Why I Was Wrong on the Clay Helton Story

Adam Maya

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Clay Helton would be dismissed by USC. Below is a retraction from the author.

I was wrong, and I am sorry.

Those seven words cannot exonerate me from the mistake I made this week -- incorrectly reporting Clay Helton would be fired -- but I felt they were the first that belonged in this statement.

I know many are wondering how I came to write my initial story Sunday that Helton would be dismissed. If you’ve followed my work, you know it’s a situation I’ve been tracking the entire season. Fast forward to this past weekend and I was told by multiple sources that USC had decided to make a coaching change. These same sources had alerted me to three developments in the past -- athletic director Mike Bohn’s hiring, Bru McCoy’s transfer back to USC, and Graham Harrell becoming the offensive coordinator.

I’m not going to out my sources -- this is my sword to fall on -- but essentially there was a misunderstanding on their end as it pertained to Helton’s status. They confused certain actions by Bohn and their superiors at USC, particularly in the previous week or so, to mean Helton was definitely being fired, when in actuality keeping him was still under consideration.

As a result, a coaching change was inaccurately characterized to me as being a formality rather than, as was later explained to me, conditional. If I had known the latter, I would not have filed my report in such terms. Given my sources’ track record, I had no reason to think their intel in this instance was incomplete. I fully believed in what I reported, which is why I was so definitive. Alas, I made a major error that assuredly caused great pain to a coach I couldn't respect more as a person, and his family.

I deeply regret not being much more thorough and careful, especially because of how sensitive this news was -- at my alma mater, no less.

Again, I feel great remorse over my story, and thus have apologized to Helton and USC, as well as Sports Illustrated. I want to apologize to you, the readers, as well. Thank you to the many who have expressed your support. At the end of the day, I want to be clear that my intentions as a journalist were pure -- my ultimate drive is to simply provide for my family. Meanwhile, my professional objectives remain the same: to cover USC accurately and with integrity, and to the best of my ability.

I inexcusably missed the mark here.

-- Adam Maya is a USC graduate and has been covering the Trojans since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJMaya.

Comments (49)
No. 1-28
SamBam
SamBam

Adam, I'm 38 years old. My first impressions of USC that I remember are Rodney Peete, Junior Seau, and Larry Smith. I've been a fan since I was able to watch a television. That said we've had some dark days at USC but in my opinion I would say this is the worst experience during that stretch by far. The program looks successful to outsiders but those who follow the program on all aspects know this is a big disappointing football program. There is no school on the west coast with the 5star and 4star kids that we have on the roster. At one time we had the only 3 5-Star Cornerbacks in the confrence.

I don't want to go on too much, but the incompetence of Clay Helton is too wide and glowing to miss. He stayed with a man who allowed 7 TD's in the ROSEBOWL GAME. Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, even Brian Kelly would have made a change even if they won the game. He also was schooled by this guy but went for Pendergast when he had the opportunity to hire or at least interview Dave Aranda. Dave had the permission to interview with other programs and Helton let him walk by.

Those were issues that were early on in the Helton era. I've been told by someone very close to the program that these are the softest practices he's recalled over the time he's been around. Some would say the soft, un-physical man Helton is as a coach is what got J.T. Daniels hurt when he was fine passing the ball so many times in the red zone.

Why Clay Helton and Clancy Pendergast are still around i will never know. They seem to have some dirt on someone important. Just kidding but they hit the lottery of unsuccessful coaches. They are by far the reason why every top player in Southern California has shined USC off consideration and are going to programs across the country.

Get rid of those two guys and this all could improve.

Keep up the good work.

USCwinNOW
USCwinNOW

Adam, You’re a great person of high integrity! No apologies necessary. It goes with the territory and is part of the journalism world we are subject to. Your reporting is done with well intent and is never intended toward misleading others. Keep up the great job! All the Best!

P.S. I’ve known you since you were a student of mine in high school. Congrats on your achievements. There will be more to come. Hang in there. Sincerely, Mr Lopez USC Alum ‘78

4SCsports
4SCsports

@Adam Maya Adam, I have followed you, listened to your podcasts, and respect your journalism and impeccable character. You are a man of true integrity, and it takes such a man to fully apologize. We all make mistakes, and that's how we grow. Be that as it may, I think you were terribly unfairly vilified by your fellow journalists. Bad form. Bad form for USC for staying silent. The whole thing was a mess anyway. And I blame it on USC for doing all of us a disservice. They are also ruining the livelihood of so many reporters who report solely on USC since they belittle us and take us for fools, and many of us will not read, listen to, watch or go to games anymore. Too many other programs with integrity to follow. Thank you for all you have done for USC and its fans. Keep up the good work.

Bongaboi
Bongaboi

Oooops!

BaneMP
BaneMP

I really enjoy your articles as well thought out, informative and pleasant as a nice conversation. It takes a strong foundation of character and courage not to pass the buck and to admit full responsibility for episodes when something we do or say turns out to be less than inaccurate. Your job is difficult as sources are sometimes themselves misinformed or they misinterpret fast moving events. I truly believe you never intended to be malicious or unfair in your commentary. Keep your chin up.... and “fight on”.

DebbM05
DebbM05

You’re a class act, Adam. Thank you for the explanation.

OaktownTrojan
OaktownTrojan

@AdamMaya Thanks for the apology and explanation, Adam. I am curious as to why the coaching change was conditional... what were the conditions? It would be great if you could shed light on this. Fight On!

OaktownTrojan
OaktownTrojan

@[Adam Maya] Thanks for the apology and explanation, Adam. I am curious as to why the coaching change was conditional... what were the conditions? It would be great if you could shed light on this. Fight On!

Dodger106W
Dodger106W

Good non-move for SC. Helton's a good coach. You need to at least chip away some time on his remaining contract. Here's the change that needs to be made ASAP - FIX THE RECRUITING PROBLEM. SC's recruiting has fallen off a cliff. Don't lay it all on Helton. Bohn needs put together a recruiting program with maximum alumni and other support that will keep southern California 4 stars at home.

hawaiianeye
hawaiianeye

Adam, I appreciate your reporting and your explanations of the misfire. You're relaying what your reliable sources have told you - in a very competitive business. No one and nothing is perfect and too many of the readers expect that.

Regarding Clay Helton, while I'm sympathetic for him and his family - it must have felt terrible to read it, he's mostly to blame for the coaching situation being so chaotic and for the fan base being angry.

He's clearly as nice person as can be, but what's nice about doing a lackluster job? How many players' football careers have been squandered by his/his staff's favoritism toward players and coaches -- and the resulting hindrance in the team' growth and personnel development. What happens to those kids (who don't get a fair shot/coached up) and their families who have devoted their lives to football at a high personal cost to alternative careers? Few can be like Darnold and leave. As my mother would say, that's not nice.

As Helton's noted, jobs like USC's come once in a lifetime - he promised he won't screw it up? Nice person and slow learner, him.

Gillyking
Gillyking

Read your apology Adam. Smart and classy move. Hang tough, the fallout from it all will take some time. I support your career and appreciate your dedicated journalism. Good luck dude.. I hope all goes smooth for ya.

gametv
gametv

there are so many reporters covering SC that have no clue what is going on, Maya has the inside scoop, I believe. he must have a BOT level contact, because the on-going discussions for a new head coach are being held very confidential, the people at HH dont know what is happening. I actually think there are plenty of other coaches that would do a great job. Fleck, Ruhle, Venables, Franklin. I think that the real delay here is that if it is a coach like Ruhle, then maybe he doesnt want to come public until after their game against Oklahoma. Is it even possible that Clay coaches the Trojans in their bowl game and the coaching move is done after the bowl games? Ruhle actually has a chance to be considered for the CFP if he beats OK and Georgia loses to LSU and Utah is beaten by Oregon. As far as recruiting, any one of those coaches I mentioned would do a great job of recruiting players. I consider Flowe to be a must-have at SC to get the linebacker crew back on track.

Snapperdad
Snapperdad

Never understood why we just accepted the sanctions without a fight ala; Penn St. Now with new leadership, we damn well better not screw this hire up or we could be looking at more years of 8-4. We are SC! We have the greatest recruiting base on the planet. We damn well better be in the national championship hunt every year or it's a very bad year for us. Urban Meyer is the only name that brings INSTANT credibility to recruits and their parents, ask one. Just watch and see what happens if we get him! Every team in the country will be on notice. We're coming for you!!! Fight On!!!

