Following USC’s 52-35 win over UCLA, Clay Helton shared a moment with Athletic Director Mike Bohn for quite some time on the Coliseum turf. Many began to wonder what this could for the head coach’s future with the program.
Since the beginning of the season, Helton has been on the hot seat and for fair reason. USC had their worst season since 2000, going 5-7 and missing a bowl game. Through out the season the matter wasn’t if Helton would be fired, but when would it happen. With the exit of Lynn Swann as athletic director and the arrival of USC president Carrol Folt and new AD Mike Bohn, the question of if he would be let go came back. Even some in the media have started to share that they believed Helton should return to the program for another year. So what is Clay Helton’s future with USC?
If you look at what Helton has done this season with the program, it has been a tale of two stories here. The frame work from those who look at the surface, the Trojans went 8-4 with a 6-2 record in the Pac-12. They’re currently a Utah loss away from playing for a Pac-12 Championship thanks to their win over the Utes in September and ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25. USC also finished pretty strong to end the season. If you look at those things, that’s a complete turn around from last season. All of this comes despite losing their starting quarterback in JT Daniels and riding on a very talented freshman quarterback in Kedon Slovis. However, for many who have followed closely there's a different story to this.
4 of the USC losses have come in frustrating fashion. A inexcusable loss to BYU, a frustrating one to Washington and Notre Dame, and being embarrassed at home by Pac-12 North champion Oregon after leading 10-0 early on. A couple of the wins against Arizona State, Colorado, and Fresno State were also frustrating for fans as the team struggled on the field and looked like they lacked preparation and adjustments. Helton has stated during the offseason that he would be taking on a “CEO” role, however it’s safe to say that he has truly underperformed in this role. USC has lacked in their discipline and have continued to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties (No. 124 in the nation), lack of turnovers(No. 115 in turnover margin), and bad special teams play. Not to mention that Helton’s practice method (lack of tackling) has affected the team in games with the missed tackles.
USC fans want to be in the College Football Playoff mix moving forward and when you at all that’s there then it’s fair to make that point that he isn’t the guy to get the Trojans over that hill. When you take away the wins over Washington in 2016, The Rose Bowl Game, so forth Helton has struggled against some of the top playoff caliber teams. Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame in consecutive years, and Oregon this season have all handedly defeated the Trojans under Helton.
Where does new athletic director Mike Bohn stand on the matter? He’s recently stated that he is in no rush to make a decision. That may not make fans happy, but it makes complete sense to wait. Why? Right now USC is still in the Pac-12 south race. Should Utah lose to Colorado this week then the Trojans will represent the division in the Pac-12 Championship game. Bohn don’t want to make a decision before the South division is decided. The last thing USC want to do is go into the conference championship game with a interim head coach. The position is a unique one for the Trojans because they’re up against the clock at the moment with recruiting.
USC have to make a decision before the early signing period in December. Under Helton recruiting has taken a pretty big hit. The Trojans currently sit at No. 76 in 247 Sports team recruiting rankings which is the worst that’s been seen with the program in recruiting. Top recruits have either passed over USC or was once committed and then de-committed from the program. Some of this could be due to the uncertainty of the coaching situation at USC or from the fact that the Trojans haven’t delivered the last couple of seasons. This have allowed other programs such as Washington, Oregon, even Alabama and Clemson to flock to Los Angeles and take top talent from the Trojans own backyard.
So what happens if Bohn decides to keep Helton?
Look it’s not a sure thing that he decides to fire Helton from the get go. Bohn just got to USC and has had meetings with Helton. After the UCLA game Helton and Bohn embraced each other, even Helton awarded Bohn and Folt the game ball in the locker room in front of the team. It appears that Helton is growing onto Bohn and Folt. Folt loves his ability to stabilize things around the program. Especially during a time where the university is going through so much. Bohn stated in his press conference that it’s important that the team finishes strong. Well USC finished pretty strong and put themselves in a position to play in a pretty desirable bowl game such. Not to mention the media has also made their push that Helton is indeed the guy for the job. However, these were the same sentiments made last year when the team went 5-7.
For Bohn it’s important for him to look at the situation as a whole. Keeping Helton for him would be a risk that could hurt him, especially after making a strong impression so far. Attendance has gone down and many fans feel that the football program success have been put on the back burner. The financial ramifications of firing Helton will be pretty steep. The head coach has a $20 Million dollar buyout and many wonder if USC will each touch that? It’s USC and if anything the boosters could pony up if it meant letting him go and bringing in a top notch head coach. Keeping Helton for him won’t make many fans happy given the last couple of years.
What does the future hold for Clay Helton? At first it was a foregone conclusion that he was indeed out the door, but now it’s unknown. Should USC move on from Helton? Yes. Bohn can’t get caught up in the moment and make a mistake that could hurt him and the program moving forward. Now when could you expect a decision to be made? Most likely next week when the Pac-12 Championship game matchup is decided. Bohn will have a decision to make and it could honestly go either way.