Is James Franklin the Best Bet to Land the USC Head Coaching Job? 

By in College Football on
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USC-James-Franklin

On Monday, USC officially parted ways with head football coach Clay Helton. The news came as a surprise to some considering the 2021 regular season is just two games old. However, the writing was on the wall for Helton, whose tenure in Los Angeles has been marred by a seemingly endless stream of mediocrity.

Helton had been at the helm of the Trojans’ football program since the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian in 2015. After leading Southern Cal to an 11-3 record and a win in the 2017 Rose Bowl, Helton failed to win more than eight games between 2018 and 2020. The team’s absolutely embarrassing 42-28 shellacking at home to Stanford this past Saturday night proved to be the final straw.

So, one of the premier head coaching jobs in all of college football is suddenly open. It has been quite some time since USC was a national powerhouse, of course. The Trojans have cycled through four different head coaches since Pete Carroll left for the NFL over a decade ago. Obviously, the school’s brass will hope that the next man to take the job will be the one to restore the program to its perch atop the college football landscape.

College football betting sites are giving you the chance to wager on which candidate will be named the next permanent head coach at USC. While the coaching search gets underway, the team will be coached on an interim basis by cornerbacks coach Donte Williams. Williams may earn some consideration for the permanent gig if he’s able to salvage the Trojans’ season, but he is not currently among the betting frontrunners to land the position.

Franklin, Fickell Listed as Co-Favorites

  • James Franklin (+450)
  • Luke Fickell (+450)
  • Urban Meyer (+500)
  • Matt Campbell (+950)
  • PJ Fleck (+1000)
  • Mario Cristobal (+1200)
  • Tony Elliott (+1600)
  • Dave Aranda (+1600)
  • Bob Stoops (+2000)
  • Eric Bienemy (+3000)
  • Chris Peterson (+5000)
  • Lane Kiffin (+5000)
  • Steve Sarkisian (+10000)
  • Pete Carroll (+10000)

James Franklin is hardly a household name among USC fans, but he has quietly done a very impressive job under less-than-stellar circumstances. Franklin has been tasked with trying to lead the Penn State program out from the shadows, and he has fared well despite everything associated with that job.

The Pennsylvania native may not be too eager to leave his home state, but it would likely be difficult for him to turn down a fresh opportunity with one of college football’s true blueblood programs. The 49-year-old has been patrolling the sidelines in State College since 2014 after a very impressive three-year run at Vanderbilt. Franklin posted a record of 24-15 with the Commodores, which is no small feat in the SEC. Franklin led the Nittany Lions to back-to-back 11-win seasons in 2016 and 2017 with another in 2019.

The team took a step back last season, however, and Ohio State continues to reign supreme in the Big Ten. If Franklin is ready for a new challenge, USC might be the perfect situation. Southern Cal certainly has the money to tempt Franklin into considering a midseason switch, as difficult as it may be for him to leave his longtime home.

If not Franklin, oddsmakers believe Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell is the next best choice for the Trojans. Franklin endured a brief and tumultuous run as Ohio State’s interim coach in 2011, but he has since found a home with the Bearcats. After a 4-8 record in his first season, Fickell has led Cincy to a record of 33-6 over his last three-plus years in charge. That includes back-to-back bowl wins before a loss in last year’s Peach Bowl.

Fickell is also tied to USC athletic director Mike Bohn, which could help his chances. Bohn actually hired Fickell when he was the AD at Cincinnati back in 2017. However, Bohn may be more reluctant to head to the west coast. The 47-year-old has spent his entire coaching career in Ohio, and Cincinnati is on the verge of a move to the Big 12. Fickell has built the Bearcats into a very impressive program, so he may want to stick around when the team makes its highly-anticipated move to a Power 5 conference in a couple of years.

If you want to bet on one of the frontrunners, I’d much rather wager on Franklin than Fickell to wind up in L.A. at the same +450 odds.

Urban Meyer Looms

It was only a matter of time until Urban Meyer would be linked with another college job. Despite the fact that he has accomplished just about everything there is to accomplish at the NCAA level, Meyer’s roots will always be in the college game. He ditched the broadcast booth for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coaching job this past offseason, however, thanks in large part to the fact that the team was in position to draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence first overall.

Meyer took a massive payday to make the leap from college to the pros, but we’ll see how long it lasts. Meyers’ Jaguars were absolutely thrashed by the lowly Houston Texans in his NFL debut, which has already led to speculation that he could make the move back to college before too long.

Even before taking the NFL job, Meyer was heavily linked with a move to USC. If (when?) he does go back to college, he certainly won’t do so with some small program. USC and Texas are about as big as it gets, and Texas just hired a new coach earlier this year.

The Meyer situation has already drawn several comparisons to Bobby Petrino, who infamously left his post as the head man for the Atlanta Falcons after just 13 games in the first year of a five-year pact back in 2007. After a 3-10 start, Petrino skipped town to take the Arkansas job.

Meyer has done his fair share of moving around, of course. He left his jobs at Florida and Ohio State due to “health issues” before popping up somewhere else just a couple of years later. If Meyer struggles to hack it at the NFL level, don’t be surprised at all if he bails for another big-time college program.

Of course, the chances of that happening right away are slim. We can’t draw too many definitive conclusions about how he’ll fare in the long run after just one game with the Jaguars. The Petrino situation was incredibly unique, and it’s not something we see very often.

