Monday, May 2, 2016
Once again the LA Lakers' fans are in la-la land. They're so eager to get rid of the stench of the last few seasons, they're ignoring reality and indulging in their favorite pastime--looking at the NBA through rose-colored glasses.
They are looking at new coach Luke Walton as the team's ticket back to the promise land. This, of course, is because of Walton's success as the No.1 assistant coach of the Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champs who are favored to repeat..
What has fans salivating over Walton is that, when Warriors' head coach Steve Kerr missed the first half of this season, Walton took over, piloting the team to a glossy 39-4 record, including a league record 24-0 start. Kerr returned for the second half, leading the Warriors to break the coveted NBA season wins record by one, reaching 73.. For his efforts, Walton tied for 8th in the coach-of-the-year race, which was won by Kerr,.
Naturally Walton has been the hottest coach around, the one fancied by just about every team with a head-coaching vacancy. But he chose the Lakers, where he spent nine years as a backup forward, earning rings in 2009 and 2010.
However, does his success with the Warriors mean he has the skill, smarts and patience to clean up the mess that is the Lakers? The fans enthusiastically say "Yes!." But are they off base?
Walton, 36, is really a wet-behind-the-ears novice. Aside from heading the Warriors for a few months he has no head coaching experience and, with Memphis and Golden State, limited assistant-coaching experience.. Being temporary head coach of the Warriors is something just about any NBA assistant could do. This is the most fundamentally sound team in the league, excelling in offense and defense, always blocking out, sprinting through transitions, rarely flubbing rotations, doing just about everything right. In preseason the players decided to chase the Chicago Bulls' 72-win season record, so they were committed to playing hard for 48 minutes every game. They had no serious injuries or major tensions between players that would derail their effort.
So if Walton didn't have to motivate the players or juggle lineups due to injuries or break up fights, what did he really have to do? Not that much. The Warriors are a well-oiled machine that basically runs itself. All Walton had to do was get out of the way and not do anything to screw things up. That's certainly easy enough. It was like being behind the wheel of a Ferrari set on cruise control...
But does what he did with the Warriors qualify him to rejuvenate the Lakers?. Now he's been handed the keys to a broken-down jalopy and asked to turn it into a sleek sports car. That's something entirely different.
This time Walton is starting from square one. He has a core of talented young players that don't know how to play together. For the last two years coach Byron Scott, who was just fired, put player development on the back-burner, primarily focusing on managing Kobe Bryant's final years. One of Walton's main jobs will be restoring players' faith in point guard D'Angelo Russell who, in a infamous, juvenile internet scandal, threw teammate Nick Young under the bus. That's a major problem that will require skillful handling.
Righting the sinking Lakers' ship is unlike anything Walton has ever done. At 36, he's close to the age of his players and is known as a players' coach. But is that a good thing? Getting the Lakers back on track might require tough, veteran leadership. It was available in stern, defense-minded Tom Thibodeau, who was interested in the Lakers job. But the team never made a move to get him, so he was hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves to lead that promising young team..
In next few years, here's a likely scenario: the Wolves flourish while the Lakers flounder, with Thibodeau basking in praise while Laker management, once again, is getting blasted for hiring the wrong coach.
If this scenario plays out--and I think it will--disgruntled Laker fans may finally have to ditch those rose-colored glasses.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 12:05 PM
Thursday, April 14, 2016
All you Laker fans are in la-la land, Do you really think Kobe Bryant's 60-point outburst in that 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz was for real? It was bogus, carnival-sideshow time.
Utah was in on it. Their players let it happen. They didn't care about the game. It meant nothing to them. They knew when they were playing that their slim hope of squeezing into the playoffs had vanished, that their season was over after that game. So they clearly switched into low gear, playing minimal defense. If Utah had been playing seriously, trying to win, Kobe might have scored 15-20 points, shooting 20-30%--his usual so-so game.
