Commentary: Could Mike Tomlin really be USC’s next coach?

Commentary Could Mike Tomlin really be USCs next coach
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When Carson Palmer speaks, Trojans everywhere listen. He is not fellow USC Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, who is freewheeling with his opinions and armed with a Fox microphone every Saturday morning and notoriously eager Twitter trigger fingers.

So Palmer’s comments on the “Dan Patrick Show” Monday — that he is “as involved as they’ll let me be” in finding USC its next head coach, that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is a “wildcard” candidate — became immediately amplified amid the ongoing quiet of this search that just begun its seventh week.

If you’re the average USC fan, bored of waiting for concrete news on the search and hiding your eyes from the train wreck 2021 Trojans, it would be easy to convince yourself of Palmer’s trustworthiness. He isn’t known for just saying stuff, so there must be something to it, right?

Asked by Patrick whether Tomlin’s name has been discussed, Palmer said, “I’m sure he has. I think anybody is a potential candidate right now. And that’s what’s so great about the job, is it can lure an NFL guy that’s tired of their current situation and worried about, ‘Is Ben Roethlisberger gone? Is he done? Who are we going to draft?’ Does Mike Tomlin have to start over with a first-round, young rookie quarterback? … Everything is on the table with that job being so big and so coveted.”

Then Palmer asked Patrick if this was the first he had heard of a Tomlin-USC pairing.

“Yeah,” Patrick said.

“Uh oh,” Palmer said. “Oops.”

By that point, Palmer was playing it up, making good radio. He hadn’t let out of the bag some highly-guarded secret that Tomlin was ready to give up guiding the Steelers out of the Roethlisberger era with a rookie quarterback like Mississippi’s Matt Corral or Liberty’s Malik Willis so he could spend the rest of his coaching career convincing 16-year-old quarterbacks in Southern California to stop choosing Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma over USC.

This is classic coaching search fodder. Palmer’s only potential “oops” here is that the last thing USC fans need is a legend like him floating unreasonable names and setting them up for disappointment when USC ends up hiring a lesser-known coach who is actually a logical candidate to turn the Trojans around like Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell, Baylor’s Dave Aranda or Iowa State’s Matt Campbell.

Haven’t the USC faithful been tested enough the last decade? Trojans deserve to be legitimately excited for this hire, not pining for coaches who were never going to come.

Most of the diehards will understand the reality that the odds of Tomlin — or any entrenched NFL head coach — leaving his current job for an elite college position are nearly nonexistent. But others will hold Palmer’s words in their hearts, letting them fuel false hope that USC athletic director Mike Bohn will land someone of Tomlin’s ilk.

During his interview, Palmer did not name James Franklin, Campbell or Fickell. He called them by their school’s name, “Penn State,” “Iowa State” and “Cincinnati.” When Palmer said “I’m sure he has” in regard to Tomlin coming up at USC, it’s important to note the way he said it, which did not sound the least bit sure. Later, he said USC may not know its frontrunner until week 16 or 17 of the NFL season, which happens to fall after December’s early signing period for college football recruits.

Look, there’s no reason to use any more time further poking holes in Palmer’s take. We should all hope he is somehow right that Tomlin or a coach who has achieved that level of success is on the way to L.A. to coach USC.

But the most desperate among Trojans fans would do well to remove their emotions and see Monday for what it was. In all likelihood, Carson Palmer was just a dude having a blast talking about an alma mater he deeply loves.

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