Clay Helton has been fired as USC’s head football coach, Athletic Director Mike Bohn announced in a statement posted to his Twitter Monday.
“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 wrote. “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 pressure on the athletic department to make a change at head coach accelerated following USC’s disastrous 42-28 loss to Stanford at the Coliseum Saturday. The Trojans were favored to win by 17.5 points but never led and looked thoroughly outcoached and unprepared throughout.
But to say Week 2 was the first time Helton’s job has come under fire the last few years would be misleading. USC went 5-7 in 2018 — the first year after Sam Darnold’s departure and its first losing season since 2000. The following year, the Trojans went 8-4 in the regular season, missed out on the Pac-12 Championship Game and were outclassed by Iowa in the Holiday Bowl. Last year, in the six-game season abbreviated due to the pandemic, the Trojans went 5-0 in the regular season — though three of the victories featured improbable late comebacks. They then fell to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, yet another example of the Trojans coming up short on the big stage, a constant criticism of the team during Helton’s tenure.
“I want to be exceptionally clear: our university and its leadership are committed to winning national championships and restoring USC football to glory,” Bohn wrote. “This decision represents our next step toward that goal in what has been a thoughtful and strategic process to build a comprehensive football organization equivalent to the premier programs in the modern landscape. I accept the enormous responsibility I have to our current and former players and the entire Trojan Family to live up to our incredible heritage.”
Bohn wrote that the athletic department will conduct a nationwide search for USC’s next head coach.
Associate head coach and cornerbacks coach Donte Williams will take over as interim as the search continues. Williams, who came to USC in early 2020 from Oregon, has long been envisioned as a leading candidate to take over, in part due to his status as one of the best recruiters in the Pac-12. Williams is the first Black head coach in USC football history.
“This season is just getting started, and we have the opportunity to really do something special with this team and this program,” Bohn wrote. “I’m confident that as our interim head coach Donte Williams gives us a higher probability for success for the remainder of the season.”
Saturday’s loss against Stanford was not only an embarrassing upset, but to many, it served as an indication that this season would be no different than the previous few. USC landed a remarkably easy schedule this year, and many Trojan fans expected nothing less than a Pac-12 Championship. However, that goal may already be in jeopardy, and any chance of a College Football Playoff appearance for the Trojans this season is long gone.
As the student section emptied in the third quarter, and the team left the field to the boos and the “Fire Helton” chants from the few remaining fans, it became clear to the athletic department that a significant change was necessary — not only to return to winning football, but to appease the Trojan family that has consistently felt let down during Helton’s tenure.
Helton compiled a 46-24 record across parts of seven seasons as USC’s head coach. He had two years remaining on his contract.