first_imgI’m not a fan of making comparisons in sports, whether it’s between players, coaches or teams. It’s absurd to compare players (LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan) or teams (the 72-win Chicago Bulls vs. the 73-win Golden State Warriors) who played in completely different time periods. But here’s one similarity that’s fair to point out across all sports and all eras: Historically great franchises are always expected to be great.That’s a roundabout way of saying that USC football, for all its recent embarrassments and struggles, is and will always be a historically great program. And, by extension, whenever it is not great, everyone stops and stares.Tal Volk | Daily Trojan Hot seat Helton · Clay Helton is off to a rocky start in his first season as the permanent head coach as USC has started off with a 1-3 record.I’m working my way through Steve Delsohn’s new book, Cardinal and Gold: The Oral History of USC Trojans Football, which weaves a detailed story of the past 40 years of USC football, starting with former head coach John McKay’s departure in 1975. It’s a fascinating read, and it’s incredible to think that for decades on end, the Trojans were essentially a lock to make it to the Rose Bowl. Anything less was a disappointment, and 7-4 seasons would have alumni and boosters grumbling, wondering what the hell was going on.That same grumbling is probably happening right now, with the team off to its worst start in 15 years and head coach Clay Helton beginning his career with four losses in five games. The conversations behind closed doors are likely not very pleasant at the moment, with people coming to grips with the fact that USC is indeed a team with a losing record.It’s a parallel that I find striking when thinking of two long-running and dominant NBA franchises: the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Both franchises represent the pinnacle of basketball dynasties, yet both have had to undergo rough rebuilding periods in recent years. The Celtics have worked their way out, while the Lakers are still in the midst of it, but for both franchises, it started by acknowledging that — at least at the moment — they were not “great,” and needed to dedicate time to create change.The Celtics are perhaps the model of how to start anew. After respected head coach Doc Rivers left for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013 and the original “Big Three” era of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett came to an end, Boston hired Brad Stevens, a 36-year-old, baby-faced, unproven college coach to take over the hallowed position once held by Red Auerbach. It was a move that puzzled many — and a 25-57 debut season didn’t help — but given leeway to mold and shape the team, Stevens’ Celtics improved the following year, and last season finished with a 48-34 record to become one of the up-and-coming teams in the league.The Lakers took a little longer to acquiesce after the debacle that was having Steve Nash and Dwight Howard come join Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. They fired Mike Brown five games into the 2012-2013 season and inexplicably had Mike D’Antoni and Byron Scott run the team for three years under the illusion that they were still great and Kobe wasn’t on his last legs. But by hiring Luke Walton to coach in the post-Kobe era, the Lakers are taking a page out of the Celtics’ book. Walton is also 36 and relatively unproven. He did coach the Warriors briefly last season while head coach Steve Kerr was out, but this is his first test with a rebuilding team and a franchise finally recognizing that returning to greatness will be a process.The hope is that USC will learn that as well. It’s true that there are differences between the college and pro games; you can’t tank in college for a higher draft pick, and you have the drawback of key players declaring for the draft every year. But the concept is the same: Just because the Trojans used to be a dynasty does not mean you can push a button and make USC great again.This is a program not too far removed from heavy sanctions, has undergone four coaching changes in three years and has not been to a Rose Bowl in seven years. Helton has certainly done himself no favors with a mediocre start, but the Celtics didn’t fire Stevens after his first season and odds are the Lakers won’t give Walton the axe after his inevitably rough debut with a young roster.The criticisms of Helton are valid. His in-game decisions have been routinely questionable, he has failed to utilize the full potential of the talent he has and under his watch, USC has disappointed in primetime game after primetime game.And unlike the Celtics or Lakers, the Trojans are not in “rebuild” mode but instead supposed to compete for a Pac-12 Championship — but there we go with the inherent expectations again. Yes, old alumni and boosters grew up in an era where USC winning the Rose Bowl was just another season, but this is 2016, not 1979 or even 2008.Everything is different — from the coaches to the players to the athletic director — but the naïve mindset that USC will keep “fighting on” and should always be a winning program just because it is USC is getting increasingly frustrating with every loss that points to the contrary.Whether or not Helton is the right fit for USC at the moment is a separate topic. But instead of yelling, “Fire the coach” at the first sign of adversity, fans should look in the mirror and ask if their insecurity is based on the assumption that USC’s winning history should make it immune to losing and if what this program needs right now is another coaching firestorm.Eric He is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Fridays.last_img

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