USC coach Clay Helton explains the most impressive thing about Alabama
While Nick Saban was busy squaring off with reporters at SEC Media Days on Wednesday, the man he will square off against in Week 1 at Jerry’s World was fully focused on him Thursday.
That would be USC head coach Clay Helton. After officially accepting the head coaching gig following a tumultuous, roller-coaster season for the Trojans last year, Helton is ready for his first season as the full-time head coach and has turned his attention to the Trojans’ Week 1 opener against the Crimson Tide, the defending national champions.
Make no mistake: USC isn’t scared of Alabama. Instead, they’re relishing the opportunity to open the season on a national stage.
"Why do you come to ‘SC?" Helton said when speaking about Alabama at Pac-12 Media Days on Thursday. "You come to compete, and you want to compete at the highest level. If you don’t like that, don’t come."
For Helton, the relationship with Saban isn’t just peer-to-peer as a coach but also a personal as one. Helton’s father, Kim, served on the same Houston Oilers staff as a young Saban back in the 1980’s.
Even with a friendship spanning 30-something years, when their teams meet at Cowboys Stadium on Sept. 3 it’ll be all business. USC has spent months breaking down Alabama film, and when Helton was asked what stands out most about the Crimson Tide, his answer was a bit surprising. It had nothing to do with their size, speed or skill overall, or a depth chart filled with five-star recruits who double as future NFL stars.
Instead, what stood out to Helton as a coach was just that — how well Alabama is coached. Helton was blown away when he first flipped on the film.
"I think one [thing] that just leaps off the tape is coaching, the way they’re coached," Helton said. "Just assignment-wise, the style of football they play, the discipline they play with. You’re talking about one of the greatest head coaches in the history of the game in Coach Saban, maybe the best in our generation."
In terms of individual matchups, well, Helton is excited to see how his new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast plans to game-plan against his former boss, and former ‘SC head coach, Lane Kiffin, who currently serves as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.
Helton’s defense is loaded in the back seven with All-American candidate Adoree Jackson, as well as corner Iman Marshall and linebacker Cameron Smith. Alabama will counter with a potent offense that features tight end O.J. Howard and wide receivers Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart.
Like everyone else, he’s eager to see how the two counter each other. Heck, Helton admitted that he’s just as excited to watch as a fan as he is a head coach.
"I’ve been around the game a long time and two of the most brilliant men I’ve ever been associated with are Lane Kiffin on offense and Clancy Pendergast on defense," Helton said. "So to see that chess match, see it played out, I wish sometimes I could just have a box of popcorn to watch it."
Overall, Helton appeared to be optimistic heading into that Week 1 matchup with the Crimson Tide. Again, there isn’t fear, just respect and excitement about opening against such a name opponent.
"To be able to play the defending national champion, the leader you have the utmost respect for, the guy who’s the leader in our profession," Helton said. "If that doesn’t make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, I don’t know what does."