• John Skinner

Inside dirt heading into Notre Dame

What a mess- Part I- A few weeks back I stated that very reliable sources stated that unless the situation became “catastrophic”, Clay Helton would be given one more year to right the ship with just an overhaul to his staff. Unfortunately for Helton, the situation seems to have hit “catastrophic” with losses to Cal and UCLA, in very poor fashion, leading to a fan back-lash similar to the end of the Paul Hackett reign. From big-time donors to the regular fan, the level of apathy and disinterest has resonated with the interim president Wanda Austin and the Board of Trustees “BOT”. I have heard from a reliable sources within the University and one in college football that they believe Helton will be let go after the Notre Dame game and that SC has already reached out to potential candidates. However, another reliable source continues to state Helton will not be let go as Swann remains adamant that Helton can right the ship next season once major staff changes are made.


What a mess- Part II- Speaking of Swann, some on the BOT are not happy with Lynn Swann’s overall job performance. It is not just the extension given to Helton but other job performance/managerial issues that have created a bit of a divide in the athletic department. However, Swann has the backing of Wayne Hughes, the athletic department’s biggest financial donor, and his influence should keep Swann in charge.


What a mess- Part III- The timing for the football team’s struggles could not be worse on a macro level. The BOT is focused on identifying a new president while also dealing with the Tyndall scandal and other pertinent business that dwarfs the football programs situation.


What does the buy-out for Helton look like?- Some publications state that Helton only has a $5M buy-out and that stories of it being around $15M are false. I have been told by really knowledgeable sources that $15M is the more accurate number and Clancy Pendergast and Tee Martin both have multi-year contracts. An agent told me that typically the buy-out in the first year of a contract extension is very high. Helton’s first contract did have a really low buy-out so it is entirely possible the buy-out is low.


What we are hearing about realistic coaching candidates- Keep in mind the athletic department is conservative financially and they will not want pay a large buy-out to get access to a big-name coach. In no particular order, here are candidates based on conversations with people in the coaching industry and those who have ties to the athletic department. Obviously this can change quickly and agents of coaches love to put out mis-information.


Jack Del Rio- Check out the Skinny from a few weeks ago in which we specifically talked about JDR and the reasons why he could be the right man for the job. He can start right away and from an economic perspective (like Kelly at UCLA, Del Rio will be paid well by an NFL team thru 2021) they can save a few bucks. He would have to prove that his lack of coaching experience at the college would not be an issue.


James Franklin, Penn St.- Surprisingly, the buy-out of his Penn State contract is only $1M and he had serious interest in the job before SC hired Sark. Though he is a Pennsylvania native and about to land a top-5 recruiting class, Franklin has not forgotten the Penn State faithful was about to turn on him before Trace McSorley saved the day and led him to the Rose Bowl. His charisma and energy would make him a top recruiter and celebrity in Los Angeles. He would also find the Pac-12 South much easier to navigate without annual battles against Michigan and Ohio State. The downside is Franklin is due to make over $5.5M next year and SC may not be comfortable paying Franklin around $6M a year. Also, he may not fit in politically at SC and will cause some headaches with how he deals with the media. While at Vanderbilit, he was criticized for how he handled a domestic violence incident with one of his players.


Kyle Whittingham, Utah- Pat Haden thought very highly of Whittingham before it was decided to give Helton a chance. Whittingham had serious interest due to the resources SC could provide him but he is also very happy in Salt Lake and is a devout member of the LDS church. Whittingham is a proven winner that preaches tough/hard-nosed football. SC would return to its power football roots with him. The major concern with Whittingham is whether he could relate to 5- star talent from both a recruiting and development perspective.


Justin Wilcox, Cal- Though he was unceremoniously fired from USC as a defensive coordinator, he experienced a lot of success as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator and has made the most out of sub-par talent at Cal where he is only paid $1M a year. He opened a lot of eyes in the coaching world by building a very strong staff at Cal. If he is paired with a great offensive coordinator, he could have a very successful run at a place like SC. He is still a bit inexperienced as a head coach and some that played for him at SC did not like his coaching style.


Dino Babers, Syracuse- He has quickly turned around the Syracuse program and has Pac-12 recruiting ties via Arizona and UCLA. He is a charismatic/high-energy coach that is highly thought of in the coaching world. However, one source within the coaching industry stated he might not be the right fit for a powerhouse program and might be better suited at the mid-major level.

