For USC Trojan fans, head football coach Clay Helton sure is sounding like Houston Nutt these days.
Over the course of Houston Nutt’s decade-long tenure at Arkansas, the Razorbacks won 61% of their games and only two bowl games while mostly alternating between bouts of mediocrity and being good enough to knock at the door of a conference and national championship — but never good enough to bust through.
Clay Helton has followed suit at USC.
In seven season he’s won 66% of his games with the Trojans, with only two bowl victories to show.
Now, on the hot seat once more after a Pac-12 title game loss to Oregon, he’s putting a Nuttesque spin on things:
“I actually see this program trending upward, if you look at it correctly,” Clay Helton told the Los Angeles Times. “You go from an eight-win season, outside of a championship game last year, to now all of a sudden winning every game but one, and you’re in the championship game. I look at recruiting and where we’re going. That’s a huge piece of the puzzle, to be able to sign the best players and bring them in and develop them. I think we’re developing our players the right way.”
To get Helton off the hot seat in 2021, the Trojans will need to improve their run game after a season marred by the worst rushing output of his USC tenure. “I felt like there needed to be better consistency, game in and game out. We really only saw what we truly wanted in three of the games,” he told the LA Times.
That lack of consistent productivity cost offensive line coach Tim Drevno his job. Now, Clay Helton is looking across the nation to Arkansas for his potential replacement.
This weekend, Helton made an offer to the Razorbacks’ offensive line coach Brad Davis, according Football Scoop sources. The 40-year-old Davis is considered a rising star in the assistant coaching world. He was called the nation’s best offensive line coach by Sam Pittman, the Hogs’ current head coach. Previously, before Pittman rose to major college head coaching, most insiders considered Pittman himself as the nation’s best offensive line coach.
The jury’s still out on if Brad Davis can become as good of an offensive line coach for Arkansas as Pittman was in the mid 2010s. This past season, some of his key linemen didn’t develop in terms of power, strength and run blocking technique as quickly as many fans would like, and the consistency of the run game suffered for it. But they also showed much better pass blocking than in previous years, which helped buy enough time for Feleipe Franks to become of the nation’s most accurate passers (and especially lethal at long-distance passes).
Davis is is also proving to be a skilled recruiter, not only by signing highly-rated linemen out of the high school ranks but by convincing starters Myron Cunningham (left tackle) and Ty Clary (center-guard) to return for 2021.
Pittman and Davis share an unusually strong bond, which will make it extra hard for Helton to entice Davis away. Still, there are a few good reasons for Davis to consider skedaddling for Southern California.
For starters, he and his wife have already proven they are more than willing to move all around the country:
Brad Davis Coaching Experience
Six times, the Baton Rouge, La. native has stayed at a job for only one year before heading off to the next opportunity.
Granted, he’s not exactly a SoCal kinda person, according to an August interview with Razorback analyst Quinn Grovey. But his wife Anecia sure is.
“My wife would like to go on more vacations,” he said. “Vacation, to me, is going back to Baton Rouge or sitting out in the back. You know what I mean? With my parents drinking coffee and hanging out and talking. She wants to go to somewhere with blue water and all that stuff. That’s just not my thing.”
Plus, USC has been signing its usual slate of blue-chip prospects in the last few years (its 2018 class was No. 4 in the nation). So Davis would have plenty of talented linemen to work with.
Helton added: “It’ll be very important to find the next left tackle as we move into the spring and the fall, but when you look at the list of what’s coming back on that offensive line, you feel pretty darn good… you have the availability of an Andrew Vorhees back, a Brett Neilon back, a Liam Jimmons back, a Jalen McKenzie back, plus the continued progression of some younger players, like a Justin Dedich or the freshmen working the entire year, a Jonah Monheim, a Courtland Ford, and a Casey Collier.”
Why Brad Davis Likely Stays at Arkansas
Still, the reasons to stay in Fayetteville outweigh the reasons to go.
There’s the fact that Helton may not even be around in a year, given the widespread fan fatigue over the Trojans’ ability to win close games by scraping but inability to truly break through. If Helton goes, Davis would likely be gone too.
Plus, moving to Southern California doesn’t make financial sense in many cases. The cost of living there is much higher. Currently, Davis make $550,000 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. That’s the equivalent of making $1,084,985 in Los Angeles, California.
