USC announces decision to fire Clay Helton – Daily News

The Clay Helton era at USC came to an end on Monday, as USC athletic director Mike Bohn announced his decision to part ways with the head football coach.

Bohn and Helton addressed the team on Monday afternoon to announce the change in leadership.

“Clay is one of the finest human beings I have met in this industry, and he has been a tremendous role model and mentor to our young men,” Bohn said in a statement. “We appreciate his many years of service to our university and wish him nothing but the very best.”

Cornerbacks coach and associate head coach Donte Williams will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

“This season is just getting started and we have the opportunity to really do something special with this team and this program,” Bohn said. “Donte is an experienced and well-respected coach who is renowned for his ability to develop relationships with student-athletes, and I appreciate his willingness to take on this challenge.”

Bohn said USC will begin a national coaching search for Helton’s permanent replacement.

“Our university and its leadership are committed to winning national championships and restoring USC football to glory,” Bohn said. “With our storied history, our talented roster, and the major investments we’ve made in the infrastructure of our football organization, I’m optimistic that we are better positioned right now than we have been at any other time in the past decade to recruit the best and right leader for USC.”

Helton, 49, went 46-24 in his six years as USC’s head coach and in two stints as the interim head coach. The Trojans opened the 2021 season 1-1 but showed clear signs of regression in their 42-28 loss to Stanford on Saturday night at the Coliseum. In the defeat, USC displayed many of the shortcomings that have plagued Helton’s tenure, committing nine penalties, losing the turnover battle and struggling to execute on third down and in the third quarter.

Helton, who signed a contract extension following the 2017 season, had two years left on his deal following the 2021 season.

Hired as the QBs coach in 2010 following 10 years at Memphis, Helton was first named USC’s permanent head coach in 2015 after he led the Trojans to a Pac-12 South title as the interim following Steve Sarkisian’s firing.

The Trojans went 10-3 in 2016 and won the Rose Bowl as quarterback Sam Darnold led a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback against Penn State. Helton’s USC team won the Pac-12 title in 2017, finishing 11-3 after a loss to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl.

But in 2018, USC went 5-7, losing five of its last six games and the final three by a combined 15 points. It was the first time USC had finished below .500 since 2000, the year before Pete Carroll was hired.

There was speculation that Helton would be fired. But then-athletic director Lynn Swann announced that Helton would return the day after the team’s season-ending loss to Notre Dame.

USC rebounded slightly in the 2019 season, going 8-4 in the regular season before losing to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl.

Bohn was hired prior to the 2019 regular-season finale. He was peppered with questions at his introductory press conference about Helton’s status. He declined to answer, saying it would be inappropriate to do so after just arriving and not having had time to assess everything.

Prior to the bowl loss, Bohn announced that Helton would return for the 2020 season as the new athletic director pledged to provide new resources for the football program in areas such as recruiting, video coordination, social media and academics.

In 2020’s pandemic-shortened season, Helton guided USC through a perfect regular season despite challenges such as a curtailed offseason and no spring football to install the scheme of new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. But the Trojans lost to Oregon, 31-24, in the Pac-12 championship game and elected not to participate in a bowl game.

The results and the improved infrastructure helped Helton and USC improve their recruiting results, going from the nation’s 64th ranked class in 2020 to seventh in 2021 according to, adding the nation’s top-rated recruit in defensive end Korey Foreman.

Prior to the 2021 season, Bohn said the expectation for the football team is to compete for conference and national championships while declining to make any ultimatums for the embattled Helton.

“We recognize the improvement in the program and all the different things we’re doing. Our trajectory is strong,” Bohn said. “All you have to do is watch these young players and the way this recruiting class is producing for him and us. We’re encouraged.”

Added executive senior associate athletic director Brandon Sosna at the same press conference, “I have two post-it notes on my desk from the first couple meetings that we had with Clay and his staff, things that we needed to address, and we’re really excited. I think we’ve checked off almost every single one of those boxes.”

Despite the lackluster on-field results, Helton ran a clean program at USC. As the men’s basketball program became embroiled in an FBI investigation and the athletic department as a whole was swallowed up by the college admissions scandal, the football program avoided any major issues. Helton kept players who were under investigation away from the team, such as wide receiver Bru McCoy, who is under a Title IX investigation by the university following a summer arrest.

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