Lynn Swann backs Clay Helton as USC head coach despite 4-4 record

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images /

Despite a 4-4 record through two months and wild speculation over a hot seat, athletic director Lynn Swann gave USC head football coach Clay Helton his full support Tuesday night on Trojans Live.

After another loss Saturday afternoon to Arizona State, USC head football coach Clay Helton shook things up with the firing of offensive line coach Neil Callaway, the stripping of playing calling duties from offensive coordinator Tee Martin and the appointing of Tim Drevno to backfill Callaway’s job.

Call it desperate or proactive, it was move that put the onus entirely on Helton, while the Trojans are all but dead in the Pac-12 South race and majorly underperforming to expectations, causing many to call for a head coaching change.

That won’t be happening. At least not right now, despite the Trojans entering November without a winning record for the first time in 17 years.

Tuesday evening, Lynn Swann joined Trojans Live, USC Athletics’ official weekly radio show, to set the record straight about Helton’s hot seat. There isn’t one, according to the third-year athletic director. He told co-hosts Jordan Moore and John Jackson that he thinks the program is in good shape.

“I believe in Clay Helton,” Swann said. “I like the position he takes. Clay is passionate in what he does, and Clay is honest and real.”

When asked about the evaluation points an athletic director must have when looking at USC’s performance on the field, the former Pittsburgh Steeler cited Helton’s ability to deal with adversity, including the nine-game winning streak to end 2016, recruiting success and the wealth of injuries the 2018 has endured to this point.

“We always evaluate across the board,” Swann said. “I have confidence in Clay. I think he’ll keep this team on track. He’ll get it back on track this week and we’ll continue to progress. We have a chance to finish our season strong.”

Counting his tenure as an interim, Helton is 31-14 in three-plus seasons at the helm of the Trojans.

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Thus far, the Helton Era has been a time of productive mediocrity for USC football, with the Trojans securing a Pac-12 Championship, two Pac-12 South crowns and a Rose Bowl victory in his three-plus years, none of which was ever officially accomplished by predecessors Lane Kiffin or Steve Sarkisian.

His 19-0 start at the Coliseum had put USC second behind only Alabama as holders of the nation’s longest home winning streak, before faltering to Arizona State Saturday.

For every peak, there has been a deep canyon under Helton. USC’s 52-6 loss to Alabama and 49-14 romp to Notre Dame stand among the most lopsided defeats in school history. The three points scored against Stanford in Week 2 was the Trojans’ fewest since 1997, and the 18 penalties at Arizona was the most in a game since being called for 21 during a triple-overtime loss to Oregon in 1999.

Despite a roster featuring a wealth of talent, USC hadn’t been getting better and fell prey to much of the same mistakes over and over again, leading to the significant changes to the coaching staff this week.

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It was yet another outing for the Trojans in which they looked outcoached and outmuscled by a team that shouldn’t have been that much more physical, and rightly stood out as a sign for change.

“You don’t get back into the biggest prizes over night,” Swann said. “It’s a process. People want to believe after our scholarship reductions […] that suddenly USC would be at the pinnacle of collegiate football. But the reality is it takes time and its a process. And I think we’re headed down the right track in this process.”

With the process having come in the form of staff changes rather than a house cleaning, Helton can look forward to rebound this week on the road against Oregon State, and beyond.