But the biggest reason is the relationship between Davis and Pittman, one that tracks back to Davis’ teenage days in Louisiana as an underachieving offensive lineman on a high school team that went 0-10. Back then, Pittman was the offensive line coach for Oklahoma. Despite Davis’ on-the-field struggles, Pittman wanted him to be a Sooner.
“When I was 17,18 years old, my life could have gone to so many different directions,” David recalled. “He single-handedly helped change my life. I feel like it was just an act of God for him to allow our paths to cross.”
Both then and now, Davis was inspired to see how Pittman treated players and staff members alike with respect and love.
“The way he inspires people and makes them want to be better, it’s infectious. I have aspired as a coach every day, since I’ve got into the profession, to have my players feel about him the way that I feel about him. I want my players to feel that way about me as a coach.”
Pittman’s impact is something beyond words, he added. “It’s true, genuine love. It’s not just something that’s on the surface. He’s someone who I would do anything for.”
Which, we can assume, would include staying in Fayetteville for one more year.
Pittman was the first person Davis called when he considered going into coaching. He’s someone who has served as a reference for Davis on most of his job changes over the last five years. And he’s someone who promised Davis a place on his staff when both were on the North Carolina staff in 2008.
Davis, then a graduate assistant, recalls Pittman and he were joking about the day Pittman would be a head coach. Davis said Pittman told him:
“‘I’ll get the job and I’m going to call you. I don’t care where you at.'” I’m like, ‘Coach, I’m a GA, dude. I don’t care where you are, I’m coming.’ And so, for him to have gotten this opportunity in Arkansas and have called me, honest to God, it didn’t matter where I was in the country at that time, I wouldn’t have been able to tell him no. I love him.”
This doesn’t sound like a man ready to leave his mentor.
Nor does this: “I think it’s a huge advantage for me to have him here, not only in the heading coach role, but as an expert at the offensive line position, being able to bounce ideas off of him, being able to just have a different voice to allow me to always challenge my way of thinking or my thought process and things.”
“He’s been fantastic in that role. He lets me coach. He allows me to run the unit, but I’d be foolish to try to not take advantage of his presence here in that role, so he’s been fantastic for me, man. I can go on for hours about how much he’s meant to me and my family, but we love him. We want to do an unbelievable job for him here. We want to win the championship here.”
Arkansas probably won’t win a title in 2021, but it should win at least seven games behind the best offensive line the program has had since 2015. The unit is loaded, as Pig Trail Nation’s Otis Kirk notes:
It returns “Dalton Wagner and Shane Clenin as redshirt seniors. Noah Gatlin, Ryan Winkel and Luke Jones are redshirt juniors while Ricky Stromberg is a junior who has never redshirted. The redshirt sophomores are Beaux Limmer, Brady Latham and Dylan Rathcke. Charlotte transfer Ty’kieast Crawford is a true sophomore.”
Plus, the line will be deeper than any time since the Sebastian Tretola/Denver Kirkland glory days with the emergence of redshirt freshmen Ray Curry Jr., Marcus Henderson and Jalen St. John.
Watch the full Brad Davis interview here:
Get to Know: Brad Davis
Pretty sure Brad Davis covered everything in this one…. like everything from winning a national championship, Cajun food, his relationship with Sam Pittman and how he coaches the OL.Posted by Arkansas Razorback Football on Monday, August 10, 2020
It’s clear why he’s such a good recruiter. He’s smart and funny, with just enough of an edge to keep listeners engaged. Just the kind of guy Pittman would like.
The part at the end about his favorite celebrity crush growing up is hilarious.
His answer is Mariah Carey.
But she could have been Mariah Davis. “Don’t tell my wife that. My wife may not appreciate that, but I tell you if she had been Mariah Davis back in the nineties, man, she’d had a whole different kind of style. She did all right for herself I guess, but she could’ve… If she’d have came out to Baton Rouge, man, ooh. Probably the best thing for her.”
UPDATE: Davis indeed chose to stay at Arkansas. Speaking of coaching moves, Tennessee hired UCF’s athletic director and paid $120,000 to a search firm, only to end up hiring UCF’s head coach Josh Heupel.
But man, it sure would have been fun to see this: