USC Fires Football Coach Clay Helton Two Games Into His Seventh Season

The firing comes after a disappointing loss to Stanford at home.

Clay Helton Last Stand
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USC has fired football coach Clay Helton after the Trojans suffered an upset loss at home Saturday to Stanford. 

The Cardinal defeated the No. 14 Trojans 42-28 Saturday night at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, dropping USC to 1-1 on the season. 

The game dramatically altered the early season trajectories of two longtime Pac-12 rivals and spelled the end for a coach who perpetually seemed in the hot seat. Helton was just two games into his seventh season in charge of a former college football powerhouse with one conference title since 2008.

“Let's see at the end of the year,” Helton said after Saturday’s loss. "It’s Game 2, and I have total faith in this staff. I have total faith in the men that are in there, players, coaches. We didn’t play our best tonight, but ... I hope that we look up at the end of the year, and you’re asking the question, ‘Man, that team really improved from that Game 2.’”

Helton will not get the opportunity to see how the Trojans would have rebounded from Saturday's loss and will instead move on without him. Helton had two full years remaining on his contract following the 2021 season and will be paid over $10 million in buyout money.

Cornerbacks coach Donte Williams will take over as interim head coach.

Athletics Director Mike Bohn released a statement announcing his decision and wrote that he informed Helton of the decision Monday afternoon.

"Clay is one of the fineset human beings I have met in this industry, and he has been a tremendous role model and mentor to our young men," Bohn said.

Bohn said the department has provided every resource necessary over the past two off-seasons for the USC football team to compete for championships.


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"The added resources carried significantly increased expectations for our team's performance," Bohn said. "It is already evident that, despite that enhancements, those expectations would not be met without a change in leadership."

A national search will be conducted over the next few months for a head coach, Bohn said.

Helton first took over the program back in 2015 on an interim basis after the university fired former head coach Steve Sarkisian in the middle of the season. Sarkisian had shown up at a booster event visibly intoxicated, and then later at a team practice just hours before his dismissal.

Following the 2015 season, the interim tag was lifted, and Helton was named the Trojans full-time head coach. USC went 21-6 under Helton in their first two season, culminating with a scintillating 52-49 victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

The season after, Helton led the Trojans to an 11-3 record and his first Pac-12 championship after a 31-28 victory over Stanford at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara. The Trojans advanced to the Cotton Bowl, but were blown out by No. 5 Ohio State, 24-7. Thats when things began to unravel for Helton and the Trojans.

USC went a paltry 5-7 the next year, the school's first sub .500 finish since 2000. Despite calls for his dismissal, then athletic director, Lynn Swann, opted to give Helton another chance. Helton finished 8-5 in 2019, and ended the season on a sour note with an ugly loss to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl.

Helton started the pandemic shortened 2020 season 5-0, before a blowout loss to Oregon in the Coliseum in the Pac-12 Championship game.

Helton finished his career as head coach of USC with a 46-24 record overall and was never able to return the Trojans back to national prominence as promised.

That responsibility, will now fall on the shoulders of Bohn, and Helton's eventual successor.

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