Clay Helton had as short a leash as a college football coach could entering the 2021 season. USC fans were tired of the mediocrity and were looking for any little excuse to move on. Athletic director Mike Bohn was on the same page.
Bohn moved to Los Angeles to be the guy to fire the guy wearing the headset in November 2019. Speculation about Helton’s job status have been in question since he permanently took over the head coaching job in 2015. A misfire of any magnitude is all it took to relieve Helton of his duties.
But why let him start the season in the first place if the decision had already been made?
USC Fires Head Coach Clay Helton
Football coach Clay Helton worked his way up the ladder at USC, first serving as the quarterbacks coach under Lane Kiffin and then earning a promotion to offensive coordinator under Steve Sarkisian. He was named the interim head coach when Kiffin was fired in 2013 and again when Sarkisian’s tenure abruptly ended in 2015.
Helton’s tenure had its successes on paper. He led the team to a Rose Bowl victory in 2016, a Pac-12 title in 2017 and a Pac-12 title game appearance last season. His biggest blemish comes from going 5-7 in 2018, one year removed from the Rose Bowl win.
But this is USC we’re talking about. One Rose Bowl and one conference title in five years isn’t going to cut it. The Trojans should be a College Football Playoff contender on a yearly basis, and quite frankly, USC football never felt like USC football under Helton. He was the guy who would hold down the fort until the next guy actually brought the blue blood back.
Going into the 2021 season, USC was predicted to make the Pac-12 title game against Oregon. Let’s say Helton’s team somehow gets hot and wins the conference. Bohn would be in a bigger hole then. Rewind to this past Saturday night when USC, the No. 14 team in the AP rankings, hosted Stanford. The Cardinal upset the Trojans in a 42-28 blowout that makes it seem closer than it was. The loss is all Bohn needed to make his move. He fired Helton 48 hours later. His buyout is reportedly around $12 million.
Why Did USC Fire Helton Now?
You can say last season was a wash due to the coronavirus pandemic. Firing a coach who just made the conference championship game isn’t a fireable offense, but if you know the guy’s fate why keep him around? Was it for stability purposes? PR? He has a killer Jim Rome impression?
Cornerbacks coach/associate head coach Donte Williams is taking over as interim coach with 10 games remaining. This year might as well be a wash, too, since everyone is already looking onto who the next guy will be.
Bohn is taking the rest of the season to conduct a national search. Cincinnati’s Luke Fickel is the most obvious coaching candidate. Bohn hired Fickel at Cincy in 2017. Other candidates who are circulating the rumor mill are Penn State’s James Franklin and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell.
The USC football program has all the tools to return to the national championship days of the Pete Carroll era. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of the NIL rules in Southern California? Who wouldn’t kill to take a picture by the pink wall? The Trojans belong in the same class as Alabama, Texas, Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma as far as prestige and resources go.
We could’ve seen if they could get back to national prominence this season had they put their coach out of his misery before the opening kickoff.