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Paul Finebaum names top candidates to replace Clay Helton at USC
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ESPN and SEC Network analyst Paul Finebaum joined Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Max Kellerman on ESPN Tuesday morning to discuss the USC coaching change. After news broke Monday that the school would move on from Clay Helton, everyone in the college football world developed a shortlist of potential candidates.

Paul Finebaum says two candidates stick out to him as the best fit for USC. But first he broke down the key trait of USC’s next head coach.

“I think someone that commands attention and respect and isn’t just a figure like Helton,” said Finebaum. “And I know everyone liked Clay Helton, that’s not really what this is about.”

The top candidates

Following his short list of qualifications, Paul Finebaum offered up a pair of potential candidates he thinks fit the mold at USC.

This is about being successful and running a program, which someone like James Franklin [at] Penn State – he is probably the first name that comes to mind,” said Finebaum. “He’s very charismatic, he was unbelievably successful at Vanderbilt, he’s had really good success at Penn State. They haven’t quite broken through, they’ve come close a couple of times in terms of having a legitimate shot at the national title, but Ohio State is usually in the way there.”

Franklin is in his eighth season at Penn State following a three-year stay at Vanderbilt. He is 86-28 overall with his only losing seasons coming in year one at Vanderbilt and 2020 at Penn State. Like Finebaum points out, Franklin has been on the cusp of national championship contention several times. He won 11 games in three separate seasons, but has not reached past Ohio State.

After the glowing endorsement of Franklin, Finebaum offered up another candidate who has more experience recruiting on the west coast.

“After James Franklin, I think the most obvious choice is the hottest coach in the country today, and that’s Mario Cristobal of Oregon,” said Finebaum. “Whether you get him to make that move down the coast, I don’t know.”

The biggest concern surrounding Cristobal is the $9 million buyout attached by Oregon. Despite the steep price tag, the 50-year-old Miami native brings an impressive resume.

Cristobal is 27-10 as the head coach at Oregon, taking over full-time in 2018. In 2019, Cristobal was named the AP Pac-12 Coach of the Year for leading his team to a 12-2 record and a Rose Bowl win.

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