This game was an aberration, even from the Lakers' standpoint. Kobe's teammates were feeding him, letting him take almost every shot. So he took 50, making 22, which, with all the help he was getting, wasn't all that difficult. It was like an exhibition game, on a lower level than even the All-Star game.
What was the point? All it proved is that Kobe could score a lot of points playing against a soft defense in an offense geared to setting him up. He's a broken-down, twenty-year yet. The only way he could score 60 is with a lot of help from both teams.
It was all fake but Bryant acted like it was for real. Many fans, not knowing the Utah players were mentally on vacation, thought it was real too.
Call it a massive exercise in ego-stroking. For Kobe fans it was fun. For the rest of us it was just an irritant, something to avoid.
I, for one, am glad the Bryant circus is finally history. With him and all the nonsense associated with his retirement in the rear view mirror, the Lakers can get back to focusing on winning games.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 11:29 AM
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Are you as sick to death of Kobe Bryant as I am? Has all this fawning and gushing over the LA Lakers' retiring guard been turning your stomach? Are you as happy as I am that it is finally over?
This "final tour" wasn't at all necessary. What did it accomplish aside from stroking Bryant's insatiable ego? Yes he was a great player but players better than him retired without all the over-the-top fanfare. When Michael Jordan and Kareem and Wilt and Bird and Magic called it a career, nothing remotely like this happened.
This has been the worst season in Lakers' history, with only 16 wins. Of course, the record would be better if the team had been concentrating on winning games rather than showcasing Bryant The Lakers have a nucleus of good young talent, including D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance and Julius Randle. This season they were supposed to learn to play together. We were supposed to get some idea whether they fit in the Lakers' future. But we found out very little because the focus was on Kobe, not them.
What these young players mainly learned was how to play with a broken-down has-been who keeps demanding the ball even though his shooting skills have woefully diminished. He can sometimes score in the 20s and 30s but it takes him so many shots and totally throws the rest of the team out of positive offensive rhythm. When he's on the floor it's all about feeding him, not playing team basketball. How's that for a learning experience?
When it's time to play defense and Kobe is on the floor, the Lakers have been in real trouble because Bryant can't play defense any more, so it's four Lakers vs five opponents. You can't win many games that way.
So, for the Lakers, this has been a wasted season. The coach, Bryon Scott, is probably a lame duck. He's there now because he knows Kobe and Kobe is more comfortable having an old friend as a coach during this final season. Once again, it's all about Kobe and what makes him happy, not about the team.
As you might expect, the Lakers are circling the drain. They had hoped to attract some free agents for next season. There's plenty of money because they won't have squander any more on overpaying Kobe. But what quality free agent wants to step into the Laker chaos?
While the Kobe circus has been grinding on, there has been an ugly D'Angelo Russell mess playing out. Russell recorded Nick Young making comments that have compromised his romance with rapper Iggy Izalea. That record came out on the Internet. Russell claims he didn't release it but few believe him. The players are furious with Russell and now thoroughly distrust and dislike him..According to sources close to the team, things are so bad the Lakers may have to trade him. The Lakers haven't been able to give this critical issue their full attention.
I'll give you one guess why.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 1:18 PM
Saturday, March 12, 2016
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero was backed into an ugly situation with head basketball coach Steve Alford this week--fire him or keep him. Actually though, UCLA was screwed either way, a classic lose-lose situation.
Guerrero chose the lesser of two evils or, as some argue, the chicken's way out. He didn't fire him. So Alford lives to screw up another day.
Guerrero was backed into this corner after the Bruins were crushed by USC in the PAC 12 tournament this week and the angry calls for Alford's scalp reached such a deafening roar that the AD couldn't ignore.them.
It was a tough decision for Guerrero. Both choices are riddled with nasty consequences:
Keep Alford and you have positives, like sidestepping the chaotic upheaval caused by an abrupt coaching change and retaining the dazzling top-five recruiting class and avoiding that $10.4 million buyout that Alford would get paid to hit the road. But there's also a huge downside in not firing Alford..
