Helton Has No Regrets

Antonio Morales (TheAthletic.com)  —  PASADENA, Calif  —  In a season of lows, Saturday’s loss to UCLA was the nadir for USC: Will it spell the end for Clay Helton?

The last time Clay Helton coached in this stadium, he walked off the field as a Rose Bowl champion.

That moment — a 52-49 victory against Penn State — came 685 days ago and represents the peak of Helton’s three-year tenure as USC’s head coach.

As he walked off that same field Saturday, one fan chanted “You’re a bum,” and another held a sign over his head as he walked through the tunnel that read “HELTON OUT TIME FOR CHANGE.”

This represented the nadir.

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Clay Helton as he walked off the field after the loss.

That’s the only way you can accurately describe the Trojans’ 34-27 loss to two-win UCLA on Saturday in front of 57,116 fans at the Rose Bowl.

USC (5-6 overall, 4-5 Pac-12) seems to hit a new low every week. In late October, there was the loss to Arizona State, which snapped the Trojans’ 19-game home winning streak, one of the last points of pride the program could still cherish.

Last week brought the first loss to Cal in 15 years. This week brought Helton’s first loss to the Bruins (3-8, 3-5) and the program’s first loss to an eight-loss team since Nov. 26, 1960.

Yes, USC will play undefeated and third-ranked Notre Dame next week with bowl eligibility on the line and an opportunity to extend the careers of a group of seniors who endured the Steve Sarkisian saga and won a Rose Bowl and a Pac-12 title.

But the most important matter surrounding the final week of the season will be the “will he or won’t he?” nature of Helton’s status, which only Lynn Swann, the university’s athletic director, can really answer.

“That’s a great question for Mr. Swann,” Helton said when asked if he knows if he’ll return for the 2019 season. “Out of honor and respect to him, I’ll let you ask him that. As I said earlier this week, I feel tremendous support from Mr. Swann and what we are doing here and thank him for it because he’s been with me every step of the way.”

The latest step — this loss — was described as heartbreaking by Helton. The offensive effort was somewhat similar to last week’s: a hot start followed by a quiet second half.

JT Daniels threw for 218 yards and two scores in the first half, the Trojans scored 24 points, and they were moving the ball. Then the second half started: They settled for a field goal on their first drive of the third quarter and failed to score the rest of the way.

After the field goal, USC drives ended in a punt, an interception, a three-and-out, another punt and then a turnover on downs. Its fate was sealed when it faced fourth-and-3 from the UCLA 29 with 37 seconds remaining.

Daniels, who completed 20 passes on 34 attempts for 337 yards with two interceptions, threw a pass in the direction of Amon-Ra St. Brown (six receptions, 98 yards and a touchdown) only for Bruins linebacker Krys Barnes to break up the pass and snap UCLA’s three-game losing streak in this rivalry.

“I had a little option route and broke out. The ball came and the defender made a great play,” St. Brown said. “He barely tipped it and threw the timing off of everything.”

But Barnes wasn’t alone in delivering USC this loss. Bruins running back Joshua Kelley was the main character in their performance. He rushed 40 times for 289 yards — the most rushing yards by a player on either team in the history of the rivalry — and two scores.

He put UCLA ahead for good, 28-27, on a 55-yard touchdown run with 10:39 left in the game.

“We game-planned for them,” USC defensive lineman Christian Rector said. “We knew Chip (Kelly) would bring something new, like he does every week, and we weren’t able to adjust.”

As a result of all these factors, the questions that Helton faced about his job security throughout the week will linger.

“I work my butt off every 24 hours trying to buy another 24,” he said. “If you work as hard as you can, and do the best job you can, for your kids, for the university you love, you have no regrets and I don’t. I’ll continue to work as hard as humanly possible. I’ve got great support from USC, from Lynn Swann and from these kids. I owe it to them to work as hard as I can for them.”

As far as the fans’ reaction to him? “I know the job. The job is if you win, people are going to pat you on the back. If you lose, they’re going to get after you,” Helton said. “If you don’t like it, don’t be in this profession. I know it. It rolls off my back. So I’m not worried about it.”

Of course, the players will face the questions, too. Like he did Tuesday, Daniels voiced his support of Helton.

“If you blame Clay Helton for that loss, then you have no idea what football is,” the true freshman quarterback said. “There are things players aren’t executing. That’s it. That’s the players’ part of the ballgame … to make plays.”

But at this point, for this season anyway, you are what the numbers say you are. USC hadn’t lost five games in Pac-12 play since it went 2-6 in conference games in 2000, Paul Hackett’s final season.

The Trojans went 5-7 that year and Hackett was fired at season’s end. Barring USC putting together the four-quarter game that’s eluded it all season against Notre Dame next week, 5-7 is a very real possibility this season, too.

In his postgame news conference, Helton said Swann hugged him on the neck after the game and that he told him he’d see him Monday for their weekly meeting.

