USC relieves Clay Helton of head coaching duties

Former football head coach Clay Helton stares ahead with his hands on his hips.
Former head coach Clay Helton was fired Monday afternoon after Saturday night’s 42-28 loss to Stanford. (Tucker Judkins | Daily Trojan file photo)

The USC football program will mutually part ways with now former head coach Clay Helton, USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn announced Monday afternoon. Former cornerbacks coach Donte Williams will serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The decision comes after a shocking blowout 42-28 loss to Stanford at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in USC’s Pac-12 opener. 

“This afternoon I informed Clay of my decision to make a change in the leadership of our football program,” wrote Bohn in a statement released on Twitter Monday afternoon. “Clay is one of the finest human beings I have met in this industry, and he has been a tremendous role model and mentor to our young men. We appreciate his many years of service to our university and wish him nothing but the very best.”

Helton’s tenure at USC has been a tumultuous six-year period. After serving as an interim head coach in 2015, Helton’s first two complete seasons were instant successes — a 10-3 season with a marquee Rose Bowl victory over Penn State followed by an 11-3 year with a Cotton Bowl loss. The honeymoon period quickly ended, however, as his combined record over the next three seasons was 18-13. A blowout loss to Stanford at a packed Coliseum was the final straw for the administration of USC football. 

Bohn made it clear that USC will look to compete for the rest of the season under Williams.

“The season is just getting started,” Bohn wrote. “We have the opportunity to really do something special with this team and this program. I’m confident that [Williams] gives us a higher probability for success for the remainder of the season.”

In the coming months, USC will conduct a national search for a new head coach. 

“We will actively and patiently pursue a coach who will deliver on the championship aspirations and expectations we all share for our football program,” Bohn wrote.

Former USC quarterback Matt Leinart reacted to the decision on Twitter.

“Nothing but respect for Coach Helton but this team has been underachieving for a long time,” Leinart wrote. “They need a new energy and culture there, a championship culture. Change is good. It’s time to get that passion back into @USC_Athletics football. Fight On!”

Former Trojan long snapper Jake Olson reflected on Helton’s impact on his own USC football career. 

“I also want to thank Helton for fielding the first completely blind college football player,” Olson wrote on Twitter. “He didn’t listen to those who said I didn’t belong on the field but saw me as just another one of his players who had to prove my worth through my football ability not my physical ability.”

A previous version of this article referred to Williams as the former defensive backs coach. Williams is the former cornerbacks coach. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.