First and foremost, you are guaranteed another season of lousy coaching. At times it's blatantly clear that Alford doesn't know what the hell he's doing. He doesn't make smart adjustments during games, he plays the wrong lineups and concocts ineffective game plans. His players are woefully undisciplined, often seem unprepared and are wildly inconsistent, a sign they are poorly coached. He insists on playing son Bryce at point guard, where he's slow and a major liability on defense. Sources close to two players say the some players quietly resent Bryce, creating a negative tension that has been harmful all season. In that critical USC game, the players looked disinterested and clearly weren't giving their best effort. That's a reflection of coaching. The list of coach Alford's weaknesses goes on and on. Guerrero was under fire because donors were in mutiny mode, threatening to pull support and boycott games if Alford wasn't canned. In addition, the fans base was screaming for Alford's head.
So, fire Alford?
Not so fast. That path is littered with thorns too, just different ones. First of all, you reward this bad coach by paying him $10.4 million to go away. What an incredible waste of money, something that would haunt the program for years and anger donors who foot the bill..Then you have to quickly find another coach, something Guerrero was not prepared to do, creating a very dangerous situation--hiring in haste. That might lead to a bad choice, maybe even bringing in another Alford. It's possible this new coach might not fit the coveted recruiting class, impeding the development of these young players, which would be reflected in the win column next season.
So Guerrero decided to keep Alford.
Unfortunately it's "lose" again but in a different way. Of course, the coaching won't improve, which will make it difficult for the team to get better. For the hotshot frosh to develop their skills and generate wins, they need quality coaching, which they are unlikely to get from Alford. Also, the negative Bryce factor is still there, undermining the team once again.
Bottom line. The Bruin players laid down in the USC game, against their most bitter rival, and played like crap--embarrassing the school. The bulk of next season's team will be made up of these players who quit on their coach. So the prized freshmen will step into a toxic situation, with dispirited teammates, disconsolate donors and a pissed-off fan base. The weight of the program will be on their young shoulders.
A recipe for disaster? Without question.
There's a very good chance, under all that pressure, coach Alford will flop next season. If he finally gets kicked out, don't be surprised if Guerrero, who helped create this mess, follows him out the door.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 6:01 PM
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
I'm sick of Kobe Bryant and that damned farewell tour.
After an illustrious, twenty-year career, the Laker guard is retiring at the end of this season. So his farewell tour--involving all his home games and his final appearances in various NBA cities--has been dragging on all season. Why doesn't he do it the gentlemanly, humble way and go quietly? No, he has to turn it into a circus. How typical. It's Bryant saying: what you'd expect from an egomaniac: "Laud me, celebrate me, recognize me as a great player."
This tour is just a pile of ego-stroking crap.
What makes it so ridiculous is that, right now, Kobe is terrible. Actually, he's been terrible for the last few years. What fans are seeing on this tour is a shell of a once great player. It brings back ugly memories of Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays in his last year, back in 1973, when, at 42, as a New York Met, he was stumbling around the outfield and being handcuffed by even bad pitches. That was embarrassing. So is this Bryant farewell circus..
Bryant's legs are shot. He can't elevate any more. In fact, due to age and injuries, he hasn't been able to jump effectively for the last several years. So naturally his jump shot is constantly off. Even lame defenders can force him into erratic shots. Yet he continues to be a ball-hog, demanding the ball, shooting as much as 15-25 times per game, No matter that his shooting percentage is miserable. In keeping with his me-me-me attitude, he just keeps on shooting and shooting.
And defense? For Kobe that's a thing of the past. One reason the Lakers are laboring through the worst season in their history, with just eleven wins, is that Bryant is a defensive liability. When the Lakers are on defense, they are outnumbered 5-4, thanks to Kobe the obstacle.With him in the lineup winning is nearly impossible. But this season, the Lakers' main purpose is showcasing Bryant, not winning games.
For a team supposedly dedicated to winning, how insane is that?
