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USC has fired head coach Clay Helton.
The decision was made on Monday following the Trojans’ ugly home loss to Stanford on Saturday night. In the loss, the Trojans trailed 42-13 midway through the fourth quarter before eventually losing 42-28.
USC athletic director Mike Bohn said he informed Helton of the decision on Monday afternoon. Donte Williams, the team's cornerbacks coach, has been named the interim head coach.
"This season is just getting started and we have the opportunity to really do something special with this team and this program. I'm confident that as our interim head coach Donte Williams gives us a higher probability for success the remainder of the season," Bohn said.
Helton had two full years remaining on his contract following the 2021 season. He will be owed in excess of $10 million in buyout money.
— Mike Bohn (@USC_mikebohn) September 13, 2021
Helton later released his own statement thanking the Trojans for his opportunity as head coach and promising he will continue to cheer for the team.
Thank you Trojan Family. Fight On! pic.twitter.com/ejZe6Pr5rV
— Clay Helton (@USCCoachHelton) September 14, 2021
USC AD: We are committed to winning national titles
Helton first became the Trojans’ head coach back in 2015 following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian. At first, Helton was the program's interim head coach. Later in the year, then-AD Pat Haden lifted the interim tag and made Helton the full-time head coach.
The Trojans went a combined 21-6 in Helton's first two seasons, winning the Rose Bowl in 2016 and the Pac-12 title in 2017. From there, however, things began to slip.
USC went 5-7 in 2018, the program's first losing record since 2000. Nonetheless, then-AD Lynn Swann decided to keep Helton as head coach. In 2019, USC had another disappointing season, going 8-5 with an ugly loss to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl. During the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Trojans went 5-0 in the regular season but lost to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.
Helton, who finishes with a 46-24 record and a 36-13 mark in Pac-12 play, never was able to get USC back to the national prominence it achieved under Pete Carroll.
That ultimately proved to be Helton's undoing, as did the program's dip in recruiting — especially locally. Bohn, the school's second-year AD, says he is looking to elevate the program back to a national championship level.
"I want to be exceptionally clear: our university and its leadership are committed to winning national championships and restoring USC football to glory," Bohn said. "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."
Bohn said the university will conduct a national search for the new head coach over the next few months.
"We will actively and patiently pursue a coach who will deliver on the championship aspirations and expectations we all share for our football program," Bohn said.
Who could be the next USC head coach?
USC now has a substantial head start on the rest of the college football coaching carousel. Will it take advantage?
Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel pointed to a number of potential candidates for the job, including several sitting Power Five head coaches like Penn State's James Franklin, Iowa State's Matt Campbell and Oregon's Mario Cristobal. Another notable name is Cincinnati's Luke Fickell, who worked under Bohn when Bohn was the athletic director at Cincinnati.
Early list for USC: James Franklin, Matt Campbell, Bill O'Brien, Luke Fickell, P.J. Fleck, Mario Cristobal, Greg Schiano and Tony Elliott. Former coaches who could be sought include Chris Petersen and Bob Stoops.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) September 13, 2021