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#pounditSaturday, September 18, 2021

List of possible USC head coach targets to replace Clay Helton

Luke Fickell

USC has finally fired Clay Helton in a move that many Trojans fans felt was long overdue.

USC had not performed at the level they expect to be at in college football. They had become just an above-average team and nothing close to the national powerhouse they expect to be. Their decision to fire Helton after just two games indicates they never should have had him coaching to start this season anyway.

Now that USC needs a new head coach, they should seek someone who can return them to the Pete Carroll glory days. That is a huge request, but that will be their mission.

Here is an early list of possible head coach targets for the Trojans.

Luke Fickell, head coach, Cincinnati

Fickell, 48, has been the head coach at Cincinnati since 2017. After going 4-8 in his first season, the Bearcats have since become a power and have only lost six games. A former Ohio State player and assistant, Fickell has proven he can win as a head coach.

Most notably, current USC athletic director Mike Bohn, who previously was the AD at Cincinnati, hired Fickell while with the Bearcats. Could he repeat the trick and hire Fickell a second time?

Bob Stoops, former Oklahoma head coach

Stoops, 61, hasn’t coached in college since the 2016 season. However, he did show some coaching interest when he ran the XFL’s Dallas Renegades in 2019 and 2020 before the league filed for bankruptcy. When it comes to coaching resumes, few candidates have a better resume than he does. He won 10 Big 12 championships at Oklahoma and a national championship. USC reportedly talked with Stoops in 2019. They could reach out to him again.

Would Stoops have the desire to deal with boosters, athletic departments and a university administration? Maybe as long as the money were right.

Chris Petersen, former Washington head coach

Petersen made Boise State into a powerhouse program and did what few thought he would: he left. Then he turned Washington back into a winner in the Pac-12. He is 147-38 as a head coach. There is little doubt that he could win at USC after already winning in the Pac-12 at Washington.

The question with Petersen is whether he feels up to the challenge of returning to coaching. He is only 56 but seemed burnt out when he turned the Washington program over to Jimmy Lake.

PJ Fleck, head coach, Minnesota

The Golden Gophers have given Fleck resources and will do almost anything to keep him at Minnesota, but they will be fighting off some attempted poaches with regularity. In just three seasons, Fleck had Minnesota ranked in the top 10. Last season the Golden Gophers went 3-4 and they are 1-1 this season. Fleck has energy, enthusiasm, and has had success at Minnesota already. He would do very well in recruiting in Los Angeles. Minnesota already made a big commitment to Fleck though, signing him to a 7-year, $33 million extension after the program’s huge 2019 season.

Bill O’Brien, former Houston Texans head coach

O’Brien returned to the college game after being fired by the Texans. He took over Steve Sarkisian’s spot as offensive coordinator at Alabama and is looking to revive his name under Nick Saban. Despite all the criticism he faced, O’Brien won four division titles in seven seasons with the Texans. He went 15-9 in two seasons as Penn State’s head coach before that. He might be somewhat of a difficult personality and could be a tough sell though for USC fans. But he would have the program playing respectable ball.

Matt Campbell, head coach, Iowa State

Matt Campbell is only 41 and has done a very nice job winning at Iowa State, which is not an easy place to win. He has gone 36-29 and is in his sixth season at Iowa State. Before that, he went 35-15 at Toledo. USC would be more of a challenge, but Campbell has the success at two previous stops and the youth to potentially keep it going at USC. A young guy like him who has won at Iowa State would be attractive to USC fans. But would they be able to convince him it’s time to leave? Coaching the Trojans would probably be tempting.

Gus Malzahn, head coach, UCF

Malzahn is 55, went toe-to-toe with Nick Saban in the tough SEC West for eight seasons, and did a respectable job. He didn’t win enough for Auburn’s liking, but he beat Alabama three times, had five top-25 teams at season’s end, and three top-15 teams. He is 2-0 at UCF this season, where he should have success. He might not be exciting enough for USC fans though.

Jeff Fisher, former Tennessee Titans head coach

Not gonna happen. Just wanted to make sure you were still reading.

Last but not least, we have to mention Urban Meyer. Sorry, but he is not leaving Jacksonville so quickly to head to USC. At least I don’t think so.

Pete Thamel included some other names on the list that didn’t seem realistic to me:

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