For the Lakers, this has been a wasted year. It was supposed to be devoted to developing the corps of young talent, including Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr and Jordan Clarkson. But the offense still centers around Bryant, who plays around 30 minutes a game.. That's stupid for two reasons. First of all, why spend time on a Bryant-dominant offense when he won't be around next year? And how can the youngsters learn when they're merely background figures?
Bryant screwed things up before the season started by taking a whopping $20 million-plus salary that made it impossible for the team, which has been struggling the last few years, to sign any top-notch talent. What he should have done in his final season is play about ten minutes a game and take a pay cut down to what he's really worth--about $10 million annually. He doesn't really need all the millions he's virtually stolen from the Lakers these last few years. He already has enough money to last several lifetimes. Why not do what team-oriented greats like Tim Duncan and Tom Brady and Dirk Nowitski have done late in their careers--take less money and leave millions to help their team sign needed players?
Help the team? Apparently that has never crossed the mind of this selfish egomaniac.
According to insiders, Bryant's teammates hate playing second fiddle to this attention-starved has-been and can't wait until this horrible season is over. The insiders add that many of his teammates don't like him.
I'm with them.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 12:20 AM
Friday, February 5, 2016
Super Bowl 50 is commonly viewed as a David vs Goliath match, with the Carolina Panthers poised to crunch the Denver Broncos. Many experts predict a blowout, insisting the Broncos don't have a chance in hell.
Not so fast.
The underdog Broncos just might pull off the upset. The expeerts who are forecasting Denver's demise are either forgetting or downplaying the team's signature strength--its defense.This is not just a good defense, it's a great one, up there with the bone-crunching Baltimore Ravens' crew that won the Super Bowl after the 2000 season.
The Broncos' stats are impressive. Their defense leads the league in yards allowed (283.1), passing yards per game (199.6) and sacks (52), and is third in rushing yards allowed (83.6). Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are the NFL's most lethal pass-rushing pair, teaming up for 18.5 sacks, The secondary, featuring CBs Chris Harris Jr. and Aqid Talib and safety Darian Stewart, is second to none. True, the Panthers boast the league's No.1 offense, scoring 31 points a game under the leadership of the top NFL QB, linebacker-sized Cam Newton, But the Panthers haven't had to contend with a defense this talented and this ferocious. They also have to contend with the baffling schemes of Denver's defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who's arguably the best in the business.
The Panthers have been elevated to this pedestal because they have just one loss and also because they looked so dominant in the playoffs, whipping Seattle, after jumping off to a 31-point lead, and embarrassing the Arizona Cardinals, who many thought were the best team in the playoffs. In retrospect, beating the Cardinals was no big deal. Their aging QB Carson Palmer was awful in both playoff games. Arizona's demolition by Carolina was more a function of Palmer's ineptness than the Panthers' skill.
Beating the Panthers won't be easy. They have a rugged, top-five ranked defense that should make it tough for Denver to gain much yardage. Ancient Bronco QB Peyton Manning has a dead arm and is hobbled by foot and rib injuries that make it hard for him to get any velocity on his passes. It doesn't help that the Denver running game is just passable. The Broncos will be lucky to score 17 points. But the Denver defense should keep the Panthers' offense in check and well below its scoring average.
This game shapes up to be a repeat of the 2007 Super Bowl, in which the undefeated, heavily-favored New England Patriots played the New York Giants, who were deemed dead meat.. But the Giants, behind a murderous defense and the clutch passing of QB Eli Manning, won 17-14. David, as it turned out, toppled Goliath. It can be done.
To beat the Panthers, the Broncos' defense has to rattle QB Newton, limit his running and scrambling, disrupt his rhythm, and clamp down on the Panther receivers, a task that, for this secondary, won't be that difficult. As a group, the Panther WRs are just modestly talented. Because of his speed, Ted Ginn Jr is the most dangerous of the lot. But he's inconsistent, tends to run so-so routes and is prone to dropping passes.
