View Original Notice ? USC football coaching search: Checking in on potential candidates
When Clay Helton was fired by USC after the second week of the season, many names were thrown around as his potential successor. Most were those of coaches who seem to get recycled every coaching search cycle, because in early September it was too early in the season to know who would be trending in the right direction when it was time for USC to make a decision.
But five weeks later, things are a little – just slightly – clearer. Some coaches’ stocks have risen, some have fallen. Some coaches who weren’t on the radar at all in September have earned a lot more attention with the way their teams have performed. So, halfway through the season, it’s a better time for us to assess the field of candidates that USC might be sorting through.
If you’re expecting to see Urban Meyer on this list, though, here’s a little cold water.
As a source put it in September, USC will have to weigh the risks of every potential coach. And, after years of assorted scandals, USC wants to mitigate risk if at all possible. Meyer, though a successful on-field coach, would be the exact opposite of that.
Even before he was caught on video at a bar with a woman who was not his wife rather than traveling with his team following a loss, Meyer’s off-field record has been spotty to say the least. From his players’ long rap sheet at Florida to his handling of domestic violence allegations against an assistant at Ohio State, Meyer was not someone USC was going to consider, even if he weren’t currently employed by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
So, here’s a look at some coaches that USC might be considering for its open head coaching position, and how they’re seasons are going:
Stock on the rise
Dave Aranda, Baylor
Aranda’s was not a name that came up in early September, but Baylor’s success this season has caused him to jump up the rankings of head coaching candidates around the country. In his second year as head coach of the Bears, Aranda has the team 6-1 and ranked No. 20 in the AP Top 25. Baylor is ranked 16th nationally in points allowed per game, something Aranda should take special pride in as a former defensive coordinator at LSU and Wisconsin. A Southern California native who graduated from Redlands High and Cal Lutheran, Aranda would make a lot of sense as USC’s next head coach.
Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
Fickell’s stock was already high at the beginning of the season, especially considering his connections to USC athletic director Mike Bohn, who hired Fickell at Cincinnati. But the Bearcats continue to rise, and are currently ranked second nationally after wins over Notre Dame and Indiana. There were already questions about whether Fickell, a lifelong Midwesterner, would want to move to the Pacific Coast. As Cincinnati continues to win and position itself for a potential appearance in the College Football Playoff, the question becomes, would Fickell leave this program in 2021 for anyone, or rather continue to build on his success with the Bearcats?
Matt Campbell, Iowa State
It’s been a middling season for Campbell and the Cyclones, beating the four teams they were supposed to and losing to the two opponents currently ranked (Iowa and Baylor). But by Iowa State’s historical standards, Campbell’s tenure continues to exceed expectations. That said, Iowa State was the No. 7 team in the country entering the season and has since dropped out of the rankings. Is this the season Campbell decides he’s hit his ceiling in Ames and looks for a new challenge?
James Franklin, Penn State
If USC wants to hire Franklin, it was probably good news that Penn State lost its top-five showdown with Iowa because it left the Nittany Lions on the outside looking in on the playoff race. A playoff appearance makes it that much harder for Franklin to leave Penn State, not only because of the trajectory of the program but because those games aren’t played until January, which makes a coaching transition to another program almost impossible with the early signing period in December. But the loss to Iowa was also a mark against Franklin, who in his eight seasons at Penn State is 2-11 against top-10 opponents.
Kalani Sitake, BYU
The Cougars have lost two straight, but there was an expected drop-off for the program this year after losing quarterback Zach Wilson to the NFL. Sitake has earned praise for putting BYU into the national conversation around the sport with an 11-1 record last season and this year’s five-game winning streak to start the season. But the big question still is whether he’d leave his alma mater, especially with BYU about to join the Big 12.
Stocks on the fall
Tony Elliott, Clemson
The Tigers’ offensive coordinator was seen as a potential dark horse candidate for the USC job shortly after Helton was fired. But Clemson has struggled mightily on offense this year in its first season without quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Clemson has scored more than 20 points in a game only twice this year, once in a blowout win over South Carolina State. In the other five games? The Tigers are averaging 14.8 points per game. It’s dimmed Elliott’s star as a candidate for major head coaching jobs, and would seem to eliminate the one non-head coach on the list of potential candidates for USC.
P.J. Fleck, Minnesota
Fleck was on the list of potential candidates in September, but this season has not helped his case for a bigger job. The Gophers’ 4-2 record is respectable, but a 14-10 loss to a Bowling Green team with a 2-5 record was a bad look for the program, as was having to fend off Miami-Ohio in the fourth quarter in Week 2. Two years removed from an 11-2 season, Fleck has made it challenging for the USC fan base to get excited for him and his 7-6 record the past two years.