USC could have had Urban Meyer two years ago. He was there for the taking. But a new school president, trying to clean up the school's sudden Hollywood-tabloid image, passed on the chance. Fans wanted him, and the buzz was always that he was coming. USC never said this so bluntly, but here's what happened: The school didn't want anything to do with Meyer's character issues.
Instead, USC stuck by the ultimate good guy, student mentor, character builder, and father figure Clay Helton as its football coach despite coming off a losing season. So what happened in the two years that ended up with Helton being fired Monday?
That had to do with college football's excessive and growing greed, which has exploded the past few months, legally. Alabama's quarterback is making a million dollars in endorsements, ESPN and the SEC have collaborated on a power play and cash-grab — stealing Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 — to corner the sport and its billions of dollars.
As Gordon Gekko said in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," now greed is not only good, it's legal.
USC was looking at all of that, studying the landscape two years after it started to clean things up, and thought this: Count us in. We want some. Don't leave us behind.
That's not to say Helton shouldn't have been fired. The program was dwindling under him. But why did USC stick with him after last season, only to fire him two games into this one?
Nothing had changed at USC, not even after the Trojans, who were 17.5-point favorites Saturday, fell behind Stanford by 29 in the fourth quarter before losing 42-28.
What changed is college football. When the SEC stole Texas and Oklahoma, panic went through the sport. The SEC was hoarding all of the sport's power and money,
So the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac 12 forged an alliance out of survival. And the Big 12, left out of that alliance to die, gobbled up Houston, BYU, Cincinnati, and Central Florida. The College Football Playoff is figuring out how to expand and in what way the new billions of dollars will fall.
USC simply does not want to be left out. Remember that stuff about Meyer and his character? Well, USC doesn't.
In 2019, when USC hired Carol Folt — who had worked to clean up North Carolina after its scandals — and athletic director Mike Bohn, Meyer had already been cleaning up his own image by working at Fox Sports.
Remember, he had been known as Urban Liar for bringing in criminals as Florida's coach and then for sticking by an assistant coach at Ohio State who had been accused of domestic violence. He had been suspended at Ohio State.
Already this week, there are rumors that USC is interested now in Meyer. Meyer had to say publicly there is "no chance" he'll take that job and that he's committed to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Two years ago, USC was part of the Varsity Blues scandal, in which rich people were bribing their kids' way into schools. More people connected to USC were hit with criminal charges than at any other college. Also, a campus gynecologist was accused of sexual assaults covering decades. And a former assistant basketball coach pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.
That's why Folt and Bohn were brought in. And maybe their mission is still the same. Winning and integrity don't have to be mutually exclusive. But the focus now seems to be on making sure USC is able to keep its hands on college football's money and keep its spot at the table.
There are just a handful of national bluebloods left out there who aren't in the SEC. It's just Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten, Clemson and Florida State in the ACC, Notre Dame and USC.
Florida State is dropping fast from that group. And you don't have to look too hard to see that this week the sport is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the game of the century, Nebraska's win over Oklahoma. Those teams will play each other on Saturday with one problem.
Nebraska is no longer a blueblood.
USC doesn't want to be Nebraska.
So Helton is gone, taking with him a $10 million buyout. He still gets his. Other coaches who will be rumored for the job will have no interest, but will have the savvy to go back to their bosses and hit them up for big raises to keep them. They'll get theirs, too.
USC still needs to replace Pete Carroll, who left in 2009 after building the Trojans into one of the nation's superstar programs, but doing it with scandals.
That's the new direction now for USC. Big names will come up in the rumor mill. Maybe even Carroll's.
With more and more money pumped into the bubble of college football, the sport becomes more and more cutthroat.
A headline in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 1, 2019, read: "Mike Bohn brings USC integrity, which means he can't hire Urban Meyer."I wouldn't be surprised if Bohn is begging Meyer today.