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Odds to Be Next USC Head Coach After Clay Helton Fired – Urban Meyer, Luke Fickell and James Franklin Top Candidates

Mitch Robson

by Mitch Robson in College Football

Sep 14, 2021 · 8:48 AM PDT

Urban Meyer
Former Southern California players Reggie Bush, left, and Matt Leinart and former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer rehearse for a pregame at an NCAA college football game between Southern California and Utah on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
  • USC will now engage in a search for their next Head Football Coach after firing Clay Helton on Monday afternoon
  • Luke Fickell, James Franklin, Matt Campbell and Urban Meyer are the hottest names to emerge as candidates
  • See below for odds to become the next Trojans HC based on the latest reporting and news

After an embarrassing 42-28 loss to Stanford – that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated – the Clay Helton era is over at USC.

While holding a career record of 46-24 (including a Rose Bowl win and 2017 Pac-12 title), Helton had been on the hot seat for three straight seasons. On the same weekend Oregon went in to Columbus and pushed around Ohio State before the Trojans were mauled in a near-empty Coliseum by David Shaw’s team, AD Mike Bohn finally pulled the plug to re-energize the program.

USC in theory is one of the best jobs in America, located in extremely fertile recruiting ground, possessing a storied tradition, and – when engaged – an incredibly passionate fan and donor base.

Below are a set of odds based on the latest reporting and intel from industry insiders on who might actually be named the next head coach at USC. These are not bettable, but can be used for informational and entertainment purposes.

Odds to Be Next USC Football Head Coach

Coach Odds
James Franklin +450
Luke Fickell +450
Urban Meyer +500
Matt Campbell +950
PJ Fleck +1000
Mario Cristobal +1200
Tony Elliott +1600
Dave Aranda +1600
Bob Stoops +2000
Eric Bienemy +3000
Chris Peterson +5000
Lane Kiffin +5000
Steve Sarkisian +10000
Pete Caroll +10000

As you can see from the board, USC will be looking for a proven track record of success. The only coordinators being considered are Clemson’s Tony Elliott (who is a Southern California native) and Chiefs OC Eric Bienemy, who will reportedly be given an interview.

But make no mistake, the Trojans are big game hunting and likely to find their man within the top five names on the board.

Franklin and Fickell Presumed Top Choices

Can two Midwestern men cut it on the West Coast? We very well might see, as these two were immediately thrown out as the most likely hires.

Franklin has Penn State at 2-0 ahead of a big ABC prime time showdown with Auburn this week, in which the Nittany Lions are home favorites. His name has been brought up whenever USC’s head coaching position was presumed open since 2019, with a personality and recruiting prowess that fits the program.

He’s won at one of the toughest places in the country in Vanderbilt, and while he’s only been able to topple Ohio State once in the Big Ten, certainly has the track record to merit serious consideration.

The other favorite is current Cincinnati HC Luke Fickell – who of course was hired by current-USC AD Mike Bohn. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Fickell’s old boss woo him out to Los Angeles in the same fashion as Danny White bringing in Josh Heupel at Tennessee or Terry Mojahir hiring Gus Malzahn at UCF.

Fickell has elevated Bearcats football to heights not seen since the Brian Kelly days, and is gunning for a breakthrough appearance in to the College Football Playoff behind his stout defense and NFL prospect Desmond Ridder at QB.

He’s also brought in the best recruiting classes in the history of the program, but would he re-locate his large family out of the Midwest? Having already turned down multiple P5 jobs including Michigan State, you can bet it would take a lot to get him to leave Cincinnati.

The Elephant in the Room is Urban Meyer

If coaches were hired purely on the want of the fanbase, Meyer would be on a private bird right now headed to SoCal to ink a deal as Trojans head coach. While his rap sheet of transgressions as a coach is long, his list of successes is even longer – undoubtedly one of the best college football coaches of all-time.

Currently the head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, he’s off to a tumultuous start amid reports of strife in the building due to his temper and treatment of players and staffers.

For a man that famously takes losing so hard it’s been detrimental to his personal health, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him bail on the Jaguars when the losses begin to pile up.

With his relentless recruiting chops in Southern California where 5-star QBs, WRs and DBs seemingly grow on trees, it wouldn’t be shocking if a Meyer hire immediately paid dividends in the National Championship hunt.

While hiring him is akin to making a deal with the Devil, it’s likely a pact worth making if you’re USC and the option is available.

Could Cristobal, Campbell or Fleck Be Convinced?

Cristobal has won numerous recruiting battles in Southern California over the last few seasons (which led to his top lieutenant, Donte Williams, being hired by the Trojans and now serving as interim HC) against USC, and his teams are built for championship contention with stocked offensive and defensives lines to win in the trenches.

While his in-game coaching has been questioned by some, he certainly seemed to manage this past weekend’s game right as his Ducks put on a masterpiece in Columbus. Ultimately, Cristobal has built an incredibly strong program backed by the unlimited checkbook of Nike and Phil Knight, so a move in-conference seems unlikely.

Matt Campbell’s been a name rumored for nearly every big job that’s opened in the last two seasons due to his success at Iowa State. Turning a historically downtrodden program into a legitimate Big 12 contender, he and his staff are one of the best in the country at player evaluations and developing overlooked talent.

PJ Fleck is likely the other name that could be considered, as he’s spurred turnarounds at both Western Michigan and Minnesota. The question would be will his “Row the Boat” mantra and philosophy work at a program that’s a historical blueblood?

The Verdict

For a program looking to vault itself back into regular standing in the Top 10 and compete for national championships, Fickell and Franklin are likely great choices due to their character, commitment and experience recruiting at a high level.

But there’s only one man on the list that’s won multiple championships, and he’s been the Trojans white whale for multiple years now.

He’s not a fit for the NFL, and being able to add USC to his resume alongside Florida and Ohio State will ultimately be too good an opportunity for Urban Meyer to pass up.

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