*If they wait until the end of the NFL season, which could be a risky proposition and negatively impact recruiting, the #1 choice would be John Harbaugh and then Pete Carroll’s name would come up should he decide to move on from the Seahawks. Harbaugh has interest in coaching in college when the timing is right and SC is one of the schools he would have interest in. Although, Notre Dame might be where he ends up if Brian Kelly leaves for the NFL.


*I would be surprised if SC hired Washington’s Chris Peterson away from Washington (though he had interest before SC decided to go with Sark) but some reports are stating he is Swann's top choice. Another name you will hear, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, has an $8M buy-out and the math doesn't add-up.

*Jedd Fisch (Rams Assistant-Former UCLA interim coach) and Jeff Tedford of Fresno State are second-tier possibilities. Fisch is highly regarded and could be a sleeper hire if SC wants an offensive minded coach. Jeff Brohm of Purdue could be another possibility.


*Hue Jackson and Jeff Fisher will come up in reports but highly doubt the university would go in either of their directions.


Hindsight 20/20- Rushing Daniels into the spot-light was a mistake- Helton’s job security might be looked upon differently if Daniels took the more traditional route and SC went with Jack Sears and Matt Fink this season. It is hard to believe they would have a worse record then 5-6 and without all of the hype that JT came with, expectations would not have been so high. Plus, based on the way that Jack Sears rallied the team after an awful start against Arizona State, maybe they would even have a better record? Hopefully all of the experience and adversity that Daniels has faced, will only make him stronger going forward and not mess with his confidence.


How does USC pull off a massive upset?- It is extremely unlikely, but if the Trojans are able to knock-off the undefeated and third ranked Irish, it will be because the Trojans play their most disciplined game of the year and are able to run the ball with Chuma Edoga back in the line-up. He is the Trojans best run blocker, which was easily apparent during the UCLA game. Notre Dame did give up over 250 yards rushing to Wake Forest earlier this year. Defensively, the Trojans will need to create multiple turnovers and win the time of possession battle. The SC offense will also have to figure out how to score in the second half which they could not do against Utah, Cal and UCLA. Notre Dame has a significant advantage along the interior lines but SC does have the skill position players to pull off the upset provided they truly believe they can win and can fight through Notre Dame essentially playing a home game at the Coliseum.


Extensive game preview- Here is a link to Tom Haire’s extensive game preview via uscfootball.com.


Betting Info- After surprisingly only opening as 8 point favorires, Notre Dame was quickly bet up to an 11 point favorite (when was the last time SC was a double digit underdog in the Coliseum?). The total is 54. Notre Dame is only 2-3-1 against the spread in their last six road games despite being undefeated. SC is 1-6 ATS in their past seven games. The total has gone over in Notre Dame’s last five road games and the total has gone over in 4 of the last 6 SC home games. Last week, the over looked good and it looks good again this week.


Carol Skinner Memorial Tid-bits-


*The athletic department and BOT knows how the majority of fans feel regarding the state of the program. Please do not boo the team or Helton. Support the team and the seniors playing their last game in the Coliseum.

*Despite only playing half of the season, LB Porter Gustin is tied for 1st in the Pac-12 with sacks. His presence would have made a big difference against UCLA…


*WR Michael Pittman Jr. stated he was going to return for his senior season and not go to the NFL. We will see if this holds up over the next few months as Pittman Jr. has opened up the eyes of several NFL scouts. He would have the potential to be an All-American next season at the college level with the way he played in October.


*Look for true freshman RB Markese Stepp to finally get a decent amount of carries with Aca’Cedric Ware nursing a shoulder injury. Stepp will still be able to redshirt and be considered a freshman next season.


*UCLA had 313 yards rushing last week in their upset victory of the Trojans…It was exactly what Chip Kelly wanted heading into off-season recruiting.


*In 2016, Notre Dame went 4-8 but retained Brian Kelly…Kelly hired a new OC, DC, Special Teams coach and strength coach as well as 17 new football staff members. Notre Dame’s patience paid off as they are currently ranked 3rd in the nation and undefeated. This is the same vision that Swann has for Helton.


*SC is 18-20-4 versus Notre Dame immediately following the UCLA game. They are 8-11-1 when coming off a loss to the Bruins.