One huge advantage the Broncos have is Super Bowl experience. They were in the Super Bowl just two years ago, so the circus-like atmosphere is nothing new for many Denver players and coaches. However, this is a totally new experience for the Panthers, who are likely to get a case to the Super Bowl jitters and make some critical errors.
The way this game will play out is strength against strength, the Broncos' defense against the Panthers' offense. Edge to Broncos' defense.
Look for Denver to win a low-scoring game.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 1:31 AM
Saturday, January 23, 2016
Denver Bronco fans, enjoy Peyton Manning while you can in the AFC Championship game in Denver.. Surely the 39-year-old QB won't be back next season. So this will be his farewell performance. Denver won't be going to the Super Bowl this year. New England will see to that.
Here are six reasons why the Patriots will win:.
Reason No. 1: Peyton Manning isn't Peyton Manning any more. He's a shell of the great QB he used to be. That gunslinger arm is more like a wet noodle now. He's not accurate beyond 15 yards. He's not a passing TD threat any more. These days, he throws more picks than TD passes. His INT total, 17, was second worst in the NFL during the regular season. In the past three games he hasn't had a completion longer than 34 yards. Defenses crowd the line of scrimmage against Denver because there is no deep threat, making it much easier to stop the Bronco offense. In their win over the Steelers last week, the Bronco receivers made things worse by dropping seven passes. Manning's famed skill at reading defenses is still intact, but he can no longer execute like he once did. He's just a game manager now, and more of a liability than an asset.
Reason No. 2: The Patriots have their main receivers back. When Denver beat the Patriots 30-24 in OT on Nov 29, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were hurt and Rob Gronkowski went down late in the game, so QB Tom Brady had no weapons in OT. This time Brady is fully armed. No team can adequately cover the best clutch receiving corps in the NFL. Denver won't be able to do it. The Patriots lack a scary running attack because of injuries, but that doesn't matter. That Patriot passing game will be enough.
Reason No. 3: The Patriots have a considerable edge in coaching, with Bill Bilichick towering over Denver's Gary Kubiak. Coaches are responsible for assorted adjustments and strategies during the course of a game. Nobody is better at that than Belichick.
Reason No. 4: The Bronco defense is overrated--very good but not in a class with the great Ravens' defenses or the Seahawks defenses that carried Seattle to back-to back Super Bowls. Last week, without super receiver Antonio Brown, Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger, limited by a bum throwing arm, torched the Bronco secondary for 339 yards. What do you think a healthy Patriot passing attack will do to that secondary?
Reason No. 5: To beat the Patriots, Denver will need turnovers--lots of them in key situations. That's not likely to happen. New England led the league with just 14 turnovers. In the last four games, the Patriots have turned the ball only three times.
Reason No. 6 : The Patriots' superior offensive line, which is among the best at pass-protection, will slow down the Broncos' vaunted pass rush and give Brady time to throw. In the second half of the season, the Denver pass rush, ferocious in the first half, hasn't been nearly as effective. The only way to stop Brady is with a killer pass rush. Downgraded to merely very good, the Denver pass rush won't get the job done against the Pats' offensive line.
In betting terms, the Patriots are favored by three. But the game is essentially a pick 'em. Denver gets three points for playing at home, which wipes out the Pats' three-point edge, evening things up.
Smart money, though, is on New England.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 1:55 PM
Monday, January 11, 2016
Remember how Texas QB Vince Young, an awesome runner and a capable passer, destroyed USC in the national championship game, a 41-38 thriller, in January, 2006?. Something similar could happen in today's game, with Clemson QB, Deshaun Watson, going all Vince-Young on Alabama.
Watson, who's just a sophomore, is the reincarnation of Young, The ACC's Watson is the best player in the country, though bullish Bama RB Derrick Henry won the Heisman, thanks to the usual SEC bias. Watson is the best running QB since Young, superior to Heisman winners Manziel, Tebow and Mariota.
