Los Angeles • USC once fired a basketball coach two days after the Trojans’ 17-point victory over Utah. The Ute football team’s visit to the Los Angeles Coliseum couldn’t possibly match that sequence of events in USC history, but Friday night’s game did bring some unusual circumstances into play.
Urban Meyer's presence in the west zone was a good illustration of all the speculation swirling around USC coach Clay Helton's future, on a day when USC inaugurated a new president on the nearby campus.
The Trojans started Friday's game with some spirit, though, scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions behind fill-in quarterback Matt Fink and taking a 14-10 halftime lead.
In any case, mixing in athletic director Lynn Swann's Sept. 9 resignation after three years on the job, these are turbulent times for the Trojans. One report suggested Helton would be fired this weekend if USC lost badly to Utah, coming off an overtime defeat last weekend at BYU.
The next issue is whether interim athletic director Dave Roberts would make that decision, or if it would come from above him. Carol Folt on Friday officially became USC's first female president.
USC's recent pattern of coaching changes in football and men's basketball started in January 2013, when former athletic director Pat Haden fired coach Kevin O'Neill after a 76-59 win at Utah that made the Trojans 7-10 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12. “Despite a nice road win in our last game, I felt it was best to make a change now, with most of the Pac-12 season still ahead of us, in order to reenergize our team,” Haden said.
The Utes have witnessed two significant rounds of football coaching turnover in the Pac-12 South since joining the conference in 2011. Utah also lost games in Los Angeles to two USC interim coaches, Ed Orgeron in 2013 and Helton in 2015.
Meyer, who coached the Utes in 2003-04, has been considered a possible successor to Helton, ever since he took a Los Angeles-based job with the FOX “Big Noon Kickoff” show. Because the Utah-USC game was broadcasted by FS1, Meyer and the rest of the cast did a live pregame show from the Coliseum.
Folt denied that she recently met with Meyer, telling the Los Angeles Times, “It's not the president's job to decide on coaching positions.”
Meyer retired as Ohio State’s coach after last season, announcing his decision before coaching the Buckeyes in a Rose Bowl victory over Washington. The Utes would have faced the Buckeyes if they had beaten Washington in the Pac-12 championship game, but they lost 10-3 at Santa Clara, Calif.