USC Head Coaching Search Candidates

For the latest news, rumors and discussion, enter the Hot Board to stay current with the Trojans search for a new head coach. Find out which candidates are trending among USC fans, and which candidates aren't.

USC Coaching Hot Board
Lead Coaching Candidates: Harbaugh | Herman | Whittingham | Kelly | Payton | Stoops
John Harbaugh | Baltimore Ravens Head Coach | Record 83-48 | Age 53

Binary DataJohn Harbaugh.USA Today Sports
BIO: John Harbaugh, born in Ohio but raised in Michigan, established himself through the college and pro ranks largely as a defensive backs and special teams coach. Unlike all of the other coaches listed on the hot board, Harbaugh never retained the title of an defensive or offensive coordinator. Still, Harbaugh has a 10-5 postseason record with the Ravens, including a Super Bowl ring.

Why Harbaugh is a Candidate
Charismatic, yet composed, Harbaugh has handled the pressure of coaching in a big city for the past 15-years of his career. And during his time with the Ravens, Harbaugh has dealt with the offseason issues of Ray Lewis, Ray Rice and Deflategate without distraction. In terms of high level success, personality and character, Harbaugh checks a lot of boxes for USC. Although he has no obvious ties to the West Coast, Harbaugh comes from a coaching family with connections all over college and pro football.
UPDATE: Oct. 14 (10:15 a.m.)
A source at USC tells that John Harbaugh had been in contact with the Trojans administration indirectly in 2013. With the Ravens off to their worst start in years (1-4), there is buzz around Heritage Hall that talks with Harbaugh this go-around could lead to a formal interview and a potential job offer.
UPDATE: Oct. 16 (11:35 a.m.) PROFILE
The Ravens website put out a statement/story denying that John Harbaugh was considering the USC head coaching vacancy. Later in the day, ESPN quoted Harbaugh as saying "I love the Ravens. I love being here. It's not a consideration."
UPDATE: Nov. 19 (10:05 a.m.)
The big question with John Harbaugh is if he would be seriously interested in returning to college. His latest policy seems to be at least pointing in that direction. After the Ravens lost again, falling to 2-7 on the season, Harbaugh started handing out "effort stickers" to be placed above players' lockers, very similar helmet stickers used by several major college programs. John Harbaugh's brother Jim did the same thing this season, bringing back helmet stickers to the Michigan program.
UPDATE: Nov. 22 (8:00 p.m.)
On Sunday the Ravens beat the Rams, but lost franchise quarterback Joe Flacco to a knee injury in the process. The Ravens (3-7) have been decimated by injuries this season and with Flacco gone they are nearly guaranteed one of the top draft picks.
Tom Herman | Houston Head Coach | Record 8-0 | Age 40

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BIO: Tom Herman, who grew up in Simi Valley, got his first break at Rice as an offensive coordinator. He would then coach at Iowa State in that same capacity until joining the Buckeyes as a quarterbacks coach and coordinator under Urban Meyer. After helping Ohio State to a national title last year, Herman was awarded the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant coach.

Why Herman is a Candidate
Herman is young, and has the least experience of any coach listed, but he is also considered one of the hottest names in college football. Houston is currently undefeated and ranked in the top 25 in both pass offense and run offense -- ranking sixth nationally in total offense. Moreover, Herman was instrumental in developing two backup quarterbacks while winning a national championship at Ohio State. Herman is from Southern California even though he was born in Ohio, so he has recruited the region under various staffs.
UPDATE: Oct. 13 (6:15 p.m.)
Herman told the Houston Chronicle Tuesday that his main focus is on the Cougars winning a championship and not on job offers from other schools. “We’re going to make sure it’s not a distraction because it shouldn’t be," said Herman.
UPDATE: Nov. 22 (6:05 p.m.) PROFILE
Houston lost its first game over the weekend, falling to UConn 20-17 and likely ending its hopes to play in a New Year's Six bowl. This weekend Houston takes on Navy for the AAC West title. The Cougars (10-1) dropped from No. 13 to No. 21 in the AP Poll.
Clay Helton | USC Interim Head Coach | Record 3-1 | Age 43

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BIO: Clay Helton, a Houston (Texas) native, has 15 years of college coaching experience on the offensive side of the football. Having coached running backs, wide outs and quarterbacks, Helton came to USC in 2010 from Memphis where he served as offensive coordinator. In 2007 and 2008, his offenses were among the best in school history and ranked in the Top 26 nationally in total offense.

