USC’s decision to fire football coach Clay Helton has added early intrigue to this football season.
Immediately, prominent coaches in the college ranks and the NFL were mentioned as possible replacements. In recent days, Jacksonville head coach Urban Meyer and Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy were asked about their potential interest in the opening. Both summarily dismissed the possibility.
One name that has not been mentioned – but perhaps it should – is Tennessee Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara. The 52-year-old does not have the notoriety that would make the desired splash for a program that wants to regain its place among the college football elite.
There are several factors in his favor, however, not the least of which is that he is a product of that very program.
Without question, O’Hara would be – at best – a longshot, but here is a look at some of the reasons he is worth consideration:
• Man of Troy: O’Hara played football at USC from 1987-90, primarily as a backup to Rodney Peete and Todd Marinovich. He was slated to be the started as a junior but was derailed by a serious injury (torn knee ligaments, a broken leg) fewer than two weeks before the first game. Ultimately, he attempted just nine passes in his college career (he completed seven) yet still was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 10th round of the 1991 NFL Draft.
• Been in Charge: This is O’Hara’s seventh year as an NFL assistant and he has yet to rise beyond a position coach, but he has been a head coach. From 2009-14, he was in charge of four arena football franchises, three in the Arena Football League and one in AF2. His career record is 36-56 but his teams did make three playoff appearances and won one postseason game. He also spent one year as Director of Personnel for the Jacksonville Sharks (AFL), so he has had a taste of talent evaluation that is necessary for recruiting.
• Knows the Area: O’Hara is a Los Angeles native who earned numerous all-city and all-area accolades at Santa Monica High School. He began his coaching career in 1996 as quarterback coach at Point Loma High School and later worked at two other high schools in the area before he moved on to arena football. He should have not problem promptly tapping into the rich local recruiting base that is so important to that program.
• Well-Connected: One of the players currently in the Titans’ quarterback room is Matt Barkley, another Southern California native and former USC star. Barkley remains a popular figure for the program, and his endorsement – if he offered it – would carry weight. Additionally, his current boss, Mike Vrabel, is close with University of Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell – and USC athletics director Mike Bohn hired Fickell. It is easy to see how Fickell could be convinced to put in a good word and what his blessing would mean.
• Well-Connected, Part II: USC likes to maintain connection with Hollywood and the star power that is so evident in Los Angeles. O’Hara has consulted with those in the film industry on movies such as “The Longest Yard,” We Are Marshall” and “The Game Plan.” He even appeared on screen briefly in “Any Given Sunday” and “The Waterboy,” among others. It is likely that some his acquaintances in the industry are also donors who have influence in USC’s decision-making and might want to throw around their weight when it comes to this decision.
• Glory Days: USC’s football history is built upon the foundation of great running backs and the famed Student Body Right play that was a tenet under coach John McKay beginning in the 1960s. Generally speaking, the Pac-12 emphasizes spread offenses that like to throw the ball, but if USC wants to zig while the others are zagging, O’Hara’s ties to the Titans’ offense and two-time NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry would serve him well.