After USC’s latest loss, how long before the other shoe might drop for Clay Helton?
A few days ago, USC interim athletic director Dave Roberts told The Times’ Ryan Kartje that if a coaching decision were to be made, “It would probably be the province of a new athletic director, not Dave Roberts.” He said Helton will “stand or fall on his record,” and added that unless something extraordinary happened, “Dave Roberts isn’t going to be stepping in there, making the decision that really I think would be the province of a new AD.”
Quite the week of debatable decision-making by people named Dave Roberts, wasn’t it?
While the search chugs along for the new athletic director who, presumably, will determine Helton’s coaching fate, Helton was pacing the sideline Saturday, overseeing a valiant but inadequate second-half surge in the Trojans’ 30-27 loss to ninth-ranked Notre Dame at chilly South Bend.
Helton got a new shoe for the second half and a new game plan. The Trojans corrected some errors, got some big plays Helton called “explosives,” and got the ball to a determined Markese Stepp for 43 of his 82 yards rushing and the two-yard touchdown run that capped a frantic push with 1 minute 4 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame recovered the onside kick and held on.
“This team had a bite,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said after offering his respects to Helton following the 91st edition of the teams’ rivalry game. “Clay had them playing very well. To win against your rival is one of the things we wanted to do.”
USC wanted to do the same thing but too often fell one flailing tackle short, one key block short, one big-yardage play short of making it happen. That’s nothing new.
“I asked them to stay in the fight for 60 minutes and they did,” Helton said, which is some consolation but ultimately, the results matter and the results this season haven’t been good enough.
Asked whether he thought his team should have won Saturday, Helton was honest.
“No. We didn’t do enough in the first half to put ourselves in position,” he said. “We’ll look at this tape. There were enough times we had the opportunity to get a stop and we didn’t come up with it. We had an opportunity in the first half to finish drives and we didn’t do it. It’s a team game. As a team, collectively, staff, players, everybody, we came up short.”
This loss was too close to qualify as the “something extraordinary” that might lead Roberts — the USC executive who oddly referred to himself in the third person, not the Dodgers manager — to fire Helton in the short-term future. Their second-half pushback means they’re still playing for Helton and for one another, and they took pride in that.
It cost them another loss, though, and although it didn’t cost Helton his job, it couldn’t have helped his long-term employment prospects. Helton clung to the belief that there are better days ahead for USC, a belief reinforced by what he saw in the second half.
“This is a good football team. Notre Dame is a good football team. We are too,” he said. “And I can’t wait to watch the next six games. I told our team in there, if they play like they did in the second half, get ready to win the Pac-12 title and I honestly believe that. We’ve got six games to really put our best foot forward in our conference. We control our own destiny on the way to a Pac-12 title.
“It’s going to be a long ride home and a lot of heartbreak and sadness, and then we’ll come back tomorrow and get it done.”
He went home with his job and his shoe collection intact, but who knows for how long.