Just a couple days after the Trojans defeated crosstown rival UCLA for the first time in four seasons, Clay Helton has been named the USC football program’s permanent head coach, athletic director Pat Haden announced Monday morning.
The 43-year old Helton, who previously took over on an interim basis for Steve Sarkisian on Oct. 12, guided the Trojans to a 5-2 record and a Pac-12 South title after the team started out the season with a 2-3 record. With his family beside him, he was officially introduced by Haden as USC’s long-term head coach in a press conference held at the John McKay Center on Monday. A number of Helton’s players, USC football staffers and athletic department administrators, in addition to USC President Max Nikias, were among those in attendance on Monday.
“After weeks of searching the collegiate and pro ranks, interviewing candidates and speaking with head coaches, athletic directors, NFL executives and very knowledgeable football people, and after observing Clay in action the past seven weeks, it became abundantly clear that what we were searching for in a coach was right here in front of us,” Haden said in a statement. “Choosing a coach is an inexact science. In Clay’s case, there is exactness,” Haden said. “We have a man with unquestioned integrity. He is a fantastic person, and he is real. Clay is a leader of young men. He is a terrific communicator. He brings high character, stability, continuity, consistency, toughness and resiliency to our program.”
Prior to becoming head coach, Helton, who has been at USC since 2010, served as the team’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. He is 6-2 all-time as a head coach at USC, having previously coached the Trojans to a victory over Fresno State in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl.
“I am extremely humbled and grateful to Max Nikias, Pat Haden and the Trojan Family for having the opportunity to be the head football coach at the University of Southern California,” Helton said in a statement.
In his remarks, Helton apologized for not being glitzy, but believes that it’s a blue-collar mentality that wins championships, referencing the likes of former head coaches John McKay and Pete Carroll, and former players Marcus Allen and Ronnie Lott that once embodied that mentality.
“This place [USC] was founded on a blue-collar toughness, a toughness that I hope to emulate with my time here,” Helton said.
Helton said that he felt his last six years at USC has been a tremendous learning experience for him not only as coach, but as a person.
“During my six years here, I have learned the standard of excellence that it takes to be a Trojan. I understand the expectations of this great university and welcome the challenge. I am so proud to have the chance to lead what I feel is the pinnacle of college football and to represent our Trojan Family.”
Helton and his team now look forward to representing USC in the cardinal and gold’s first ever Pac-12 Championship Game appearance at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Saturday.
“Through the hard work and resiliency of this year’s team, we have put ourselves in position to play for a Pac-12 Championship,” Helton said. “I would like to thank our players and coaches for the effort and dedication that they have given to this season. It has been my most memorable as a coach.”
The Men of Troy will get a chance at redemption against No. 7-ranked Stanford after the Cardinal handed them their first loss of the season, 41-31, at the Coliseum back in September. A win against Stanford would send the Trojans to their first Rose Bowl since 2009.
“Clay was not hired because his team defeated UCLA Saturday,” Haden said. “He was not hired because many current and former players voiced their support for him. And he was not hired because he is a Trojan. He is our choice because we believe he can win Pac-12 and national championships here. Clay Helton is the right man at the right time for the USC football program.”
According to Haden, Helton signed a five-year guaranteed contract to coach the Trojans on Sunday, though, the exact details of the agreement were not disclosed. The 62-year-old athletic director expressed his full support for his new head coach and said that he has been impressed with how the team was inspired by him and supported him.
“We have known Clay well for the past six years. He earned this opportunity. He has been positive and upbeat handling adversity. He was built to be a head coach,” Haden said. “Football is his family business. He is a coach on the rise and he will be coaching a team on the rise. As our interim head coach, Clay brought back USC’s style of physical football.”
Under Helton, the Trojans have established a run-first identity on offense, having outrushed their opponents in each game by an average of about 140 yards since he took over. They’ve been able to control the ball, winning the the time-of-possession battle in every game except Colorado and also have a plus-nine turnover margin under Helton.
During that time, Helton has accumulated unconditional support from his players, who joyously celebrated and continuously chanted his name after Haden announced in their team meeting that he was going to become their permanent head coach.
“I will never forget the reaction our players had in my entire life,” Helton said.
Helton becomes the second head coaching hire made by Haden, who previously called on Sarkisian in December 2013 to take the helm. Following the announcement, many USC players took to social media to express their approval of Haden’s decision to retain Helton.
“[Thank] you Pat Haden! I wish I had more years left under Coach Helton,” senior redshirt senior defensive tackle Antwaun Woods said on Twitter. “I will definitely enjoy these next few games! #Helton2016.”
Before coming to USC, Helton spent 10 years as an assistant at Memphis and served in the same capacity at Houston and Duke prior.
After Helton’s introductory press conference on Monday, Haden said that he interviewed several candidates and current Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was not one of those interviewed.
This post has been updated as the story developed.