USC football head coach Clay Helton is fighting what so many college football coaches must battle at some point in their career; a division in the fanbase about the confidence that he can get the job done, and a ticking clock on showing real results.
The numbers and statistics are well-known and often-cited by USC fans. Since 2015, when Helton took over the program after Steve Sarkisian's dismissal, the Trojans have actually seen a one-step-up, two-steps back type of regression.
In some parts of the college football landscape, that might be acceptable, but at a school like USC and for a group of fans who are salivating for some redemption and return to glory, the hard truth is, win now or be gone.
Even calling 2020 a throwaway season with all the challenges presented by the pandemic, there is still a feeling of uncertainty about Clay Helton and his future with the program at USC. Coming into his seventh overall season as the Trojans head coach, Helton's superiors are certainly expecting more than just progress.
2021 must be a season of results for Clay Helton
Any regression from or season equal to 2019's 8-5 overall record and the USC administration may not be able to ignore the voices of fans and alumni calling for Helton to be dismissed. Truthfully, anything less than a win or very competitive loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game could spell the end of Helton's tenure.
There have been enough recruiting cycles that have passed where Helton has the team that he's recruited and that he's put together on the field. If a head coach can't do it with the players he's specifically brought into his program, then the hope for further growth becomes fragile at best.
USC has to show more than just progress. They must take the next step towards becoming an elite team again, or Clay Helton and his bosses will find themselves in a very difficult spot. Is the approximate $20 million buyout enough to thwart a dismissal?
A couple of months ago that may have been true, but after Auburn's $21.45 million buyout of Gus Malzahn's contract, along with Texas paying Tom Herman $16 million and South Carolina throwing $13 million at Will Muschamp not to coach anymore, the bar has been reset.
Chances are, money will not be the reason Clay Helton stays at USC. It will be wins. It will be results. It will be championships.
A season of results? Clay Helton had best deliver just that, or the famed coaching carosel will be making a stop in Southern California.