How USC firing Clay Helton impacts Georgia football

Georgia football-Clay Helton-USC
JT Daniels was at USC his freshman and sophomore seasons.
John McCoy / Getty Images

The first major domino on the 2021 coaching carousel has fallen. USC made the decision to fire Clay Helton just two games into the 2021 season.

Helton had been the acting head coach since the start of the 2016 season after serving as the interim head coach during 2015. He won the Rose Bowl thanks to the play of Sam Darnold and amassed a 46-24 record in his time running the program.

However, the hiring of say a Matt Campbell of Iowa State could pave the way for one of Georgia’s highly touted assistants to land a job elsewhere. Monken has prior head coaching experience while running the Southern Miss program, along with his time as an NFL offensive coordinator. Lanning meanwhile became a serious candidate for the Kansas opening this spring.

Georgia is currently the No. 2 in the country with perhaps the best defense in the country. The offense showed promise in a 56-7 rout of UAB this weekend. If the Georgia team is able to reach its ceiling and make a College Football Playoff, you can imagine teams are likely to try and poach members from Smart’s staff.

Smart has had assistants hired away before, with Colorado hiring Mel Tucker after the 2018 season and Sam Pittman becoming the Arkansas head coach after the 2019 season. Tucker has since been hired again to run Michigan State, while Pittman has Arkansas ranked as the No. 20 team in the country after its win over Texas.

“He did a great job for our organization,” Smart said of Pittman on Monday. “We wouldn’t be where we are now, with some of the guys that have had the opportunity to leave here and grow and become head coaches and coordinators and things. Sam fits that mold.”

From a recruiting standpoint, USC had actually become a factor in some contested recruiting battles with Georgia. USC had been in the running to land 4-star defensive tackle Christen Miller, though he now seems to be trending towards a decision between Georgia and Ohio State.

The most tangible impact Helton’s firing has might be with regards to the recruitment of 5-star defensive lineman Mykel Williams. He committed to USC back in July despite being a longtime Georgia target from Columbus, Ga.

Daniels elected to transfer and ended up at Georgia in May of 2020. After recovering from his knee injury, Daniels went on to start the final four games of the 2020 season, winning all four of them for Georgia. He threw 10 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions in that time.

Since becoming Georgia’s starting quarterback, Daniels is 5-0 as a starter with wins over top-10 teams in Clemson and Cincinnati. Quarterback play was never a problem for Helton at USC but if Daniels is able to stay healthy, perhaps he’s able to elevate the program.

As it stands, Daniels is hoping to play this weekend for Georgia after sitting out against UAB. He suffered an oblique injury that was re-aggravated during the win over Clemson.

Related: JT Daniels’ injury ‘definitely improved,’ Georgia quarterback room remains unsettled

Helton had long been on shaky ground with the Trojans. He never seemed to be popular with the fan base and a 5-7 2018, when Daniels was the starting quarterback for 11 of those games, played a big role in his time in Los Angeles going sour.

The Trojans will try to make a splash and right some of the wrongs that occurred during the Helton era. That decision will have an impact on the Georgia football program. That speaks to just how big the USC job is in the college football landscape.

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