USC Sports

USC Now mailbag: Practice, recruits and coaches

Clay Helton

A test for Clay Helton next season will be to change the culture of the program, which is stuck in a state of self-pity.

(Ben Margot / AP)

Happy New Year! 

I can only imagine the resolutions made by USC fans.

Mine was simple: Carry my laptop at all times.

Do you think USC mishandled practice for the bowl game?


— TrojanJ, @USCJamesY

No. Seven practices should have prepared USC to play Wisconsin.

The Trojans could have probably doubled the amount of practice, tripled it in fact, and still probably would not have beaten the Badgers.

(Note: The NCAA rulebook does not restrict the number of practices before a bowl game, with the exception of the regular-season rules that limit football activity to four hours a day and 20 hours per week until finals are over.)


The issue isn’t about the number of practices.

It’s about the culture of the program, stuck in a state of self-pity, and when Coach Clay Helton will decide to change it. 

The sanctions, the coaching changes and the endless drama continued to serve as a crutch for the team on its way to an 8-6 season.

Bill Plaschke, Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry discuss USC’s loss to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl and what it means for the program in 2016. 

Trojans players have endured far more than they signed up for and deserved to be commended, I’ve even said so several times.

But this spring, the program must move on.

Helton will have a full-time staff, there will be a quarterback competition for the first time since 2013 and seniors — who experienced the worst of the drama — have left the program.

Helton must instill toughness and physicality, all players must be held to a higher standard of accountability and there can’t be any more discussion of past issues.


Will any of the USC targets announce at all-star games?

— Reese Fleeton

USC did not pick up any commitments in the 2016 class from the Under Armour All-American game or the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl last weekend.

Four Trojans commits, offensive lineman Frank Martin and receivers Michael Pittman, Trevon Sidney and Tyler Vaughns, are scheduled to play in the Army All-American Bowl on Saturday.

USC recruits Jack Jones, a defensive back from Long Beach Poly, Mique Juarez, a linebacker from North Torrance, and Devin Asiasi, a tight end from Concord De La Salle, also are scheduled to play. None, however, are expected to announce their commitments at the game.

Any thoughts on who might be the defensive coordinator?

— Peter Mota

All signs point to Clancy Pendergast.


Pendergast has coached linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers the last two seasons.

He was the defensive coordinator at USC in 2013, when the team finished 10-4, but was not retained when Steve Sarkisian took over as coach.

Clay Helton, while a good man, has not proved he is deserving of one of the premier jobs in college football. Mr. Helton has never (i) attracted and retained top-level assistant coaches (ii) overseen the evaluation and recruiting of the best high school players, or (iii) produced a high winning percentage (either as an assistant or head coach). He was unremarkable as an offensive coordinator, while the high point of his interim coaching stint was a victory over a hobbled, average Bruin team.

Now, Pat Haden wants the USC faithful to get behind his decision to remove the interim tag from Helton. If Mr. Haden had even an ounce of self-awareness, he would see that he has disqualified himself from having an opinion on coaching searches. His decision to retain Kiffin after the disastrous 2012 Sun Bowl, followed by the brilliant maneuver which allowed Washington to upgrade its head coach while dumping the wobbly Steve Sarkisian on USC must evoke great fits of laughter in Westwood and South Bend.

I’ve lived and breathed this program for 40 years, ever since attending my first game at the Coliseum in 1975. But now I’m done. Helton’s hiring proves Haden doesn’t care about fielding a national title contender.

I suppose I should thank him. I’ve been neglecting my family during the fall for too long.

— John Beauclair, New Canaan, Conn.

Presented without comment. Thank you for the letter, John.

Questions or comments about USC? Email me at or tweet @LindseyThiry and I will respond to select messages in a weekly USC Now mailbag.

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