There were a few surprising results across the college football landscape on Saturday, from Oregon beating Ohio State in Columbus to USC getting dusted by a Stanford team that couldn’t score against Kansas State one week prior.
That latter result only further increased the chatter around the job status for head coach Clay Helton, who it feels like has been on the hot seat for the entirety of his seven year tenure with the Trojans, but every time it feels like he’s been headed for the exit, he and his team have rallied to a performance that has kept him around. This season, though, there was clearly far more urgency for the Trojans to turn things around and put together a strong season start to finish, which is why the 42-28 loss set off alarm bells in Los Angeles.
This time, Helton won’t have a chance to rebound late in the season and coach his way back into keeping his job, as USC announced on Monday that he had been fired and Donte Williams will be elevated to interim head coach.
— Mike Bohn (@USC_mikebohn) September 13, 2021
Helton joined the Trojans in 2010 under Lane Kiffin and ultimately took over the USC program after Steve Sarkisian left in 2015, becoming the full-time coach in 2016, amassing a 46-24 record across six-plus seasons (plus a bowl win in 2013 as the interim head coach after Ed Orgeron resigned). The high point was their run from 2016-17 when they went 21-6 with a Rose Bowl win.
Last year they went 5-1 in the shortened season leading to high expectations for this season and after scuffling out of the gates to a rather pedestrian 30-7 win over San Jose State and then getting dominated by Stanford, the program has decided to move on from Helton. As is always the case when the USC job opens, it will be fascinating to see the candidate pool they can put together as it is one of the premier jobs in college football but does not have quite the same support as other elite programs. They have yet to find anyone who can get the Trojans back to where they were in the Pete Carroll era, but to start they need to figure out how to consistently be at the top of the Pac-12 again.