USC football: How hot is Clay Helton’s hot seat?

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images /

How hot is the hot seat for USC football head coach Clay Helton? CBS rates him among the most in-danger coaches this season, but only Lynn Swann knows the full extent.

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In case you hadn’t already realized, USC football head coach Clay Helton is on the hot seat.

Specifically, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports rates his hot seat as the fourth hottest in college football going into the 2019 season.

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Even though he’s among coaches mentioned in the danger zone, Helton didn’t get the highest rating for coaches who need to “win or be fired.” That tag was reserved for Illinois’ Lovie Smith (who will have no less than three former Trojans on his roster in 2019), Rutgers’ Chris Ash and New Mexico’s Bob Davie.

Still, Helton heads the group of “start improving now” hot seat coaches which also includes Florida State’s Willie Taggart.

Dodd’s attention zeroes in, not so much on Helton, but on athletic director Lynn Swann. And it’s a fair place to focus.

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“Last year’s 5-7 record was the Trojans’ first losing mark since before Pete Carroll was in charge. That’s a big deal in Troy. But so is AD Lynn Swann, who called out his coach in a letter of “support” to fans,” Dodd wrote. “Helton is under pressure to win this season, but so is Swann. If Helton doesn’t make it, what history does Swann have of hiring Power Five head football coaches? If you guessed none, go to the head of the line with USC’s anxiety.”

Having given Helton a vote of confidence, both by extending his contract after the 2017 season with a reportedly high buy out and then keeping him around after the 5-7 2018 campaign, Swann may have tied his fate to the head coach he didn’t hire in the first place.

It’s a fair bet that Helton will improve his win-loss total in 2019, simply on the basis of having a more experienced quarterback and a coherent offensive system. Hopefully cutting down on the devastating injuries in the secondary could also stabilize performances on that side of the ball despite losing a bevy of senior starters.

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But how much improvement will be enough improvement to keep Helton around? Would seven wins and bowl eligibility suffice? Is the Pac-12 South title the key? Is anything less than a Pac-12 title acceptable?

Those are questions for Swann to answer, and until he makes it clear, it’s almost impossible to guess where he stands.

As Dodd referenced, Swann called out the “deficiencies” that Helton and the program needed to fix this offseason. When it comes to fans, it appears there will be little patience as Helton works to right the ship. But just as Swann excused many of the missteps of 2018, he could just as easily be ready to credit any little step forward taken in 2019.

The impact of new university president Carol Folt, whose plate is full enough with getting USC’s house in order at the university level, is another unknown.