As we reach the end of the season, I’ve become more and more grateful for head football coach Clay Helton.
I’ve griped about Helton a good amount throughout this season, believe me. If I hear him repeat the phrase, “We control our own destiny,” one more time, I might just go out of my mind. And when I look at our rankings in the College Football Playoff one week before the end of the season, I can’t get that dismal line of thought — the litany of different “what if” questions — out of my head.
There’s a lot that can be blamed on Helton for the struggles of this season. Our deputy sports editor Trevor Denton touched on the mishandling of key injuries, such as those of sophomore linebacker Porter Gustin, that have held up players on both sides of the ball this season. There have been poor play calls on offense, struggles with redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold’s ability to stay cool in the pocket.
But the end of Helton’s second full season as our head coach, I still believe that we’ve found a keeper.
I felt this the most strongly on Sunday as I watched the Tennessee football program self destruct. The program, which has struggled in recent years, announced the hire of head coach Greg Schiano.
Within hours, a Twitter mob had formed. Schiano was accused of involvement but legally cleared in the Penn State case against Jerry Sandusky, and although this accusation hadn’t affected him in past positions, Tennessee fans became incensed at the hiring decision. At breakneck speed, Schiano’s offer was revoked, and Tennessee’s football program was left floundering even more than before.
In moments like this, I’m proud to have a man like Helton in charge of our football program. There’s a reason that his players talk about him with that tell-tale tone of protective admiration. Helton is everything you want out of a coach: stable, humble and passionate about his players.
If his approach to his team isn’t enough for you, his 20-5 record over his first two seasons outflanks that of Pete Carroll, who went 17-8. Helton might not have stood up to this year’s preseason hype, but I think the numbers reflect that he’s doing alright.
At the end of the season, we are still looking forward to the Pac-12 championship game. And while it may not have been what we expected, I think that’s something for which to be grateful.
Julia Poe is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” ran Thursdays.