Clay Helton will get at least one more season as USC’s head coach.
Athletic director Lynn Swann announced Sunday that Helton would return for the 2019 season. After losing 24-17 to Notre Dame on Saturday night, USC finished 2018 with a 5-7 record. It’s the worst record for the Trojans since 2000.
Swann explained the decision in a lengthy letter addressed to “the Trojan Family.”
The 2018 USC football season was disappointing to me, to Coach Helton and his coaching staff, to our players and to our great fans. Nobody is happy with our record. Everyone deserves better.
It is my firm belief that we have a good team returning next year and a solid foundation in place, and that Clay Helton is a good coach. Let me be clear to everyone, our players, our recruits and our fans. Clay Helton is our head coach and he will be continue to be our head coach.
I am a strong advocate of consistency within a program, sticking by a leader, supporting them and helping them and their team improve.
One season does not define a coach. Remember, Coach Helton inherited a program in turmoil. Ge won 10 games, including the Rose Bowl, in his first year in 2016. He won 11 games and the Pac-12 title in 2017. He runs a clean program, he graduates his players, he recruits well, he produces NFL players.
We see top programs across the country have down years and the fans want to change coaches. In fact, it happened a few years ago with yesterday’s opponent, but that administration remained committed to their head coach, who made some key changes, worked hard to fix things and got his team to improve markedly. That will happen here at USC.
Coach Helton and I meet extensively each week to evaluate our program from top to bottom. We acknowledge and understand our deficiencies in areas that include culture, discipline, schemes, personnel and staff. We agree that changes need to be made, and they will. We will improve and get better, in all areas. Coach Helton has a plan in place to get USC back to the top.
I have heard from many in the Trojan fan base. Some will be happy that Coach Helton remains our coach, others will not. I love our fans’ passion about USC football. They have high standards, as do we.
Helton took over midway through 2015
Helton has been in charge at USC since taking over for the fired Steve Sarkisian five games into the 2015 season. He entered the 2018 season with a career record of 26-10 but the Trojans took a step backward without quarterback Sam Darnold this season. When USC finished 5-7 in 2000 the school fired coach Paul Hackett and went out and hired Pete Carroll.
Freshman JT Daniels won the starting job to start the season but didn’t make considerable strides as 2018 went on. The Trojans lost to UCLA for the first time since 2014 and ended the season on a three-game losing streak after losing to Cal earlier in November. That Cal win was the Bears’ first over USC since 2003.
Swann, the Pro Football Hall of Famer, signed Helton to a contract extension after the team won 11 games a year ago, so firing him and appeasing a loud section of the fanbase would have been awkward. Helton continued to maintain after losing Saturday night to Notre Dame that he had the support of the athletic department.
And he clearly does. At least for now. Swann’s reference to Notre Dame in his announcement of Helton’s retention is toward the 2016 season. Notre Dame finished 4-8 two seasons ago and has gone 22-3 since, including 12-0 in 2018. Swann is betting on a similar turnaround from Helton.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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