The Clay Helton era at USC is officially over. The Trojans announced Monday night that Helton has been let go and will not finish his seventh season at the helm of the program. Athletic director Mike Bohn has tabbed Donte Williams as interim head coach.
This comes just days after Stanford walked into the Coliseum and handed USC a 48-28 loss. Helton was booed off the field at the half. The Trojans committed 111 yards of penalty in the loss, and their kicker Parker Lewis was ejected on the first play of the game. Quarterback Kedon Slovis has continued to regress; he threw a pick-six in the third quarter.
The loss dropped USC to 1-1 on the season and out of national polls.
Helton’s time in Los Angles is over; he finishes with a 46-24 record. But the Trojans are 19-15 since 2018 and have not won the Pac-12 since 2017. They went 2-3 in bowl games and have struggled to stay relevant on the national stage, too.
Helton had two full years remaining on his deal after this season. Helton is expected to be owed more than $10 million in buyout money.
“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,” Bohn said in a statement. “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.”
The Clay Helton tenure at USC
USC has never made the College Football Playoff; the highest a Trojans team was ever ranked under Helton was No. 3 in the 2016 season. They won their first five contests last season and entered the playoff competition for a minute, before falling to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.
Bohn and USC have been under pressure to make a move in leadership of the football program in recent years. Many thought the failure to win the Pac-12 last season would result in Bohn firing Helton. But the athletic director gave the coach another chance. The loss to Stanford was just the domino it took to make the move.
Adding to the pressure at quarterback is JT Daniels has found success since transferring to Georgia. The former USC quarterback left USC for the SEC after the 2019 season.
Helton was brought to USC by Lane Kiffin to serve as the Trojans quarterbacks coach. He was then promoted to offensive coordinator in 2013. When Ed Orgeron resigned from his post as interim head coach after Steve Sarkisian took the job, Helton coached USC in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl.
He took over as interim head coach again in 2015 when Sarkisian took a leave of absence. On Nov. 30, 2015, the interim tag was taken off and Helton was tabbed as USC’s 23rd head coach in school history.
But Clay Helton was never able to bring the Trojans back to the national success they had throughout the 2000s under Pete Carroll. Whoever USC and Mike Bohn bring in next will be expected to make Pac-12 titles and College Football Playoff appearances a common occurrence.