Why Helton is a Candidate
Clay Helton is 1-0 as USC interim head coach and 1-0 in bowl games, with a 45-20 win over 11-1 Fresno State. As offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at USC, he has directed Cody Kessler to season records for completions, completion percentage and passing efficiency. Kessler has also tied season marks at USC for TD passes with 39 and 300-yard passing games. While it may not be his job to lose, Helton has an opportunity win over fans with wins.
UPDATE: Oct. 12 (12:15 p.m.)
USC interim head coach Clay Helton addressed the media Sunday with Athletic Director Pat Haden. Helton then tweeted, "I'm honored to be coaching this special group of student athletes. We look forward to making our Trojan Family proud!" USC subsequently announced that parents would be allowed to attend practice again for the first time since fall camp. 
UPDATE: Nov. 22 (1:05 p.m.) PROFILE
The Trojans 4-game winning streak came to an end in Eugene. A couple of close calls against Arizona and Colorado followed by the lopsided loss to the Ducks raised serious questions about the current direction of the program. But Helton still has a tremendous opportunity to impress the USC powers that be. If he is able to beat UCLA on Saturday the Trojans will win the Pac-12 South and will play Stanford with a Rose Bowl berth on the line.
UPDATE: Nov. 29 (9:05 a.m.)
The groundswell of support for Clay Helton returned after the Trojans defeated the Bruins 40-21, winning the Pac-12 South in the process. Players are 100% behind their interim head coach, but is the administration? We continue to hear Helton has many supporters among the USC brass, but will that be enough to pass on the opportunity to hire a big name? If USC is able to beat Stanford and go to the Rose Bowl the pressure to retain him will only increase.
Chip Kelly | Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach | Record 23-17 | Age 51

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BIO: A New Hampshire native, Chip Kelly has 25 years of experience coaching nine different positions in all phases of the game. As an offensive coordinator for New Hampshire, his teams averaged more than 40 points in his final four seasons. In his four seasons at Oregon as head coach, his teams averaged 44 points a game. Kelly would go 46-7 overall, while going 3-2 in bowl games.

Why Kelly is a Candidate
Kelly's up tempo spread option offenses were almost unstoppable at Oregon. Kelly knows the Pac-12 landscape both on the field and on the recruiting trail. Kelly was able to sign a handful of top recruits over USC and UCLA while at Oregon, but as the Trojans head coach, he would have a pick of the litter for a majority of blue chip athletes on the West Coast. The transition from the NFL to college would be minimal, and his offense at Philadelphia is similar to the offense Steve Sarkisian tried to implement at USC.
UPDATE: Oct. 13 (1:15 p.m.)
On April 16, 2013, the Oregonian reported Kelly received an 18-month show-cause penalty by the NCAA Infractions Committee. The ruling, which would potentially limit Kelly in a recruiting capacity, expired Dec. 25, 2014 according to CBS Sports Dennis Dodd. Kelly would still have to show before the COI if he returned to college to coach, but his "failure to monitor" violation is not considered serious enough to inhibit him as a recruiter.
UPDATE: Oct. 13 (2:25 a.m.) PROFILE
NFL Network National Reporter Albert Breer @albertbreer tweeted last week, "Chip loves the NFL but has long been said to have eyes for the USC job." Philadelphia is 2-3 on the season, but coming off of an impressive 39-17 win over the New Orleans Saints Sunday.
UPDATE: Oct. 15 (10:25 a.m.)
Chip Kelly tells reporters Thursday that he has not been contacted by USC or anything other school about a return to college football. Kelly said he understands the speculation because of the Eagles lack of success this season. "I understand you have to ask the question,” said Kelly. “I answered it the same way a year ago. I answered it the same way my first year here. It's an unfortunate part of the game because the other part of it is there are people that have lost their jobs. A friend of mind, Steve Sarkisian, is dealing with a big issue right now and I wish him the best.”
UPDATE: Nov. 22 (12:30 p.m.)
On Sunday the Eagles were crushed 45-17 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, dropping to 4-6 on the season. But the NFC East is so bad, lead by the New York Giants at 5-5, the Eagles could still turn things around, win the division and make the playoffs. Even if the Eagles continue their downward spiral, most NFL insiders feel Kelly would not be forced out of Philadelphia. If Kelly leaves, it will be because he wants to return to college or perhaps be reunited with Marcus Mariota in Tennessee.
UPDATE: Nov. 25 (8:30 a.m.)
During an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio Tuesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said that “all signs” indicate Kelly and the Eagles will part ways this winter.
UPDATE: Nov. 29 (8:30 a.m.)
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport Tweeted: "Discussed Chip Kelly more on #NFLGameDay: #USC has reached out and let him know they'll be interested in him. Don't rule out #Titans, tho."
Kyle Whittingham | Utah Head Coach | Record 93-45 | Age 55

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BIO: Whittingham, a California native, has coached every position on the defensive side of the ball. A member of the LDS, Whittingham came to a fork in the road in 2004 when his alma mater BYU offered him a head coaching job at the same time Utah did. Whittingham, already at Utah as a defensive coordinator, stayed with the Utes and co-coached the Fiesta Bowl win over Pitt with Urban Meyer.

