USC hires Clay Helton as permanent coach

ESPN logo
Monday, November 30, 2015

USChired Clay Helton as its head coach, signing him to a multiyear contract Monday after he guided the Trojans to a 5-2 mark as interim coach.

Athletic director Pat Haden announced later Monday that Helton signed a guaranteed five-year contract. Earlier Monday, a source told ESPN's Brett McMurphy that Helton was to receive a three-year deal with incentives for a two-year option if he attained certain goals.

"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. 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."

Haden said a news conference Monday that he never discussed the job withPhiladelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who also said Monday he never talked to the school about the opening. But school officials did have discussions with a representative of FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano -- along with other current NFL coaches and assistants, a source told McMurphy.

Sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter that the Trojans wanted to interview Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson for the job but the timing couldn't be worked out during the NFL season. The sources also said that Schiano was a finalist for the job.

The Trojans (8-4)beat UCLA 40-21 on Saturday to win the Pac-12 South and clinch a spot in the conference title game against Stanford.

The 43-year-old Helton, who has been an assistant with USC since 2010, assumed the interim coach title after USC fired Steve Sarkisian in October. He also was put into that role after Ed Orgeron resigned before the Las Vegas Bowl in 2013, and he led Memphis for nearly the entire offseason in 2006 while then-coach Tommy West dealt with health issues.

"I am extremely humbled," Helton said in a statement. "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."

A born-and-bred Southerner who has grown to love the West Coast school, Helton took over a 3-2 team on Oct. 12 after Sarkisian was fired for showing up to campus in no condition to work, an apparent reflection of his struggles with alcohol.

"I've had the great experience and fortune to be a part of this special place for six years," Helton said. "In that time, I have learned about the tradition of excellence that USC has, both on and off the field. I totally understand the high bar of excellence and expectations that come with the job. I welcome them with open arms, because as a coach, I expect them of myself."

Quarterback Cody Kesslertold ESPN's Joe Schad on Monday that the Trojans didn't need "a big-name coach."

"We need someone who will get the job done," Kessler said. "Coach Helton is a great coach and an even better person. He has kept us together. He is the same guy every day. He is a coach you want to play for."

Haden said beating UCLA was not the reason Helton was hired.

"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," Haden said.

Helton's players loudly advocated for his promotion to the full-time job, but Haden said Helton's broad support among past and current Trojans was only one factor. USC's team meeting still erupted into raucous celebrations on Monday when Haden told the players about Helton's promotion.

"This is the most unique place in the world," Helton said. "It is the pinnacle of college football."

Since Helton took over, USC has victories against two Top 25 teams in the Associated Press poll (Utah and UCLA), and the Trojans have outrushed opponents in each game and have been plus-9 in turnovers.

"He earned this opportunity," Haden said. "He has been positive and upbeat handling adversity. He was built to be a head coach. 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. I have been impressed with how hard and how inspired our team has played for him, as well as the support they have shown for him."

Former USC coach Pete Carroll, who now coaches the NFL'sSeattle Seahawks, tweeted his excitement over the news.

Kessler said one of his favorite memories he'll take from his time at USC is how the team jumped up and started chanting Helton's name after being told of the hiring Monday.

"I wish those that don't know him could be in our locker room and be at practice," Kessler told ESPN. "Our attitude since the day he took over has been awesome. He didn't blink an eye after taking over in an unfortunate situation. I constantly hear Coach Helton's voice in my head. He is a great football mind."

Helton's promotion takes one of the best jobs in the country off the market during what has been an already active season for coaching changes.

Joe Schad of ESPN and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related Video