The most reliably on-time train in college football coaching rumors might be the one that shows up whenever USC seems like it could be in the market: longtime NFL coaches Jeff Fisher and Jack Del Rio have their names tossed around for the gig. The most recent example:
There is a good chance that the USC job does open in 2018, as Clay Helton has come under fire for a disappointing season with all the talent one could ask for.
There’s consensus in the coaching industry that USC will indeed fire Helton, who’s 5-6 this year, if he loses to unbeaten Notre Dame on Saturday. Penn State’s James Franklin is another early name in the event USC does need a coach.
If Helton does get the boot, Del Rio and/or Fisher will be in the rumor mix. The process started weeks ago, and Helton’s not even fired yet.
In the increasingly inevitable event that USC coach Clay Helton is released from his duties following the 2018 season, ex-NFL coach & player Jack Del Rio - who played at USC - has positioned himself among prominent USC alumni as the likely successor, sources tell Sports by Brooks— Sports by Brooks (@SportsbyBrooks) November 1, 2018
Del Rio was an All-American linebacker at USC in the 1980s and is a Southern California native. Del Rio is currently out of a job after being fired by the Raiders in 2017. Jeff Fisher is also out of the coaching ranks, after being fired by the Rams. He also played at USC in the ‘80s and hails from SoCal.
The precedent is there for either hire to at least be plausible. USC recently lost to a divisional opponent, Arizona State, that hired Herm Edwards after he’d been out of college coaching for decades (and any coaching for a decade). The Trojans also have the proof of concept in doing it when Pete Carroll had all that success in the 2000s after coming from a stint in the NFL that was largely panned. There’s also always USC’s own belief that the program is a pseudo-pro team in the Los Angeles market.
So you may not agree with the merits of either name, but the roadmap is there to see how Trojans administrators could talk themselves into making the move.
There’s also nearly a decade’s worth of rumors linking USC to both guys.
By 2000, Fisher was an established NFL head coach whose team had come a yard away from forcing overtime in the Super Bowl. Del Rio wouldn’t get his first coordinator job until 2002, and then would get his first head coaching job in 2003. USC’s coaching search that year settled on Carroll after looking at three other coaches, but every time since Carroll left both Fisher and Del Rio get talked about.
In 2010, Del Rio was still the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He publicly took himself out of the running for the USC job 24 hours after it opened, and Fisher showed no public interest at that time. The Trojans hired Lane Kiffin.
In 2013, Del Rio actually interviewed for the job, but was in an awkward situation with the Denver Broncos. He had taken over as an interim briefly for John Fox, and the Broncos would make a Super Bowl run, tying him up until February. Fisher called rumors linking him to the Trojans at the time “absurd.” The Trojans hired Steve Sarkisian.
In 2015, Del Rio reportedly got a call soon after Sarkisian was fired. He said no, telling USC brass he’d rather stay with the Raiders as its head coach. Fisher claimed he was no longer interested in the job around the same time.
Jeff Fisher says he is not interested in Southern Cal job, saying he made a commitment to Stan Kroenke when he took Rams job in 2012.— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) October 20, 2015
At the time, the Rams hadn’t moved yet, but Fisher did eventually get the opportunity to go 7-9 in Los Angeles anyway.
And that brings us to 2018, where both men are on the shelf and Helton is extremely on the hot seat.
Fisher has at least directly addressed the fact that he wants to coach again, admitting that he wants to get back in it and that there have been teams that have expressed interest. Del Rio, who’s 54 and six years younger than Fisher, was in the running for the Giants’ defensive coordinator job back in January. So, yeah, you’d bet the rumor mill has begun to churn.
If the Trojans make a move at the end of this season, both are in a perfect spot to get the call from USC. Whether they’re the right choice is a different matter.