Opinion: Misery Index's No. 1 spot goes to Southern California, Clay Helton
Southern Cal should construct a big digital display board at the entrance to campus, similar to the national debt clock near Bryant Park in New York City. Only at USC, it should count backward every day on the amount of money owed to Clay Helton for the remainder of his contract.
Though the true number has never been made public because USC is a private school, the contract extension Helton signed after the 2017 season was known within the industry to be absurd — with a buyout somewhere initially in the $20 million range, even though Helton was not really winning at a USC level or being pursued by better offers.
All in all, it was one last failure of vision and leadership from an era when USC allowed people like Pat Haden and Lynn Swann, who had no interest in doing the actual work of an athletics director, to run the show. And it was immediately clear that Helton, who has been on the hot seat pretty much since the day he got the job full-time, wasn’t going anywhere for awhile.
But as the years have passed, the cost of making a coaching change has become more manageable for USC. Meanwhile, the new leadership in that athletics department, led by Mike Bohn, can sleep well at night knowing they’ve given Helton, who is well-liked personally, every opportunity to succeed.
But when you see losses like Saturday, when the Trojans got blown off the field by Stanford 42-28, it seems like only a matter of time before the inevitable becomes reality.
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The key stat from this game? Nine penalties for 111 yards, which has been a consistent theme of the Helton era. Not only have the Trojans been flat-out not good enough against the really good teams on their schedule, they’re consistently undisciplined.
In 2019, they had the 14th-most penalty yards per game in the country. In 2018, the eighth-most. In 2017, the ninth-most.
And the fact that USC flopped this quickly against Stanford, a team that scored just seven points in a season-opening loss to Kansas State, puts the Trojans at No. 1 on this week’s Misery Index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.