Why Whittingham is a Candidate
Whittingham's demeanor off the field at Utah may be what's needed at USC as much as his success on the field. He runs the Ute program with a blue collar approach and is described by many on the Utah beat as "low-maintenance" and "even-keel." However, when defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake left Utah for Oregon State over a reported contract dispute, questions were raised about how long Whittingham would stay in Salt Lake. Whittingham has made due with Utah currently rated No. 3 in the nation. Half of the Utes roster is made up of California natives, so Whittingham not only is familiar recruiting the state, but is also developing talent picked over by USC, UCLA, Cal and others.
UPDATE: Oct. 14 (7:15 a.m.)
In a story first published in December, 2014, sources familiar with the situation told The Salt Lake Tribune that the relationship between Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and athletic director Chris Hill was severely fractured over the pay of his assistant coaches. A source said Hill's failure to keep Sitake on staff made Whittingham feel that Hill was trying to "sabotage his program."
UPDATE: Nov. 22 (11:35 a.m.)
The Utes fell to UCLA on Saturday and fell out of the race to win the Pac-12 South in the process. Kyle Whittingham could still manage a 10-win season if Utah is able to beat Colorado to end the regular season and then tack on a bowl victory. Utah has faced its fair share of injuries in 2015 helping to account for the program's slide and losing 3 of its last 5 games.
Sean Payton | New Orleans Saints Head Coach | Record 89-56 | Age 51

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BIO: Sean Payton was born in San Mateo (Calif.) but raised in Naperville (Ill.) All of Payton's 25-years of coaching experience is on the offensive side of the football. He got his pro coaching start in 1997 with Philadelphia and won a Super Bowl with the Saints in 2009.

Why Payton is a Candidate
Sean Payton has two more years in his $8 million a year salary with the Saints, although sources say the two are likely to part ways without a buyout at the end of the year. Considered one of the more innovative minds in pro football, Payton led the Saints to a Super Bowl in 2009. However, since a bounty scandal in 2012, which forced him to sit out a season, the Saints success has been on a slow decline. Payton would seem like an odd fit for college football in general, let alone USC, but he did spend 10-years as a quarterbacks coach at mid-major schools like Miami of Ohio and San Diego State. His daughter attends Pepperdine and it's clear New Orleans is willing to part ways with his contract.
UPDATE: Nov. 5 (1:15 p.m.)
Ian Rapoport of reports that USC has interest in Sean Payton and that Payton is likely to coinsider other opprtunities after the Saints' season concludes. "Sean Payton from the Saints. I am told USC does have some interest in him," Rappoport reported. "Would not be surprised if they contacted him. Payton would like to see his kids. He goes to Dallas to see his son play football every weekend. His daughter goes to school at Pepperdine so there would be some family ties."
Nov. 8 (6:56 a.m.) PROFILE
Rapoport @rapsheet tweets, "If Sean Payton wanted to be a coaching free agent after this year, I'm told the #Saints would be inclined to let him out of his contract."
Bob Stoops | Oklahoma Head Coach | Record 174-45 | Age 55

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BIO: Originally from Youngstown (Ohio), Bob Stoops has three decades of coaching under his belt, all at the college level. Stoops big break came as Kansas State's defensive coordinator in 1991 under Bill Snyder. He won college coach of the year awards twice in his career. Once in 2000 and again in 2003.

Why Stoops is a Candidate
After a stunning loss to Texas this season, Bob Stoops wasn't the hottest name among the proven head coaches in college football. However, Stoops has righted the ship and once again has one of the nation's best teams heading into December. Stoops has a national championship and eight Big XII titles to his name, so his winning percentage is very impressive. Only 8-8 in bowl games, the big question is whether Stoops could get over the big game hump at USC. Many Trojan fans still remember USC putting 55 points on Stoop's Sooners in the Orange Bowl.
UPDATE: Nov. 11 (7:31 p.m.)
After Oklahoma's loss to rival Texas 24-17, Sooner fans were ready to drive Stoops out of Norman. Having been at Oklahoma for 17 years, there have been rumblings that Stoop may finally be ready for a change of scenary. Writers on the OU beat think the L.A. media would eat Stoops up, but others see his friendship with Pat Haden as the reinforcement he might need to seriously consider a new challenge. Stoops makes $5.5 million a year with Oklahoma, so he wouldn't come cheap.

