What was it that legendary baseball announcer Vin Scully said after Kirk Gibson’s famous ninth-inning, pinch-hit home run off of the Oakland A’s Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series?
"In a year that has been so improbable the impossible has happened!”
And after the USC Trojans smashed No. 3 Utah 42-24 on Saturday night in a raucous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, could Scully’s call eventually apply to Trojans interim head coach Clay Helton attaining the USC coaching job on a permanent basis?
Helton said upon taking the interim job that he wants to be the Trojans' next permanent head coach, and if not, he wants to be a head coach somewhere.
It’s way too early to remotely consider Helton as a front-runner for the USC job, but the Utah win should put him somewhere on the radar screen.
In his sixth season with the Trojans, Helton will probably have to run the table on the remaining schedule to even have a chance at the job, but he has a chance and now the freedom to run the team as he wishes the rest of the way.
After losing a tough one at Notre Dame 41-31 the weekend before, Helton’s team bounced back against Utah in a manner that was an eye-opener. The Trojans unexpectedly went toe-to-toe with one of college football’s most physical teams and won on a knockout.
It’s no secret that USC football the past several seasons has evolved from the hard-core, physical swagger of the Pete Carroll era to a soft style of play, attributed to the leadership of former coaches Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian, former Carroll protégés.
With the recent firing of Sarkisian and the departure of Kiffin in 2013, the Trojans have an opportunity now to return to their heritage of physical football. The question is can Helton be the man to lead the Men of Troy back to their big bully past?
Helton has been in this USC interim coaching position before, having replaced 2013 interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who had replaced the dismissed Kiffin. When Coach O left in a huff upon learning he would not be named the permanent Trojans head coach, Helton got his first opportunity.
And if you recall, the Helton-led Trojans crushed Fresno State in the 2013 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl 45-20.
Helton has again been given the difficult task of slowly changing not only the Sarkisian culture on offense but the defensive environment as well.
Linebacker coach Peter Sirmon says that the Trojans’ new physical style of play on defense is a credit to Helton.
“Clay has changed the practice format, and we’re now able to work more on technique,” Sirmon said.
Also beginning to show some dividends is the surprising and somewhat shocking change of attitude of the Trojans, as it applies to playing physical.
“Believe me, we thank you all [the media] for that,” said Helton after the Utah victory and referring to one of his methods to get his team to be more physical.
“We’ve been reading [the criticism] and addressed it in the meeting,” Helton added. “These guys want to prove to everyone what kind of team they are.”
And Helton’s players are picking up on the physicality message.
“We want to make a statement how physical we are,” said junior All-Pac-12 linebacker Su'a Cravens. “We are physical when our backs are to the wall.
“We have taken it [being physical] personal. We’re tired of hearing how soft we are. It’s a mindset. You want to run the ball? We’ll be physical. You want to pass the pass? We’ll be physical.”
Cravens and his teammates say that Helton is good enough to be the head football coach at USC. If the Trojans continue to improve and live up to expectations under their interim head coach, athletic director Pat Haden may be forced to at least listen, or perhaps to reassess the coaching scenario.
“If Coach Helton doesn’t get the head-coaching job at USC, he’ll be a head coach somewhere else,” said Cravens. “We love Coach Helton.”
The obvious question: Could Haden eventually love Coach Helton well enough to name him the next head coach?