In the week leading up to the annual rivalry game against UCLA, USC’s Clay Helton, at least outwardly, seemed supremely confident despite the growing speculation that he could soon find himself on the firing line.
“I have a lot of support from [athletic director] Lynn Swann,” Helton said. “Lynn, every Monday, walks into my office and has given me nothing but, ‘Coach, we’re in this for the long haul. We’re going to get this done.’ … I know, in my heart, I’m going to be here. …
“So know this: I’m not going anywhere. I want them to know my jaw is set and that I have the support of a great university and great people in this administration, and I’ve always felt that.”
Saturday afternoon in Pasadena, Helton’s Trojans were dropped 34-27 by Chip Kelly‘s Bruins in the latter’s first-ever game in the rivalry. Following USC’s second straight loss and fourth in the last five games, Helton was asked if he thought he would return next season.
This time around, the head coach struck a much less confident tone in his answer.
“That’s a great question for Mr. Swann, and out of honor and respect to him I’ll let you ask him that,” said Helton, who received a contract extension this past February that runs through 2023.
With the loss that dropped them to 5-6, USC now needs to beat third-ranked Notre Dame next week to become bowl-eligible. The last time the Trojans failed to qualify for a bowl, outside of the NCAA-administered two-year bowl ban in 2010-11, was in 2000. Following that 5-7 season, Paul Hackett was fired and Pete Carroll ultimately hired to replace him.
Prior to this year, Helton had won 10 and 11 games in his first two full seasons with the Trojans.