Pete Carroll | Seattle Seahawks Head Coach | Record 84-62 | Age 64

With salary cap issues looming for the Seahawks, there are rumblings in Seattle that Pete Carroll may be growing somewhat tired of the business side of the pro game. Carroll, coming off of back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, led USC to three straight national title appearances and seven straight Pac-10 championships. But can you ever go home again? Five months after Carroll's departure for Seattle, USC was hit with harsh sanctions, which the program is just now trying to recover from. Carroll's return to USC would have some Trojan fans dancing in the streets, while others may feel uneasy about the move.

Jimbo Fisher | Florida State Head Coach | Record 65-12 | Age 50

Originally from West Virginia, Jimbo Fisher would seem like an odd fit on the West Coast, but after a recent divorce from his wife, sources indicate that he may be open to leaving Tallahassee for a fresh start. Fisher won a national championship at FSU in 2013 and had the Seminoles back in the College Playoffs last year. Fisher, a quarterbacks coach by trade, is 4-1 as a head coach in bowl games.

Chuck Pagano | Indianapolis Colts Head Coach | Record 37-20 | Age 55

Pagano actually started out his coaching career as a USC graduate assistant. Since then he has been a defensive backs coach under Butch Davis at Miami and then the Cleveland Browns. He was also a defensive coordinator for Davis in 2007 at North Carolina. Pagano would spend three years in Baltimore as a defensive backs coach before becoming the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2011. In Indianapolis, Pagano has led the Colts to three straight AFC South Division titles, losing two out of three years in the playoffs to New England. Despite that, many believe Pagano's contact will not be extended beyond the 2015 season.

Mark Dantonio | Michigan State Head Coach | Record 85-32 | Age 59

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national power over the past five years. Dantonio coached defensive backs under Nick Saban at Michigan State from 1995-2000 before returning to East Lansing as a head coach in 2007. Dantonio has had the nation's best rush and scoring defenses as a coordinator at Ohio State and as head coach at Michigan State. He has had 11 wins or more in four of his last five seasons with the Spartans. Dantonio did suffer a heart attack in 2012 after a thrilling win over Notre Dame. Doctors gave him a clean bill of health later in the year.

Gary Patterson | TCU Head Coach | Record 141-45 | Age 55

His awards for coaching are almost too many to list. In 2014 alone, Patterson won 14 Coach of the Year honors, including the Bear Bryant, Walter Camp and AP awards. Patterson has not only taken TCU from a mid-major to an annual playoff contender, he has done so while competing against Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma for recruits. Patterson is a defensive coach by trade, but his teams in recent years have been exceptional offensively. TCU is currently ranked top five nationally in total offense.

Gus Bradley | Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach | Record 8-30 | Age 49

Gus Bradley was hired as the Jaguars head coach in 2013 after serving as defensive coordinator under Pete Carroll in Seattle for three seasons. Bradley was actually a coaching holdover from Jim L. Mora's staff in Seattle when Carroll was hired in 2010. Bradley was also a defensive coordinator at North Dakota State for nine years under Bob Babich and Craig Bohl. Bradley has former Trojan assiants coaches Scottie Hazelton and Dewayne Walker on his current defensive staff. Jacksonville's offense has been woeful the past two seasons and mounting losses has Jaguar fans calling for Bradley's dismissal as a head coach.

Greg Schiano | Unemployed | Record 79-88 | Age 49

The former Rutgers had coach turned around the Scarlett Knights football program, but his venture into the NFL went south quickly. Schiano went 11-21 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and many of his former players badmouthed his coaching style. As a result, Schiano has been out of work for two seasons. Still, he had success at a college which was a doormat for decades. He knows how to coach in a big market and has produced a dozen NFL players while at Rutgers, so he knows how to recruit.

Justin Fuente | Memphis Head Coach | Record 25-21 | Age 39

Justin Fuente is a hot name among job openings nationally despite having a slightly better than .500 record at Memphis in his fourth season stay as head coach. Fuente comes from TCU, where he was co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach. In 2011, Fuente coached an Andy Dalton led Horn Frog team to an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. Fuente was named an Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award finalist after Memphis went 10-3 beating BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl.

Jon Gruden | ESPN Football Analyst | Record 100-85 | Age 52

Despite not having coached since 2008, Jon Gruden continues to be a popular name when high profile programs are looking for a head coach. Gruden was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders for four seasons and the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for seven, winning the Super Bowl in 2002. We have resisted keeping Gruden off of the Hot Board, but we have heard his name come up lately so we are reluctantly listing Gruden just in case.

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