On the morning after USC’s football team finished its worst season since 2000 with a 24-17 loss to unbeaten Notre Dame, Athletic Director Lynn Swann announced that embattled head football coach Clay Helton will keep his job despite the team’s disappointing 5-7 record.
In a letter directed to “the Trojan Family,” Swann acknowledged fans’ frustration with the results on the field this season, but cautioned them against the impulse to change leaders after one down year.
“We see top programs across the country have down years and the fans want to change coaches,” Swann said. “In fact, it happened a few years ago with yesterday’s opponent, but that administration remained committed to their head coach (the Irish’s Brian Kelly), who made some key changes, worked hard to fix things and got his team to improve markedly. That will happen here at USC.”
Helton, 46, took over the job during the 2015 season, and when USC won 10 and then 11 games in his first two full seasons, he had seemed to institute stability on the Trojans sideline after the rocky tenures of previous head coaches Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin.
But this year was a struggle from the beginning, with a true freshman quarterback in JT Daniels and an injury-plagued defense contributing to several recent losses, including last week’s loss to crosstown rival UCLA and Saturday’s close defeat to the Irish at the Coliseum.
“The 2018 USC football season was disappointing to me, to Coach Helton and his coaching staff, to our players and to our great fans,” Swann wrote in his message Sunday: “Nobody is happy with our record. Everyone deserves better.
“It is my firm belief that we have a good team returning next year and a solid foundation in place, and that Clay Helton is a good coach. Let me be clear to everyone, our players, our recruits and our fans. Clay Helton is our head coach and he will continue to be our head coach.
“I am a strong advocate of consistency within a program, sticking by a leader, supporting them and helping them and their team improve. One season does not define a coach. Remember, Coach Helton inherited a program in turmoil. He won 10 games, including the Rose Bowl, in his first year in 2016. He won 11 games and the Pac-12 title in 2017. He runs a clean program, he graduates his players, he recruits well, he produces NFL players.
“…Coach Helton and I meet extensively each week to evaluate our program from top to bottom. We acknowledge and understand our deficiencies in areas that include culture, discipline, schemes, personnel and staff. We agree that changes need to be made, and they will. We will improve and get better, in all areas. Coach Helton has a plan in place to get USC back to the top.
“I have heard from many in the Trojan fan base. Some will be happy that Coach Helton remains our coach, others will not. I love our fans’ passion about USC football. They have high standards, as do we.”
Helton responded to the good news.
“I am very appreciative of the support that Mr. Swann and the USC administration has given our team over the last three seasons, as well as the trust and belief they have in our future,” Helton said. “Obviously, we are disappointed with this season’s overall record and not being able to compete for a championship in the postseason. We understand that championships are what is expected and deserved at USC.
“I have met with Mr. Swann and discussed changes and improvements that will be made moving forward. Our staff, our players and I will work tirelessly this offseason to produce a disciplined football team that executes at a championship level. I truly believe that with the continued development of the talent we have on this team, the best is yet to be. Our number one goal is to win championships and we will not be satisfied with anything less.”
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