What does Lynn Swann’s resignation mean for Clay Helton and USC football?

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images /

The sudden resignation of USC athletic director Lynn Swann should send shock waves though the USC football program with a clear message: Win now.

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Since the appointment of new USC president Carol Folt, the athletic department and USC football program have been operating with storm clouds on the horizon.

Considering the scandals wrapped up in the athletics department, the possibility of a change in leadership loomed large.

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That change in leadership has officially arrived, and so has the potential storm.

Lynn Swann resigned on Monday morning, with timing that could hardly be more interesting.

Had the athletic director stepped away after last week’s lackluster win over Fresno State, the executioner’s ax may very well have been imminently hovering over head coach Clay Helton’s head as well.

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Instead, the resignation comes after perhaps the best victory at USC since the 2017 Rose Bowl, a 45-20 comeback against rival Stanford. It breathed new life into the Trojans’ prospects for the 2019 season and lowered the heat on Helton’s seat considerably.

Whatever pressure was relieved for Helton on Saturday though, it has been ramped up on Monday, as the man who gave him an extension, a vote of confidence and a second chance after a 5-7 campaign in 2018 is no longer in charge of his fate.

That means one thing: Helton and the Trojans have to win well and win now. Or else.

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Not that the equation is drastically different. Helton made major changes to his approach in 2019 knowing he was skating on thin ice. Swann’s patience may only have extended so far, but he at least had extra incentive to be understanding as Helton broke in a new offensive coordinator and true freshman quarterback. Swann hitched his wagon to Helton.

Whoever USC’s search committee identifies as the next athletic director will have no incentive to keep Helton on…unless he is winning games.

Make no mistake, this announcement coming in September says something. The Trojans should have a new athletic director within a couple of months, just in time for a decision on the football program to be made at the close of the 2019 season in November. A berth in the Pac-12 title game in the first week of December feels like a minimum requirement.

An already critical season for Helton and company just got a whole lot more serious.