Despite leading the USC football program to a 5-7 record in his third full season as head coach, Clay Helton has been retained by athletic director Lynn Swann for 2019.
Almost three years to the day since being named USC football’s head coach, Clay Helton was given the green light by athletic director Lynn Swann to return for the 2019 season, despite the program’s worst season in 18 years.
“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 good coach,” Lynn Swann said in a statement. “Let me be clear to everyone, our players, our recruits and our fans. Clay Helton is our head coach and he will continue to be our head coach.”
Winning a Rose Bowl and a Pac-12 championship in the two previous seasons under Helton feels like a distant memory, following a disastrous year that already had required Swann to appear on Trojans Live and give Helton a vote confidence.
At 5-7, the Trojans failed to become bowl eligible for the first time since Paul Hackett’s final season in 2000. It makes the decision to keep him a wildly unpopular one.
The heat from the Trojan family ramped up after back-to-back losses to Cal and UCLA, with fans paying to fly a banner over the Coliseum that read ‘Lynn Swann, please fire Clay Helton!’ prior to Saturday night’s rivalry game with No. 3 Notre Dame. The playoff-bound Fighting Irish beat USC 24-17, but it wasn’t enough for Swann to pull the trigger on the embattled head coach.
After the game, the athletic director told reporters in the Coliseum tunnel that he’d announce a decision soon. Moments later in Helton’s postgame press conference, it appeared the stage was already set.
“We can compete with anybody in the country with the men that are in that locker room, as evidenced as tonight,” the coach said. “It’ll be my job and my task moving forward to be able to get us to execute, to be disciplined and to win championships. That’s what deserved [at USC]. That’s what’s expected.”
Helton doubled down on that sentiment on Monday morning.
“I am very appreciative of the support that Mr. Swann and the USC administration has given our team over the last three seasons, as well as the trust and belief they have in our future,” said Helton. “I have met with Mr. Swann and discussed changes and improvements that will be made moving forward. Our staff, our players and I will work tirelessly this offseason to produce a disciplined football team that executes at a championship level.”