USC Football: Clay Helton Seeks to Balance Discipline With Teaching

USC head coach Clay Helton during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
USC head coach Clay Helton during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

When USC football head coach Clay Helton dished out some discipline at the end of Saturday’s practice, he was focused on the lesson that could be learned.

The ninth day of USC football Fall Camp ended differently than the others.

Before the Trojans separated for the usual final unit work, the players and coaches ran — from one end of Howard Jones Field to the other.

“We had a rookie bring a phone into our team meeting and it went off,” head coach Clay Helton explained after practice ended on Saturday. “Any time that happens they know that we have the longest gasser in the history of college football.”

Helton acknowledged that team discipline for such a small rules violation may seem harsh, but there’s a lesson in it.

“[The team ran] just to teach a point that little things, attention to detail things, can cost you big,” Helton said.

Saturday a freshman cost the team and their coaches sweat because he didn’t pay close enough attention to his phone, but Helton had been hoping to make the point for some time because it is something he wants to apply to every aspect of the team.

“You knew it was going to happen sometime in camp. I’ve been waiting for it,” said Helton “They’ve been so damn good and today finally a rookie messed up, so it was good to teach a valuable lesson.”

Details are important to Helton. His motto, which is depicted on one wall of the practice field, may be “Faith, Family, Football,” but he just as often references another F — Fundamentals.

So when he talks about the “art of discipline and art of accountability,” it’s no surprise that Helton is all about the learning process behind it. As a result, he’s adjusted the way he communicates with his players.

“I love it out here. You see me running around. I still feel like I can play even though I’m fat and old now,” Helton laughed, “But from a yelling standpoint I’m trying to be a lot more communicative and teach these guys what they need to do to win.”

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Helton lets his assistant coaches get after the players, but as the head coach he has taken on the role of ‘good cop’ without losing sight of teaching opportunities.

“Right now it’s my opportunity to be an educator and try to get things fixed and explain to kids ‘here’s what you did wrong, here’s what you need to fix it and let’s see if we can attempt to do it on the next play,'” said Helton. “When he does it, then you pat him on the butt. If he doesn’t, then reteach him again.”

The Trojans have the day off Sunday, but they will continue getting their lessons from Helton when they return to the Coliseum for practice on Monday night.