What would it take for USC to fire Clay Helton midseason?

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

Embattled USC head coach Clay Helton enters a make-or-break season in 2019, following a disastrous 5-7 campaign. Is he at risk of a midseason firing?

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The USC football program is coming off its first losing season in 18 years, putting a wealth of pressure on head coach Clay Helton.

He and athletic director Lynn Swann have made it clear that championships and a Notre Dame-like turnaround is the benchmark following last year’s 5-7 record. But what if the Trojans aren’t able to get there?

The team faces one of the most difficult schedules in the nation, featuring a six-game gauntlet of losable games to start. Could yet another midseason firing be in the cards? Of course. This is USC, after all.

The actual threshold for getting there? That’s debatable. Let’s talk the hypothetical nuclear option with a roundtable featuring the Reign of Troy staff…

Alicia de Artola: Given the difficulty of the opening six games, even something as poor as a 2-4 record may not be enough to make the call. Going 1-5 however, would be asking USC fans to forgive a lot.

The interesting thing is how USC’s schedule sets up. Three home games in the first four weeks means there will be a stretch from the 21st of September to the 19th of October when no Trojan games are played at the Coliseum, with a bye and two road contests. That means no opportunities for the Coliseum crowd to voice their displeasure in the ways which might spark a change.

On the other hand, USC could be incentivized to pull the plug before returning home against Arizona to avoid a hostile crowd. As for whether the Trojans should make a midseason change. It actually might be the right call if things go south in September. The December signing period has changed the recruiting landscape, making it more imperative to get a new head coach signed on as early as possible.

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Michael Castillo: Firing yet another coach midseason would be utterly embarrassing for USC. If you’re Lynn Swann, you probably ought to avoid that, for myriad of reasons. But if things really go to hell quickly for USC in 2019, any preseason notions of what’s good for optics could go by the wayside in a hurry.

The time to do it would be after the Week 5 trip to Washington, since it would allow for a takeover during the bye week leading into the Notre Dame game. An 0-5 or 1-4 record at that point is most likely the hook for Helton, full stop.  But if they’re 2-3, it starts to get murky.

What’s that 2-3 record look like? Are they competitive against Stanford, Utah and Washington? Did they beat Utah to keep their Pac-12 South hopes alive? Did the Graham Harrell experiment take hold?

The answer to those questions don’t have to sufficient enough to keep Helton employed behind 2019 —that’s an entirely different question— but 2-3 could be enough to avoid the embarrassment of another midseason firing. It just depends.

Trent Goodrich: As a proponent of a coaching change following the disastrous 2018 season, nothing has changed for me regarding Clay Helton’s job. USC is simply too talented to perform as poorly and undisciplined as they did in last year. USC should move on from Clay Helton in the first half of this season if nothing appears to be different.

The Trojans have put together four satisfying performances —none last season— in 26 games.

The team does not appear to be building towards a playoff berth, and matchups with Stanford, Utah, Washington, and Notre Dame in the first six weeks should reveal the status of the program in terms of national competitiveness.

USC needs to win at least two of those four games and be competitive in the other two to inspire any confidence in Helton. If not, begin the coaching search early and accept the recruiting consequences.

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Alex Polk: The quarterback depth chart shot any faith or goodwill I had in Helton going into the season, and I was ready to give the man a chance to prove he’s Dabo Swinney Lite. Now, I am perfectly fine with kicking him and Graham Harrell to the curb if USC’s offense looks anemic the first three weeks, and then they get embarrassed against Utah, Washington, and Notre Dame.

It’s not about starting JT Daniels, but Kedon Slovis being No. 2. If something happens to Daniels and they trot out a true freshman when Fink and Sears have seen actual action, the whole athletics department can go, as far as I’m concerned.