This championship game comes down to Watson vs the great Bama front seven, the best in college football. Can they contain him? In the playoff battle on New Year's Eve, tough, talented Oklahoma couldn't handle Watson and fell pretty easily 37-17. But the Sooners' front seven is no where near as good as Bama's, which is big, fast and particularly skilled at ranging side-to-side and pressuring QBs, having recorded 50 sacks, tops in the country. Watson controlled that game with his scrambling and rushing, piling up145 yards on 24 carries, part of Clemson's whopping 550 total.
Watson will have plenty of help. The Clemson offensive line, which doesn't get nearly enough attention, is among the nation's elite. They can hold their own against the Bama defensive front and give Watson room to work.
Bama's offense, featuring Henry's rushing, is underwhelming, particularly its poor passing game. The Bama QB Jake Coker is, at best, average, The Tide won't kill you with passing or long drives, ranking a pitiful 96th nationally in 3rd down conversions. Clemson's game plan is obvious--stack the line to stop Henry and dare Coker to beat you with this passing, which he can't.
Coach Dabo Swinney's Clemson has won all its 14 games this season and is on a 17-game win streak, beginning late last season. Nick Saban's Alabama team has lost just once, falling to Ole Miss last September in Tuscaloosa, 43-37, mainly because the Rebels won the turnover battle 5-0.
Bama is a 6.5 favorite over Clemson. Much of that is based on the Tide's 38-0 massacre of Michigan State in the semi-final game. Experts are giving that easy victory way too much weight. MSU, with its lame offense, didn't belong in that final-four game.
Clemson is a much better all-around team, with a monster at QB. If you're betting, take the underdog. You're betting on Watson pulling a Vince-Young.
He just might do it.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 2:08 PM
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Cal fans who were hoping the football team would be rid of a blight named Sonny Dykes are now submerged in gloom. The head coach didn't, as the haters hoped, sign with another school. Instead he did what the haters prayed he wouldn't do--sign a long contract extension with the Bears, through 2019, with a juicy raise, bumping his salary to an annual average of $2.85 million.
So, Dykes haters, shelve that bottle of celebratory champagne. Unfortunately it won't be needed. But do get yourself some hard liquor--whatever it takes to drown your sorrows, to ease the pain of the realization that you're stuck with this clown for many years.
The Dykes drama began not long after Cal came from behind on Nov. 28 in its final regular season game to beat Arizona State. 48-46, finishing 7-5 and getting a bid to play Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth on Dec 29, the Bears' first bowl bid since the glory days of the Jeff.Tedford era.
This was the best record in Dykes' three-year tenure, which began with a miserable one-win season. Following this season, though, something was gnawing at Sonny. He wanted more money--a contract extension and a raise. Insiders say he had been moping all season, feeling underpaid at just under $2 million annually, the lowest salary of any PAC 12 head coach.
When this season ended, Sonny's bosses didn't leap to give Sonny what he wanted. Feeling under appreciated, Dykes was pissed off. So he went job-hunting, first interviewing at Missouri. Also there were rumors he was in the running for openings at South Carolina and Virginia. But Sonny didn't get any of those plum jobs. The athletic directors at those schools aren't dummies. They know a stiff when they see one. Sonny simply isn't good enough.
For that reason, Cal was slow to re-sign him. Many fans and boosters didn't want him back. Cal, they argued, could do much better. According to sources in the athletic department, the Sonny haters clashed with the Sonny supporters. The battle was apparently ugly. Arguing that Sonny's Cal teams improved each year, the supporters triumphed.
Here's why the haters are hating. Sonny is a one trick pony--an offensive wizard but a lousy head coach. His teams are record-breaking, offensive juggernauts because he smartly recruits and develops offensive players. His work with QB Jared Goff is a prime example. But defensively, the Bears are dreadful. The defenses in his first two years were a mess, the worst in Cal history.
