Clay Helton was hired to replace Steve Sarkisian as USC’s head football coach, but after a disappointing season and a loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game, he was fired.
Clay Helton was the head coach of USC football until he was fired after an embarrassing loss to Alabama.
It eventually came to pass.
Clay Helton’s time in Los Angeles has come to an end almost six years after his surprise hiring as USC’s head coach. Mike Bohn’s decision to cut hook only two games into the 2021 season is an admission of what most Trojans fans have known for years: Helton was never going to restore USC to its former status as a consistent national force.
It was as obvious on Monday as it was in 2018, when Helton led the Trojans to their first losing season since 2000, but the position was always too large for him. Helton would never have had the chance to head a program of USC’s quality had it not been for Steve Sarkisian’s early-season departure in 2015. His coaching background would not have permitted it.
Helton, on the other hand, was the adult in the room at the moment, and he was exactly what USC needed to get through the remainder of that difficult year without more off-field humiliation. He made sense as an interim coach and performed well, winning five of seven games before Pat Haden removed the interim designation and named him the permanent coach. Haden’s choice was puzzling in that he didn’t make a significant effort to replace the position with an external applicant, and it came only two months before his own departure announcement.
It’s easy to argue that Haden shouldn’t have made the hiring if it hadn’t been for the ineptness of his successor, Lynn Swann.
It’s essential to realize how well-liked Helton was by people around him in order to comprehend his tenure. There are a lot of individuals who don’t appreciate his football knowledge, but what about as a person? It’s almost difficult to locate someone who has had a negative interaction with him.
It’s arguable whether or not it should play into a coach’s job security, but it’s the main reason he stayed so long, along with some fortunate timing.
Helton’s nice-guy image wouldn’t have mattered if he had never achieved any success, but he did. In his first season as permanent head coach, USC won the Rose Bowl and placed third in the AP poll. The next year, the Trojans won the Pac-12. Even if it did conceal blowout losses to Alabama (52-6), Stanford (27-10), Notre Dame (49-14), and Ohio State (24-7) over those two years, such early success would give any coach some time.
The third year of Helton’s presidency was a complete catastrophe. Going 5-7 at USC during the Pac-12’s collective decline was a fireable offense, but Swann lacked the ruthlessness required to fire a coach a year after winning the league.
Keyshawn Johnson discusses why USC’s loss of prospects to out-of-state schools was a major factor in the program’s decision to fire coach Clay Helton.
Swann felt compelled to make a statement supporting Helton’s job security, and two months later, he extended his contract, stating Helton “has shown that he can manage our team with integrity and stability, as well as the potential to win conference and national titles.”
Swann followed Haden out the door the following September, and Bohn wasn’t hired until November 2019, with one game remaining in the regular season. Bohn would have been justified in making a change — it would have definitely endeared him to the school’s ardent supporters — but he was wary of rushing into a process that he wanted to get right.
In the end, Bohn wanted more time to assess what he was inheriting so that when it came time to make a change, he would be better prepared.
After then, there was the epidemic. Nothing about the 2020 season was typical, particularly in the Pac-12 and Los Angeles, so putting much stock in what occurred on the field makes little sense. After going 5-1 with that defeat in the conference championship game, he wasn’t going to be dismissed, which leads us to this point.
Bohn made a statement that USC supporters have been waiting for by dismissing Helton after just two games. It’s not good enough to be mediocre. Losses by a large margin at home will not be allowed. When Stanford’s advantage became insurmountable, Helton’s employment situation became the main subject of conversation for the remainder of the season. Unless, of course, Helton was relieved of his duties.
The timing is advantageous on two levels: first, it will restore USC supporters’ faith in the team. It’s entertaining to speculate on the identity of the Savior. Second, it allows Bohn, who has probably had candidates in mind since his arrival, to proceed with his search in a systematic manner.
Despite its lack of success since Pete Carroll’s departure, USC is still a location where huge wins should be expected. It fulfills all the criteria that have traditionally been required to compete for national championships, and it is now even better positioned to recruit the finest talent in the country, thanks to the addition of name, image, and likeness regulations.
Let the rumor mill begin.
Clay Helton is the head coach of the USC Trojans. In his first year, he led them to a 9-4 record and a Pac-12 South division title. However, since then, they have gone 4-8 with two losing seasons in a row. Reference: donte williams usc.
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