Now that Steve Sarkisian has officially been fired, the USC Trojans are in the market for a full-time football coach. An interim is set in place for the rest of the season, but more overall stability will be needed starting in the 2016 season, and AD Pat Haden should have a strong group of candidates from which to choose.
But the questions remain: does Haden want someone who will focus on offense? Or defense? Or more of a players’ coach? The possibilities are endless.
However though the season isn’t over yet, Haden already has plenty of coaches that he should be targeting. Of that group, these five are the ones on whom he should put the most focus.
5: Pep Hamilton
Here we have someone who actually coaches on the NFL level, as Hamilton is currently the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts and has a pretty sweet gig there.
However, head coach Chuck Pagano is on the outs with team management and could be gone this offseason once his contract expires.
At that point, barring a promotion, Hamilton could be out of a job.
Fortunately, Hamilton already has Pac-12 experience having also been the offensive coordinator at Stanford for two years. NFL teams could be looking to hire him as their head coach, but the Pac-12 could be, for lack of better word, home.
Given his offensive mind, plus the fact that he’s on the younger side at age 41, the Trojans could certainly do worse than Hamilton when it comes to hiring their next head coach.
No. 4: Matt Campbell
Currently the head coach of the MAC’s Toledo Rockets, Campbell would be a bit of an unconventional hire. Toledo is, despite its success this year, a mid-major program compared to USC, and making the move from the MAC to the Power 5 is quite the jump.
Except, Toledo is 5-0 this year and scored a gritty win over the SEC’s Arkansas Razorbacks to open its season. The Rockets are also sixth in the nation in points allowed per game, allowing just 11.8 while scoring 29 themselves. Simply put, they have far outperformed expectations.
Campbell is also just 35 years old and while a more seasoned coaching veteran may be preferred, he has gone 31-13 (20-6 MAC) in his time at Toledo. He too would be an unconventional hire, but one behind whom the players could seriously rally.
No. 3: Bryan Harsin
Boise State saw one coach head to the Pac-12 last year, when Chris Petersen took over at Washington for, oddly enough, Steve Sarkisian. That said, seeing Bryan Harsin make the same jump is completely realistic.
Harsin is a great offensive mind who picked up right where Petersen left off in 2014, going 12-2 en route to a Mountain West Championship and a win over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. This year, he is 5-1 (2-0 MWC) and continuing the Broncos’ dominance in the conference.
The long and short of it is that USC probably wants to make a high profile hire in the wake of Sarkisian’s sudden dismissal, and Harsin can be just that, though he isn’t yet a household name. However, by coming to USC and bringing his signature offense with him, even if returning to coach Boise State was something of a homecoming for him (he was Petersen’s offensive coordinator before coaching at Arkansas State for a year), the call of the Trojans could be too hard to turn down.
No. 2: Clay Helton
Here, we have less of a high profile hire, and more of a promotion. Helton is the Trojans’ interim coach for the rest of the season, and the odds of him landing the team’s head coaching job are stacked against him.
USC didn’t even hire Ed Orgeron after the team went 6-2 under him following Lane Kiffin’s firing, so why would Helton be any different?
Except, Helton could warrant some consideration depending on how well the team does down the stretch in 2015. What if he gets the players to rally behind senior quarterback Cody Kessler and USC wins the rest of its games before taking home a win in a bowl game? No matter how you look at it, Helton immediately draws himself into the head coaching conversation if that happens.
A lot of that, however, depends on just that. Helton needs to prove that he can handle the job over an extended period of time before he throws his hat in the ring, so Haden will just have to wait and see before calling in Helton for an interview.
No. 1: Kyle Whittingham
Whittingham’s name was brought up earlier today by an anonymous former USC coach, who told the LA Daily News that the Utah coach would be a good coach because he’s “drama free.”
And what a hire Whittingham would be. Since taking over for Urban Meyer in 2005, he has gone 90-43 and 51-35 in conference play across the Mountain West and Pac-12. His bowl record is 8-1 and he has Utah sitting pretty at No. 4 in the rankings following beautiful wins over Oregon and California this year.
Simply put, to land Whittingham, USC just needs two things. Whittingham needs to have interest in the job to begin with, and USC must be willing to pay him the right amount of money, not to mention pay Utah however much it would cost to get Whittingham out of his current contract.
Long story short, this could potentially be a match made in heaven, so Haden should act accordingly when the time is right.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports