USC AD Mike Bohn: Clay Helton 'Will Continue to be Our Head Coach'
Mike Bohn finally answered the biggest question facing USC football. He created more questions than ever in the process.
The new athletic director announced Wednesday via Twitter he is keeping embattled fourth-year coach Clay Helton, despite widespread disapproval among the fan base. The decision wasn't Plan A, as it comes 11 days after USC concluded its regular season, but it's the choice nonetheless from an AD whose regime began less than a month ago.
"I am pleased to let you know Coach Helton will continue to be our head coach," the statement read. "His commitment to our student-athletes and to leading with integrity is vital to restoring our championship program, which is the goal for all of our teams.
"His commitment to our student-athletes and to leading with integrity is vital to restoring our championship program, which is the goal for all of our teams.
"Heading into 2020, Coach Helton and I will work together to take a hard look at all aspects of the football enterprise and will make the tough decisions necessary to compete at a championship level."
Members of the team told SI they were informed Tuesday by administration to expect Helton to be retained but changes among the coaching staff. Helton, who's under contract through the 2023 season, had a similar initiative following last season's 5-7 campaign when brought back by then-AD Lynn Swann. He responded by hiring Graham Harrell as his offensive coordinator while replacing several position coaches.
This round of changes might be centered on defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, whose units have grown less effective since he returned to USC in 2016. Landing a top-flight coordinator could be challenging, of course, given Helton's long-term uncertainty.
The question will remain regardless of a potential DC upgrade whether it's enough for Helton to lead the Trojans into championship contention, which thus far has been the overriding criticism of his tenure. He's led USC to a 40-21 mark and won a Rose Bowl and Pac-12 title, but his teams have finished no higher than No. 8 in the final CFP rankings and with at least three losses each year.
The Trojans (8-4), who currently await their bowl destination, failed to win the South Division in 2019 for the third time in four years. That could change next season as they figure to be the Pac-12 favorite with up to 18 starters returning on offense and defense. Helton emphasized Wednesday that he's in better position to guide the program toward to greater heights.
"I appreciate the support from President [Carol] Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn. It is abundantly clear that we now have the support, resources and tools to build a championship team," Helton said in a statement. "We know the expectations of our fans are high, as they should be. Those are the same expectations I have for myself and that our staff and team have as well.
"Our future is bright. We have a young team on the verge of doing something special. We have seen what this team can do, having the season we have had despite going through adversity and injuries. We are headed to a great bowl and we plan to finish the season strong. And we are putting the final touches on an outstanding recruiting class.
"I believe in our team and in our fan base. I know we will all come together to succeed. I am excited about the future of our team and our university."
A major component of that future involves working to improve a recruiting class that currently ranks near the bottom of the conference just two weeks before the early signing period. The bigger question for many, though, is what Bohn ultimately expects from the football program and how much time Helton has to achieve it.
-- Adam Maya is a USC graduate and has been covering the Trojans since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJMaya.