SANTA CLARA — USC coach Clay Helton could breathe a sigh of relief after a 31-28 victory over Stanford on Friday night in the Pac-12 championship game.
But he will feel even better when he sees what USC athletic director Lynn Swann said after another sloppy victory.
“We’ve got a head coach we’re going to keep,” Swann said after the game.
Whether or not Swann meant it, this puts him on the record supporting Helton. Multiple sources reported during the season that Swann was unhappy with Helton but knew it was not possible to make a change when USC is 11-2.
“I want to follow the model of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Swann said. “They’ve had three coaches since the 1960’s.”
But what about USC’s much-maligned assistant coaches?
“I don’t call plays or hire assistant coaches,” Swann said.
Again, this does not square with what other sources have said. Swann is believed to be unhappy with several defensive coaches among others but now he is on record as keeping out of such matters.
And what about the Trojans’ repeated penalties and other mistakes that occur on a weekly basis?
“The coach will fix that,” Swann said.
Perhaps this is where Swann left himself an opening because if he does not see progress next season he can say a change is necessary.
Why was this a key area of discussion on a night when USC won its first conference title since 2008? Because the atmosphere around the program has become toxic as some staff members felt dissatisfaction over the direction of the program despite the win-loss record.
Swann has also not been shy speaking to some about the sometimes loose-ship run by Helton.
Whether or not coaching changes happen remains to be seen, but Friday night’s game perfectly illustrated the highs and lows of USC during the season.
The Trojans squeaked out another victory when it looked in the first half like they would comfortably put away the Cardinal. But the Trojans never do comfortable. Instead, they simply rely on quarterback Sam Darnold to bail them out.
Darnold looked NFL-ready Friday night as he continually rescued the Trojans and Helton with big plays to squash Stanford comebacks.
But in typical USC fashion, the heroics usually come with a sour aftertaste.
Perhaps the play that best personified these Trojans occurred in the fourth quarter when Stanford tailback Bryce Love fumbled at the USC 11-yard line. Stanford recovered because most of USC’s players were too busy celebrating the tackle instead of…