As long as the interim is in place, it appears Clay Helton is safe. After that? That’s still to be determined.
Helton entered the 2019 season on arguably the hottest coaching seat in college football. When the man who hired him, Lynn Swann, “stepped down” as USC’s athletic director early last month, the heat was cranked up even further under the fourth-year head football coach’s seat.
Whether Helton makes it to a fifth full season in the Land of Troy remains to be seen. But, if he doesn’t, the man who replaced Swann won’t be making the call. Probably.
“If a change was to be made, it would probably be the province of a new athletic director, not Dave Roberts,” Roberts, the speaking-in-the-third-person interim athletic director, told the Los Angeles Times in an interview. “But like I said, Clay is going to stand or fall on his record. So I mean, if he has a very successful season, I think he’ll be in good stead. If he doesn’t have a great season, the new AD is going to have to make that determination.
“I think it’s a fair statement to say that between now and the end of the season, unless something extraordinary happened, Dave Roberts isn’t going to be stepping in there, making the decision that really I think would be the province of a new AD.”
As the Times suggests, it’s entirely possible that someone above Roberts, such as new USC President Carol Folt, could pull the trigger on dumping Helton if the wheels completely fall off the Trojans between now and the end of the 2019 season. For now, though, it appears the administration will allow the next athletic director to make a decision on Helton’s fate.
As for when a new AD will be hired, the newspaper notes that the search firm being utilized by the university “is just getting underway” with its process.
In his first two full seasons as USC’s head coach after taking over on an interim basis when Steve Sarkisian was fired, Helton went 10-3 and 11-3 in 2016-17, the first time the football program had back-to-back 10-win years since the extended run from 2002-09. A 5-7 record in 2018, the program’s worst since 2000, almost completely eliminated any goodwill built up from the previous two seasons and erased any leeway the coach had heading into 2019.
This season, USC stands at 3-2 after five games, with big wins over then-No. 23 Stanford and then-No. 10 Utah but also losses to BYU and then-No. 17 Washington.