Helton also had a moment with St. Brown after the game.

“He just told me better days are ahead of us,” St. Brown said.

The question that’s yet to be answered, though, is will Helton be the coach when those arrive?

theathletic.com

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illinoisusc
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When he says he has no regrets…….some of us do. Especially for the kids that he tries to cloak himself with for protection. At least it looks like they will not suffer the embarrassment of playing in the Mid December Rubbermaid bowl or some such. Nothing personal against Helton…..someone offered him millions and he accepted it…….anybody would have done the same…….its the folks that hired him after he ran our offense for two years with lowly results which have earned our disrespect.

TrojanMPA90
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As a person, Clay is a class act. I could see USC keeping him as a fundraising assistant. However, as a football coach he has no clue what he is doing and has to go.

Bobbo
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Am I the only one noticing the irony? Remember ucla’s Specht had just thrown the pick in the end zone. We start a drive and look awesome running and passing all the way to the bRuins 4 yd line. We have first and goal from the 4. About to go up 10 points with about 7 mins left in the 3 qtr. Helton actually calls a great play: Direct snap to Velus Jones going around the left end. I bet he would have gone scored untouched. Jones timed his going in motion perfectly. The line all pulled perfectly. Everything worked… Read more »

Scipio
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I didn’t notice the irony until you pointed it out, but it sure was ironic. It was also poetic justice in CCH sticking to TOA, the love of his life, after it was apparent TOA could not be depended on to make a good snap. Excellent insight BTW on your part.

Bobbo
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Thank you for the compliment.

Trojan96
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Metaphorically, you have summed up Clay Helton’s problem being coach at SC. His stubbornness loyalty to a subpar coaching staff and players has stopped the progress of this program.

ATL D.D.S.
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Well, Clay always did it his way (paraphrasing Sinatra), except when ordered to do otherwise by Swann. Start Darnold over Browne—big improvement and wouldn’t have happened with Hugs left to his own devices. Change the OL coach and change who is calling the plays—too little, too late this season and Swann takes the blame for being late on the draw of the trigger. Callaway, at the minimum, should have been gone after the Cotton Bowl in January.

Scipio
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“goon”? Freudain slip I think. ha ha. I like your diction!

ATL D.D.S.
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Yeah I saw that and corrected it, but maybe I should have left it alone.

Linkster
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How about all that dancing and jumping around by the entire team on the sideline before the start of the 4th quarter? IMO, totally bush! That should be reason alone to fire CH. they then go out and play the fourth quarter like a bunch of schmucks and lose to a 2-8 team. Swann is not stupid. Back to Western Kentucky Clay if they will have you.

alfa1
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He was never at Western Kentucky……he was snatched from obscurity by his fathers friendship with Monte Kiffin. He is and will always be a Mid American, Sun Belt or Conference USA level coach, the stars aligned and he was “The Last Man Standing” for the Head Coach Position at the the most storied program in the PAC12
From Clays perspective, who says miracles don’t happen.

http://www.astateredwolves.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=7200&ATCLID=204868090

Linkster
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I realize that. However, that seems to be where his roots are.

alfa1
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That logic doesn’t fly. If he’s never been there, HOW could his roots be there ?
Now admittedly he has hired from the Western Kentucky, UAB staffs, but primarily because of family relations and friendships and his limited or non existent rolladex.

ATL D.D.S.
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Maybe Helton’s agent can make a couple of calls.

alfa1
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He has the same agent as Kiffin and Saban, Jimmy Sexton

Scipio
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You are right. That jumping around on the side line was so bush league and a new low in SC on field behavior. It ranks right up there with that fake “we bad” entrance before the Alabama game. This team is all talk. The coach is all talk, and I hate to say it, but the players are all talk. Neither the coach or the players have ever lived up to their own talk.

ATL D.D.S.
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Yeah, I saw that and I thought, “this team can’t deliver on that kind of cocky arrogance.” I guess I was right.

Bobbo
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Totally agree. Just wish they would stop talking about how tough they are. How good they are. Play the damn game and just show us. During that big 3rd qtr drive of ours (where we got our only points of the second half) they showed a shot of the benches. Ours was joyous with everyone laughing and joking around. ucla’s was business like with coaches coaching and the players acting serious. Said it all.

Eastern Ave.
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Incredulous.

Rock2112
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Thanks for reminding me of this. I thought at the time that the dancing was another indication that Clay needed to be fired. I would never allow my team to do that. I am sick of that BS without it being backed up. Are our players delusional and thinking they are in the Pete Carroll era? They’re in the Paul Hackett era, and a lot of it is their fault.

Scipio
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When CCH says “better days are ahead” of course he is referring to when SC gets a qualified new head football coach in the future. As far as having “no regrets”, I would have no regrets either getting paid millions of dollars doing something I was totally unqualified for.