MSchroe
MSchroe

We're not where we want to be, but I still like Helton's style. I doubt that Urban Meyer would have done much better with the unbelievable number of injuries the team had this year, including falling back to the third-string quarterback at times (who performed quite well, thank you very much). Indecisivenessby the administration is the main reason behind the poor recruiting class. Sticking with a class guy will likely beat out flailing for a big name of questionable repute -- expect that to backfire. And it's no way to repair the damage across the board the last few years at our university.

Callsign00
Callsign00

Urban will be great. His attitude is infectious. With great programs like Mater Dei and St John Bosco among a vast pool of talent in SoCal, the return of Troy shall be swift. I am a Buckeye fan. A rivalry between great powers like it used to be would be awesome.

hendersonearnestj
hendersonearnestj

Who ever they hire they will have need talented recruits coming aboard.

unicornhearts
unicornhearts

You're an idiot.

striperman
striperman

Clay helton averaged 4-5 losses per season in most his coaching roles at USC not just his head coaching. He had some moments of offensive brilliance but also some bewilderingly bad decisions that left me stunned that he could keep his 3.8 mil a year job while making such bad decisions particularly in road games. USC had the opportunity to beat WSU a couple years ago (2017) and would of made the playoffs but under the tutelage of Helton they lost that opportunity and settled for a embarrassing 24-7 lost to Ohio state in the cotton bowl. Sam Darnold left the program and the truth of who Clay Helton showed quite very clearly that he is a average at best coach in over his head.

For 2019 he did make some improvements with what he had to work with but during his reign he never fixed the offensive line problems and in fact gave his allegiance to bums like Neil Callaway . Clay also gave the same allegiance to Tee Martin who was a colossal screw up as the USC offensive coordinator. All these bad decisions reflected have to held accountable and yes its time for Clay Helton to go join his brother at W. Kentucky , a level of college football which he can handle. USC was simply to big .

Southerntrojan
Southerntrojan

Pete was still relevant till 2009 with Matt Barkley we were still top 10 then sanctions

trojanParent
trojanParent

Being from Virginia, I was somewhat surprised when my son chose to attend USC, but upon looking into it was quite happy that he did so. However, my opinion of the school has diminished considerably during his year and a half of attendance, primarily because of my perception of USC alums as being the world's biggest a-holes. While I understand teenage kids getting all hyped up about silly things, why is it such a concern to supposed adults how many football games a college wins? As far as I can see, Coach Helton is a first class individual whom the school can be proud of, and it is obvious that his players fight hard for him. That is the point, to fight hard and do one's best, and the kids seem to have learned the lesson well. Why would anyone want to trade that for a coach that left his last job in disgrace? Is winning a couple of more football games a year really that important? C'mon, folks, get a life!

Husker Fan
Husker Fan

Careful what you wish for, Trojan Fans... this guy fired 3 coaches in 8 years at Colorado... forced to resign after Buffs went 32-66, but he didn't understand why??

Biggdaddy6969
Biggdaddy6969

Urban Meyer will bring us back to championship form in no time

100 asterisks
100 asterisks

Go hard for Willie Taggart

shadowmanblue51
shadowmanblue51

Urban Myers name will be a great recruiting tool

gametv
gametv

Could this really be true? I have been critical of the new administration, but if they have really done this, then I start to see they are making some needed changes.

4SCsports
4SCsports

This is the BEST Christmas present ever! I don't need anything else. Please deliver UM in my stocking and I won't ever ask for anything else.

unicornhearts
unicornhearts

No. He didn’t lead USC to a Rose Bowl or a conference championship. Sam Darnold did that. They went 5-7 without Sam and started 1-2 in 2016 without him. They were 5-4 in 2015. Stop giving credit to Helton for what Sam did.

OceanGuy808
OceanGuy808

Wow, Bohn actually pulled the trigger. I didn’t think he’d do it. Thanks Mr. Bohn. We Trojan alumni appreciate the move.


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