Lifelong fans celebrate Clay Helton’s firing

Legacy families who have been part of the Trojan family for generations say they have hope for the future of USC football.

A photo of Clay Helton

Angela Belinkoff was fed up. She watched the USC football team take the field for about 50 years as a season ticket holder, but USC’s consistent losses under head coach Clay Helton eventually pushed her and some of her fellow alumni to stop turning out in the stands.

Since Helton’s firing on Sept. 13 after years of calls from fans for his replacement, she expects to see more people return to watch the Trojans take the field. Belinkoff and other fans and alumni who have watched the Trojans for generations were excited by the news.

“My only disappointment is that it didn’t happen five years sooner,” Belinkoff said. “He never should have been hired as the coach.”

After USC lost its Pac-12 opener to Stanford, football fans tweeted their criticism, calling on Athletic Director Mike Bohn to fire Helton.

Bohn announced Helton’s removal a few days later in a Twitter statement, ending the nearly six-year tenure and replacing him with interim coach Donte Williams, who has helped the Trojans recruit some of the best classes in the country.

Throughout his tenure, comments toward Helton were mostly negative, and many fans responded positively to his firing.

Alum Owen Hylton said Helton should have been fired sooner, after several seasons marked by major losses and calls to remove the head coach.

“I think he has had numerous chances,” Hylton said. “There is no way USC should be scrounging the way they are. It should be at the top of the charts throughout football every year.”

After about seven seasons as head coach, Helton ended his tenure with a 46-24 record. Under Helton, USC football suffered major and unexpected losses, including Monday’s Stanford defeat that was predicted as a 14-point win for the Trojans.

In 2018, the Trojans went 4-5 in the Pac-12 and 5-7 overall. This marked the first losing season since 2000, and USC ended the season unranked.

“He didn’t inspire greatness,” said Katy Garretson, USC alumna and current professor of directing at the School of Cinematic Arts. “There were just too many games we should have won because we had the better players and we were out coached.”

While USC has been known as a major football school, Belinkoff said under Helton’s guidance he didn’t see consistency or skill in the team he watched play for 50 years.

“USC is the perennial football powerhouse on the West Coast, and without USC being good, it’s tough and we have nothing,” she said. “Under Clay, we were really not good. He was unorganized, uninspiring. Players never play to their potential.”

Garretson, a season ticket holder for 35 years, said her and other fans have continued to support their team through losses.

“USC fans are loyal,” Garretson said. “They love their football and they love to participate in the entire football atmosphere. But nobody is inspired by a losing team or a coach that doesn’t seem to inspire the team.”

As “new blood” arrives to revamp USC football, fans are waiting in anticipation to see how interim coach Williams will lead the remainder of the season.

“[Williams has] inherited now a program that he did not establish, so it wouldn’t be Donte at his peak,” Garretson said. “I think time will tell whether he should be considered for the permanent position.”

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that USC lost to all its Pac-12 opponents in 2018. The Trojans defeated Washington State, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon State, finishing 4-5 in Pac-12 play. The story was also updated to fix a misspelled name.