Waiting in the Shadows

Waiting in the Shadows
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Comments by ex USC running back Reggie Bush this week set the hares running on Campus at University Park in downtown Los Angeles.

Bush, now a  Fox analyst covering the College game was particularly scathing of the current Trojans set up, suggesting he and ex-Trojans quarterbacks Matt Leinart would be recruiting ex Florida and Ohio State coach, Urban Meyer as the next Head Coach at Southern Cal.

As has been covered previously on this site, Meyer is currently retired, on sabbatical, taking a rest – delete as applicable – and not actively seeking employment.

So on the face of it, a non story.

But here’s the thing. Nobody really expects Meyer to stay away from the College game. Having had previous at Florida for walking away, the situation at Ohio State must have felt very familiar to Gator fans in Gainesville.

Health concerns have been cited as the reason behind his need to cut back on pressure cooker situations. That and the way in which Meyer handled the Zach Smith situation in Columbus put the Schools administration in an impossible situation. One which they didn’t handle well either.

So, most anticipated Meyer disappearing from the public eye for a period. Not so. Urban coincidentally has begun as a Fox analyst, in the same team as Bush and Leinart. This is when the mathematicians started adding two and two.

While it would be no surprise if Meyer were to come out of retirement, those close to him say he has two key requirements. 

One. He will not give up his winning record. During his time at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State, Meyer has the highest winning percentage amongst active College football coaches, a staggering 85.3%. Urban Meyer has no interest in that statistic declining, so he needs to go to a conference where winning is achievable from the outset.

Two. He wants to win another National Championship. Having worked miracles at Florida taking that incredible team, quarterbacked by Tim Tebow to a National Championship in 2006 and 2008, he moved to Columbus delivering a third National Championship (for Meyer) in 2014. A dominant Buckeyes team was expected to go on and deliver a dynasty under Meyer, which was not to be, being close but not close enough on three successive years. So Meyer has unfinished business.

And this takes us to USC. A programme and indeed a University in turmoil. In the midst of the admission payments scandal and having recently settled a $215m payment to victims of abuse by an on campus gynaecologist, the University is not the happiest place on earth at the moment. And this is a football programme that lost Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to the Arizona Cardinals after only 34 days in the job.

But Trojans football is different to the rest of the country. When USC wins, it is the biggest sporting spectacle in the greater Los Angeles area. Bar none. Not the Rams or the Chargers or the Dodgers, or even the Lakers. Yes the Lakers. USC is one of the pre-eminent football programmes in the Country. So for Meyer, this is a job which would catch his attention, quickly.

But surely there are other jobs out there.

Well, really no.

Meyer was successful at Florida in the SEC. it would be difficult to go back Down South and land a winning team in the SEC. In the Big Ten he was the dominant Head Coach and there is no way he’s going to Michigan. No way. Notre Dame? Unlikely given the controversy he has courted Texas? Maybe that’s the one which could lure him, but Texas has found its guy in Tom Herman, who coincidentally comes from the Meyer coaching tree.

So in identifying a programme that meets Meyers requirements, USC ticks the boxes.

But don’t the Trojans have an incumbent Head Coach, in Clay Helton? Yes, but truth be told the Trojan fan base haven’t been sold on Helton from day one. Helton stepped into the breach once the calamitous reign of Steve Sarkesian ended. Since then Helton is 32-17 and coming off a losing season. His first in five.

This isn’t pleasant reading for not only Trojan fans but also for the much maligned PAC 12, which I will cover in a later article. A Pac 12 team hasn’t won a National Championship in 15 years and hasn’t been a regular visitor to the College Football Playoffs since they started five years ago. Not the sign of a power house conference. So while Helton is a man under pressure, the PAC 12 is on the precipice of becoming irrelevant.

Which brings us back to Bush’s comments. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bush said “ They have to win the division. This is a put-up-or-shut-up season for them, especially for Clay Helton. I’m looking to see drastic improvements. People have to be held accountable and players have to be held accountable. They have to create an environment there where players really understand the tradition of winning that came before them.”

My first experiences of College football was watching that Pete Carroll Trojans team. Bush and Leinart were the reason I got into the game and love it to this day. I understand the frustration but Helton is doing a job under very difficult circumstances.  2018 wasn’t a good one for USC, only it’s 13th losing season in 85 years so Helton can not afford to get off to a losing start to 2019. An opening month of Fresno State, Stamford, BYU and Utah are all infinitely winnable and must wins. Then comes Washington and Notre Dame. That is a different proposition.

With Urban Meyer waiting in the wings this could be an uncomfortable ride for Clay Helton. I don’t envy him.

Photo credit : USA Today

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