This season the defense was improved but still awful, particularly that klutzy secondary. The Bears win by outscoring other teams in shootouts or preying on other horrible defenses. Cal's defensive players are poor tacklers, often out of position, easy to outwit and.unsure of their roles, They only won the Arizona State game because, in the second half, the ASU defense was, if you can believe it, worse than Cal's.
To build a good defense you need quality players. That's where Dykes is a liability. When trying to sign defensive players Cal gets killed on the recruiting trail because the word is out that Sonny is soft on defense. If you're a hot-shot defensive prospect looking to maximize your potential, you steer clear of Cal, where you won't get the best coaching or be part of a Grade A unit. So Cal, due to Dykes' rep, is always stuck with average defensive players. Without first-rate coaching, those players never develop into anything special.
Lacking a top-level defense, the Bears will never crack the PAC 12 elite. Teams like Stanford, USC, UCLA and Oregon, which usually have strong defenses, will always be better. During Sonny's reign Cal will, at best, win seven, maybe eight games and go to some minor bowl,.
That's not good enough, insist the detractors. That's aiming low.
How about Cal going to the Rose Bowl or occasionally cracking the national Top 10? With Dismal Dykes and his dreadful defenses?
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 1:42 PM
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
This is USC's record for hiring head football coaches in recent years:
Yes, the SC powers did it again, naming interim coach Helton, promoted in October from offensive coordinator, as permanent head coach, awarding him a five-year contract..
Many Trojan fans and boosters, rightfully, are not happy with this choice. They had visions of blue-chip prospects dancing in their heads. That's because the SC head coaching position is one of the Top 10 in college football. So does the school hire someone in a league with Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, Nick Saban and Chip Kelly? No, they get Helton, a lifetime assistant with no significant head coaching experience. Simply not good enough.
A little over a week ago Helton seemed out of the running for the job. SC was crushed by Oregon, looking unprepared, unmotivated, demoralized and disorganized. The tackling was pitiful and the blocking was pathetic and the line play, on both sides of the ball, abysmal. How could SC hire a guy responsible for that debacle?
But somehow Helton got the job. What the hell happened?
All that happened is that SC whipped UCLA, 40-21, last Saturday. Does one win, even if it's over your arch-rival, make all that difference? Does that lone victory wipe out the stench of the Oregon loss? Aside from the UCLA win, Helton has done nothing worth getting excited about. Sure, SC did beat Utah, when that team was in the Top Five, but in retrospect, the Utes were way overrated..
Since Helton, a six-year SC coach, took over from Steve Sarkisian, the team is 5-2, but hasn't been particularly impressive. Helton's most notable accomplishment is changing SC from an uptempo, pass-happy outfit to a slower paced running team. Other blemishes on his resume--the loss to hated rival Notre Dame and the struggles with teams, like Colorado, with inferior talent. Nothing he's done makes you think he's a superior coach or that he has the makings of one.
Is Helton the best coach available? Not by a long shot. There are many out there who are much more qualified and who could do a better job. At the moment though, the SC head coaching position doesn't have its usual luster. According to sources close to the SC powers, the school has put out plenty of feelers, only to find out that big-name coaches or budding stars weren't interested. The problem is AD Pat Haden, who has been on shaky ground since his prominent role in the Sarkisian mess. No heavyweight coach wants to be hired by an AD who seems to be on his way out--and Haden, who also has health issues, is definitely on his way out. Who wants to step into an uncertain situation like that?.
If SC was going to hire Helton, this was the optimal time, after the biggest victory of his career and SC's biggest of the season. That's why the SC bosses rushed to sign him now. What it does, though, is piles on the pressure.
On Saturday SC plays Stanford for the PAC 12 championship. Beating a highly motivated and talented Stanford team in Palo Alto won't be easy. This season SC, which has already lost to Stanford, hasn't played well outside the Coliseum. If the Trojans lose, the hire looks even more stupid.
Signing Helton looks like a big mistake. If he's going to prove skeptics wrong, winning Saturday is the place to start.
Posted by Dennis Hunt at 11:39 AM