Whether Meyer becomes the full-time coach at USC depends on whether the Trojans wait until after the season to make their next permanent hire. If USC wants to name its next coach midseason, I can’t vouch for Meyer at +500. If the Trojans do wait until the offseason, then Meyer becomes a much more intriguing value bet at those odds.

Could They Come Out of Retirement?

Bob Stoops and Chris Peterson are two of the more well-known coaches currently unemployed by college programs. Both are trying their hands in the broadcast game, but it stands to reason that either guy would end his retirement prematurely if the right job were to come along. For both, it’s fair to assume that USC is the kind of job in which they would have interest.

Stoops left the Oklahoma sidelines in 2016. He briefly popped up as the head coach for the Dallas Renegades in the ill-fated last iteration of the XFL, and he’s still only 61. Stoops doesn’t have to return to coaching if he doesn’t want to, but he has the resume for the job. Stoops led the Sooners to a national title in 2000 along with 10 Big 12 championships.

Peterson rose to fame as the head coach of Boise State before doing an impressive job on the sidelines at Washington. The Huskies claimed two Pac-12 titles in a three-year span under Peterson, and he brings an overall record of 147-38 at the FBS level.

While Stoops has been out of the game for five years, Peterson just hung it up last year after reportedly burning out at Washington. The 56-year-old likely has plenty left in the tank if he wants to give it another go, but it may be too soon. USC would do extremely well to land a coach of his caliber, but Peterson might take a bit more time off before going back into the coaching grind.

Stoops at +2000 looks like a better value than Peterson at +5000. Peterson might be the better man for the job, but Stoops is the more likely of the two to return to coaching sooner.

Could USC Go Young?

Matt Campbell (+950) has done an exceptional job at Iowa State, which is no small feat. Iowa State has been one of the worst Power 5 programs in the nation over the past couple of decades, but Campbell has turned the Cyclones into a very solid program. The team has made four consecutive bowl appearances, culminating in a victory in last year’s Fiesta Bowl over Oregon.

The 41-year-old seems destined for stardom. Having been on the sidelines in Ames since 2016, Campbell is likely ready for a new challenge. Whether he’s up for the intense spotlight that comes with coaching USC football remains to be seen, but you can bet the Trojans’ decision-makers will have interest given his track record.

Oregon’s Mario Cristobal (+1200) and Minnesota’s PJ Fleck (+1000) are a couple of other up-and-comers USC could consider. Cristobal has led the Ducks to bowl trips in all four years as head coach. That includes a 12-win campaign and a victory in the 2019 Rose Bowl.

The problem with Cristobal is that he might not be willing to leave what he’s built in Eugene. The Ducks’ best days may be in front of them, so would he bail on his own program to join a direct competitor in the midst of a rebuild? Money talks, but Cristobal may have some loyalty with Oregon.

Fleck has been at Minnesota since 2017 after a very impressive run at Western Michigan. He’s only 57-42 overall as a head coach at the college level, but he does have experience building teams into winners. Things haven’t been quite as easy for him at Minnesota, but he has the kind of leadership skills that would likely endear him to those looking to build a team around an energetic young coach.

Of the younger options, I think Campbell (+950) makes the most sense.

Do Not Count Out Lane Kiffin

You may remember Lane Kiffin’s first tenure on the sidelines at USC. Kiffin fled Tennessee for Southern California after just one season back in 2010, and his time in LA was dicey. He finished his four-year stint with the Trojans with a record of 28-15, though the program was in the midst of NCAA sanctions at the time.

Since his career got off to a rocky start, however, Kiffin has seen his stock rise. He parlayed a nice three-year stint at Florida Atlantic into the head coaching job at Ole Miss, and he’s got the Rebels off to a 2-0 start this year.

Kiffin has been a source of controversy over the years, but the 46-year-old is much more respected than he was the first time USC hired him. The issue is whether this is the kind of hire that would energize the team’s fanbase. Kiffin is established as a quality recruiter and a very creative offensive coach, but nobody would blame the Trojans if they still had a sour taste in their mouths from the last time.

Kiffin is unpredictable, which is enough to make him an intriguing long-shot wager at the current +5000 odds. Nobody thinks he’ll stay at Ole Miss forever, but the timing may not be quite right for his dramatic return to SoCal.

Who Will Be the Next USC Head Coach?

The timing of Helton’s dismissal is strange. It’s only Week 3, which makes this a potentially awkward situation for some of the names likely to be atop USC’s wish list.

Coaches like Franklin, Campbell, and Cristobal may have interest in listening to what the Trojans have to offer, but would they be willing to bail on their current programs mid-season?

The best bet depends on whether USC’s brass wants to wait and hire the right coach. If they’re looking for a quick fix, perhaps taking a stab at an out-of-work coach like Stoops (+2000) makes the most sense. If the Trojans are willing to play the waiting game and hire their next full-time boss in the offseason, candidates like Franklin (+450), Campbell (+950), Meyer (+500), and Kiffin (+5000) become more alluring bets.

In the end, I keep coming back to Franklin. He has done incredible work despite suboptimal circumstances at Penn State, and he’s the exact kind of coach the Trojans should be looking to fill their vacant post. Franklin is the best bet at +450, but there are plenty of long-shot wagers worth targeting.

The following are the most interesting bets to land USC’s head coaching job:

  1. James Franklin (+450)
  2. Matt Campbell (+950)
  3. Bob Stoops (+2000)
  4. Lane Kiffin (+5000)
  5. Urban Meyer (+500)
Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...

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