Where do coaches like Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin and John McKay rank among the best USC football coaches of all-time?
After Clay Helton was appointed as a full-time head coach in November 2015, a trip down memory lane reveals many things about the Trojan coaches of the past near-century, but one thing stands out above all — USC coaches usually come from USC.
Elmer “Gloomy Gus” Henderson and Howard Jones were independents who built the foundation of the program, but since their time in Los Angeles ended in 1940, there have been exactly two head coaches without a direct link to USC.
Helton has that link as a promoted assistant with six years under his belt in Los Angeles. Whether that results in the career of a John McKay or a Paul Hackett remains to be seen.
While we wait to see how far he rises or falls, here’s how we ranked the 15 USC football coaches* who have come before him.
*USC had eight additional head coaches from 1888 through 1919. Their tenures predated USC’s membership in an athletic conference. In the interest of uniformity, we begin our ranking with the Trojans’ entrance into the Pacific Coast Conference in 1922.
15. Paul Hackett
When USC kicked John Robinson to the curb after the 1997 season, they had the chance to make a big splash hire. They instead opted for former Robinson assistant Paul Hackett, who was the quarterbacks coach for the Trojans during the 1978 national title run.
His 13-20-1 career record as a head coach at the collegiate level didn’t deter athletic director Mike Garrett, who lauded the football IQ and USC familiarity of Hackett. He understood Trojan football.
Surprisingly, it didn’t work out. Hackett led USC to an 8-5 record in 1998 and looked like he had momentum to build on after Carson Palmer’s freshman season, but his next two seasons were utter disasters.
Palmer broke his collarbone early in 1999, which forced USC to use three quarterbacks. They finished the year 6-6 despite starting the year ranked 21st and routing Hawaii 62-7.
The next season, 2000, is colloquially called the worst team in USC history, albeit not technically. The Trojans started the year 3-0 and were ranked 8th in the AP Poll going into Corvallis to play Oregon State. They lost to the Beavers for the first time since 1960 and subsequently went on a five-game losing streak.
Hackett was sacked after finishing the season with a 5-7 record. Pete Carroll inherited a wealth of talent he recruited and/or signed, such as Carson Palmer, Troy Polamalu, Kareem Kelly and Keary Colbert.
Carroll, unlike Hackett, won with those guys pretty quickly, as seen with an Orange Bowl win just two years later.