains unlikely. Since losing to USC in September, Utah has won six straight while outscoring opponents 228-54.
At his introductory news conference, when asked about his expectations for USC’s final few games this season, Bohn noted that “good programs finish strong.”
Since then, as speculation over Helton’s job security continued, USC appears to be doing just that. Its young offense finally is clicking. Injury issues finally are abating.
On Tuesday, USC even sneaked its way into the College Football Playoff rankings at No. 23.
With a victory over their crosstown rivals, the Trojans would finish the season with five wins in six weeks. Their successful spurt hasn’t gone unnoticed by the new athletic director.
“The way they’ve responded these last couple weeks, dealing with so many injuries and overcoming some adversity, he’s been able to keep poised and keep his team focused,” Bohn said of Helton.
“I respect that.”
Asked if that response might be enough to convince him of keeping Helton, Bohn said, “We’re doing everything we can for Clay and those young men to be successful.”
How long a strong finish might delay a decision remains to be seen. USC has a bye next week, when most teams will play their regular-season finales, leading some to wonder if a decision could come as soon as Monday, in hopes of solidifying the program’s future as soon as possible.
That urgency is especially high on the recruiting trail, where the Trojans lag far behind other powerhouse programs. According to 247Sports’ composite rankings, USC’s 2020 class ranks 76th in the nation, behind Bowling Green and just ahead of Texas San Antonio.
The early signing period opens Dec. 18, leaving that as a looming, late deadline to determine the direction of the program, and if USC still has hope of either improving or simply maintaining its 2020 class.
Bohn said he has “great respect for the urgency in recruiting, but I also understand it’s important for us to get it right.”
“Recruiting is important,” he continued. “We have a unique situation this year, where we don’t have a lot of scholarships available. But we have some incredible talent in that locker room, and I want to make sure we get this right.”
Nonetheless, calls for Helton’s exit are sure to reach a fever pitch early next week, after months of rampant speculation. But despite of the insistence of a dissatisfied USC fan base, which now sees just one solution to all that ails the football program, the new athletic director says that a timeline won’t be determined until “all the pieces are put in place.”
However long that may take.
“Our commitment is to our team and our coaches to be successful,” Bohn said. “This is a game big game Saturday, and I have a high expectation for all Trojans to help with that competitive spirit and help us win.”