The University of Southern California Athletic Department has announced that head football coach, Clay Helton, will return to the team for the 2020 season.
Helton has been in the hot seat for the last few seasons, and many expected that he would be fired after USC hired Mike Bohn as their new athletic director last month. According to multiple reports, Bohn made the decision to retain Helton, and informed the team of his decision early on Wednesday afternoon.
After news broke, Bohn tweeted that Helton would continue on as head coach and that he would work closely with Helton to "look at all aspects of the football enterprise" next season.
Bohn noted that changes in Helton's coaching staff could occur this offseason as well. Ironically, former AD Lynn Swann said the same thing after his announcement to retain Helton came last season after USC failed to secure a winning record for the first time in almost 20 years.
Helton fired his offensive coordinator, and famously hired Kliff Kingsbury, who then bolted for the Arizona Cardinals after less than a month on the job. Helton hired Graham Harrell to replace him.
Local news from across Southern California
Shortly after the news that Helton would return went public, reports that Harrell is a top target for many head coaching and offensive coordinator vacancies were released. UNLV was just one of a handful of programs reportedly interested in interviewing Harrell for their head coaching vacancy.
Helton likely saved his job after an 8-4 season, and a four-game winning streak since Bohn was announced as the new athletic director. The bounce back year came after the Trojans starting quarterback J.T. Daniels tore his ACL in the first half of the first game of the season.
Despite losing four games, including a blowout to Oregon, USC defeated No. 5 ranked Utah (ranked No. 10 at the time), 30-23 in an impressive victory with their third-string quarterback in September.
It's possible that Bohn reached out to potential replacements for Helton to gauge interest in the job should it have become available. One of the biggest drawbacks Bohn faced, was the more than $20 million in buyouts the university would have to pay to Helton and his coaching staff should he have fired him.
That $20 million also does not include the buyout that USC would have to pay to another university should they have hired one of the many rumored candidates that currently are employed throughout college football. Penn State's James Franklin, Iowa State's Matt Campbell, Baylor's Matt Rhule, and Utah's Kyle Whittingham were all rumored candidates that are currently under contract with their own universities.
Another mitigating factor in the decision to retain Helton could be because of the recent scandals that have struck the university and the athletic department. In addition to academic scandals, the athletic program has been directly involved with two separate federal investigations recently.
First, former USC assistant basketball coach, Tony Bland's guilty plea in the felony charge of conspiracy to commit bribery, and second the role of the athletic department in the "Operation Varsity Blues" admission scandal that has featured famous celebrities like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
Throughout these scandals, Helton has remained as a calming force and a role model for his players. Helton is just 40-21 overall as the head coach of USC and is a paltry 13-11 in the last two seasons. He has won the Pac 12 title once in his tenure, and the Rose Bowl in 2016. He has never made the College Football Playoff.