With the University of Southern California defense slashed, its attack stagnant and discipline lacking – the kicker was ejected during the opening kickoff – fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum booed the team during the ‘a 42-28 at the hands of Stanford, who entered Saturday’s game as a 17-point underdog.
Seventh-year coach Clay Helton then pleaded for calm.
“At the end of the season, see where we are,” he told reporters.
Wherever the Trojans are at the end of the season, Helton won’t be around to see it. He was sacked on Monday amid growing fury from alumni of the school and former players for whom Saturday was not just a bad game, but further confirmation that the football program would never become a contender for one. national title under Helton.
In fact, athletic director Mike Bohn, announcing a national search for a new coach, said in a statement that the Trojans would be better off for the remainder of the season with Donte Williams, a 39-year-old cornerback coach who did not ‘never even served as a coordinator, as an interim head coach.
Bohn, who replaced Lynn Swann as athletic director two years ago, said that despite adding resources to the football program since his arrival, it was clear even after two games – a win against the State of San Jose and the loss to Stanford – that USC was far from becoming a national championship contender. “It is already evident that, despite the improvements, these expectations would not be met without a change of direction,” he said.
If the dismissal of Helton was a shock at the start of the season, it is de rigueur for the Trojans, who have quite a history of bloodshed with football coaches.
Lane Kiffin was fired at the airport after being summoned from the team bus upon his return to Los Angeles after a loss at Arizona State. Steve Sarkisian entered rehab after being sacked in the middle of the season after repeatedly showing up drunk. And years ago, John Robinson came home Christmas shopping to find a message on his answering machine that he had been cut off.
That decision, however, could have been made much earlier, but for the massive six-year contract extension Helton was granted by Swann ahead of the 2018 season – one that is expected to have paid him nearly $ 5 million this season. and will last another two years. .
The Trojans, who were brought to the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl by quarterback Sam Darnold in Helton’s first two full seasons, are 19-14 since Helton signed the new contract. In last year’s pandemic shortened season, the Trojans won all five of their conference games, but their hopes of sneaking into the college football playoffs were shattered when they were shaken on their home turf by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Helton never gained a foothold with USC fans, who were perplexed that former athletic director Pat Haden – who, like his successor Swann, had been a star football player in school – promoted Helton to interim coach after sacking Sarkisian, then gave him the permanent job. job. Haden had previously let down another interim coach, choosing not to retain Ed Orgeron, who two years ago coached Louisiana State to a national championship.
Helton’s coaching staff were a revolving door, and each August seemed to promise a more disciplined squad. But even a thrilling comeback victory over last year’s UCLA rival was marred by Trojans mocking their rivals at the end of the game – Helton falling to the turf trying to drive his players away.
The scene was a photo of a coach who was not in control of his team.
The cost of firing Helton will be substantial, probably in the order of $ 15 million (the terms of his contract are not public because USC is a private school). But with a $ 315 million Colosseum renovation to be paid in part through ticket sales, a huge financial blow from the pandemic, and a drop in attendance, there was also a cost of doing nothing.
On Monday, USC decided it was too much to take.