Clay Helton is out just two games into his seventh season with the Trojans’ football program and the list of USC head coach candidates is already being compiled. As the program prepares for a new era, the program’s targets will likely reflect a change of attitude.

Helton was a player-friendly coach that operated with a persona everyone gravitated toward. But as many have reported, the job often proved to be too big for him and his nice-guy personality could be taken advantage of.

It’s a characteristic the Trojans might be more careful of this time around, seeking a leader who can strike a balance between a supportive coach and serving as a direct leader when needed. With that in mind, let’s dive into five potential USC head coach candidates.


Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell should be among the favorites to become the next Trojans’ head coach. Athletic director Mike Bohn worked with Fickell at Cincinnati, helping build that program into a College Football Playoff contender. Bohn hired Fickell in 2017, handing him the keys to a program that went 4-8. After repeating that mark in his first season, the Bearcats have gone 31-6 over the last three seasons.

Luke Fickell buyout: $3.5 million

Fickell spent more than 20 seasons at Ohio State, first as a player and later a coach. Spending all of that time around legendary coaches and players, he understands both how to manage personalities and when to set the tone. The only question would be if the Ohio native wants to leave the Midwest, but this might be the best coaching opportunity for a few years.


James Franklin, Penn State

James Franklin took over a Vanderbilt football program that few wanted to touch and it didn’t take long before he turned it into a nine-win program. After posting a 24-15 record with the Commodores in three seasons, Franklin left for Penn State and delivered three 11-2 seasons from 2016-’19.

James Franklin buyout: $4 million

There is a lot to like about Franklin as the head coach at a marquee program. He would immediately raise the level of expectations at USC and he could easily put together one of the best coaching staff in the country. Plus, he has an outstanding record on the recruiting trail. But it’s worth noting that Penn State is 3-3 in bowl games and has struggled against ranked teams during his tenure.