Following a slew of coaching changes by Clay Helton, Athletic Director Lynn Swann spoke in support of the head coach on Tuesday.
In a segment on Trojans Live, Swann defended Helton, who fired offensive line coach Neil Callaway and announced he would take over of play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Tee Martin on Monday.
“I believe in [Helton],” Swann said. “I like the position that he takes. [Helton] is passionate about what he does. He is honest and real in what he wants to accomplish and how he wants to accomplish [it]. There is no false chatter in [Helton].”
After Saturday’s loss to Arizona State dropped USC to 4-4, Helton and Swann made the changes in hopes of salvaging a disappointing season.
“[Helton] and I talked about this,” Swann said. “He told me the changes he wanted to make. I agreed with the changes he wanted to make, and we go from there.”
In a Pac-12 coaches call earlier on Tuesday, Helton talked about his decisions, which came less than 24 hours after he stated that no major changes will be made until after the season.
“I’ve had an itch to get more integrated with the offense,” Helton said. “Being in year three [as] head coach, I feel much more comfortable in the role. I know the lay of the land now, and have wanted to get more involved to help the offense continue to grow. I felt like it was the right time.”
Helton gave no indication that Martin is on the hot seat as well.
“[Martin] and I have had conversations about this decision and he was supportive,” Helton said. “He has done a tremendous job here. He will stay involved with the offense as he remains the offensive coordinator. [He will] help put together our practice and game plans and serve as my offensive eyes during games.”
When asked if he felt pressure to make the changes due to the Trojans’ .500 record, Helton tersely replied, “None.”
Swann defended his support of Helton and the decisions he made.
“I stand solidly behind Clay to move those things forward,” Swann said. “My responsibility is to the entire athletic program. My responsibility is to try and help [Helton] be the best head coach and manager of people we can be. That’s why we talk consistently, honestly, openly. We communicate in terms of what’s going on.”
Swann continued to praise the progress Helton has made with the program, noting the state of the team when he took over.
“Go back a couple years ago, we were 1-3, didn’t look good against Alabama,” Swann said. “We bounced back and won nine straight games.”
He stressed the inevitable learning curve that comes with hiring a new head coach. It takes them a while to build their program and figure out the best strategy to implement with the right personnel. Swann backed Helton on the positives that he brings to the program.
“If you’re talking about evaluating a coach, look at the fact that you start off poorly and you maintain control of the team,” Swann said. “And players play for you. This team put their back up against the wall and came up fighting. [Helton] has the ability to lead this team. They believe in [him].”
Martin seemed upbeat while speaking to reporters after Tuesday’s practice, even after being stripped of his primary duties. He and Helton previously discussed the matter in private.
“I told [Helton], ‘You being the head coach, you have every right to do that. Go ahead,’” Martin said. “We discussed it, and moved on.”
However, Martin did not deny the fact that he is disappointed, but remained focused on the team first.
“As a competitor, you’ve been doing a job and feel like you’ve been doing a good job at what you’ve been doing, and having it taken away is tough,” Martin said. “I’m here for the team and ultimately to support my head coach.”
Martin was also asked about his cryptic removal of all USC-related information from his Twitter page.
“Just changing my picture, you know, wanting to post about my family,” Martin said with a smile.
Amid the changes, Swann commented on the players’ need for support in such a crucial time.
“The coaches call plays, but it’s the players that have to execute,” Swann said. “We need the Trojan Family to stand behind this team.”
Rebecca Tapanes contributed to this report.