- The USC Trojans have fired head football coach Clay Helton two days after an embarrassing 42-28 home loss to Stanford.
- Stanford entered the game as a +17.5 road underdog but were in control throughout.
- Helton was two games into his seventh season at USC at the time of his dismissal.
After spending much of the previous three seasons on the ‘hot seat’ USC finally fired head football coach Clay Helton two days after an embarrassing 42-28 home loss to Stanford. USC entered the game as a +17.5 favorite but were never competitive–Stanford led 21-10 at halftime and opened up a 42-13 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the game. USC tried to mount a furious rally scoring 18 points in the final 5:54 but it was to no avail. Helton was two games into his seventh season as Trojans head coach at the time of his dismissal. Cornerbacks coach Donte Williams will serve as the team’s interim head coach.
USC athletic director Mike Bohn spoke glowingly of Helton even as he announced his firing:
“This afternoon, I informed Clay Helton of my decision to make a change in the leadership of our football program. Clay is one of the finest human beings I have ever met in this industry, and he has been a tremendous role model and mentor to our young men. We appreciate his many years of service to our university and wish him nothing but the very best. Consistent with our values as an institution, he deserves the utmost respect from the Trojan Family during this transition.”
Helton had been part of the USC coaching staff since 2010. In the early part of his tenure with the Trojans he had served as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. In addition, he twice served as an interim head coach. He was hired full time as the head coach prior to the 2016 season and things started off pretty well with USC going 21-6 in his first two seasons. In 2018, however, the team slumped to 5-7 and it was then that the Clay Helton ‘hot seat’ started to get warm. That was the first time that USC had finished under .500 since 2000 when Paul Hackett’s 5-7 season opened the door for the Pete Carroll era. Helton gained a reprieve and the Trojans went 8-5 in 2019, losing to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl. USC went 5-1 during the COVID truncated 2020 season but there was plenty of speculation that Helton would be sent packing as part of the upheaval in the USC athletics department.
After praising Helton’s character, AD Bohn spoke of the high expectations of USC football and that they couldn’t be met without a change in leadership:
“As I committed to upon my arrival at USC, during the past two off-seasons we provided every resource necessary for our football program to compete for championships. The added resources carried significantly increased expectations for our team’s performance, and it is already evident that, despite the enhancements, those expectations would not be met without a change in leadership.”
Prior to 2013, USC had never fired a football coach during the middle of a season. It’s now become a bonafide trend with Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and Helton all being dismissed within the first six weeks of their final year at the helm. AD Bohn spoke further about the lofty ambitions of USC football:
“I want to be exceptionally clear: our university and its leadership are committed to winning national championships and restoring USC football to glory. This decision represents our next step toward that goal in what has been a thoughtful and strategic process to build a comprehensive football organization equivalent to the premier programs in the modern landscape. I accept the enormous responsibility I have to our current and former players and the entire Trojan Family to live up to our incredible heritage.”
Bohn said that the athletic department would begin a search for Helton’s successor immediately and continue for the next several months. In reality, however, it would be difficult for a permanent head coach to be hired until the current season is over. There’s been plenty of speculation that current Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell is the top candidate to replace Helton–Fickell has done a tremendous job reviving the Bearcats’ program and there’s also the fact that Bohn hired him for that job in December 2016.