Helton Plays the “Servant” Card

Clay Helton approaches LB John Houston Jr. during ASU game yesterday.

lan Hernandez (LA Times)  —  Before the hero of the game could depart the field at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, Clay Helton wanted to share a moment with him.

Helton embraced defensive end Christian Rector, placing a hand on the fifth-year senior’s head while whispering into his ear how proud he was of him. Rector had preserved USC’s 31-26 victory over Arizona State by deflecting and intercepting a pass in the final minute.

“That’s what captains do,” Helton said.

Rector smiled and continued in the direction of the locker room. A wave of players followed. Helton clasped hands with receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.

As speculation over his future intensified, as the demands that Urban Meyer be made the next coach became louder, as Mike Bohn was officially appointed the university’s athletic director, Helton made a simple demand of the players. “Do your job and take care of your family,” Helton said.

The reality is that the victory didn’t change Helton’s destiny. The details of how USC nearly blew the 28-7 advantage it built in the first quarter reinforced that USC will almost certainly have a new coach next season.

And regardless of how the remainder of the season unfolds, this year will be considered a disappointment for the Trojans.

The destination is not subject to change. The journey, however, is.

By following Helton’s example, by soldering on against the backdrop of mounting criticism, these Trojans were able to experience something special Saturday.

They won on the road in front of a raucous crowd.

They won their sixth game, which made them bowl-eligible.

“Bowl game!” safety C.J. Pollard screamed as he bounced by an interview room, where reporters waited for Helton.

The distinction was significant because the Trojans failed to earn it last year.

USC dropped its final three games last season. The ending further dampened an already disheartening season.

“We’ve talked about it this week,” Helton said. “These three games last year were the difference.”

This game against Arizona State was USC’s third-to-last game of the season.

There was adversity on the road to victory.

Some of that was self-induced. The Trojans couldn’t defend kickoff returns or refrain from committing untimely penalties, which have become trademarks of Helton’s teams.

But there were elements of misfortune as well. Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis sat out two series because of cramping. Center Brett Neilon (left) was injured. Tight end Erik Krommenhoek, defensive lineman Caleb Tremblay and receiver Tyler Vaughns were, too.

“With a lot of bodies down, bodies that didn’t start and losing bodies during the game, not only did they fight on, they fought on to victory,” Helton said. “That’s our motto.”

The phrase echoed words used by Bohn at his introductory news conference Thursday.

Progress also emerged in other forms.

In his return to the area in which he was born and raised, Slovis passed for 432 yards, including 297 in the first quarter.

In addition to scoring touchdowns on receptions of eight and 58 yards, freshman running back Kenan Christon had a career-high 20 rushing attempts.

Sophomore St. Brown caught eight passes for 173 yards.

Helton made the case that if the team remained on this path, there would be more games like this.

“The season isn’t over,” he said. “There’s a lot of it left. Some people want to write us off, but don’t write us off quite yet. This team is going to keep on winning ballgames and keep on fighting.”

USC is half a game behind Utah in the Pac-12 Conference South.

“We’re bowl-eligible, but we have higher standards,” Helton said. “We have more to play for. We have two games left and next week could be win No. 7. The following could be win No. 8. If Utah slips up, can you go get No. 9? Or No. 10 in the bowl game? We’ll keep on fighting each week until they tell us not to anymore.”

Along the way, Helton hopes he can be an example to the young men under his guidance.

“At the end of the day, I always believed, when you’re a head coach, you’re a servant — a servant to your kids and a servant to your university,” he said. “This university has been great to me for 10 years and the people of it have been great to me. These kids, each one of them, I’ve signed. So they’ll get my absolutely best effort, as well as our staff’s. That’s what servants and educators and coaches do, and, hopefully, that rubs off on the kids and they learn some life lessons from it.”

They have. Saturday was evidence of that.

latimes.com

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Rock2112
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I wonder if things like this might be the biggest obstacle to Urban Meyer coming to USC: Pac-12 has to suspend a ref for penalizing the WRONG TEAM for a hands to the face penalty on a kickoff, which made the difference between Wazzu getting the ball on its own 8-yard line versus Cal’s 35-yard line! I mean, who would voluntarily sign up to subject their fortunes to the Pac-12’s clown show?!!! And they SUSPENDED him, rather than FIRE him? If a crew is that incompetent, they should have all been fired. I’m sorry, but that’s like a bus driver… Read more »

Steveg
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Think about it Rock, they fire him and what do they bring in to replace him. Isn’t he about the best they have? I do agree that the pac12 has the worst refs in the nation, but I hear a lot of complaints coming from other conferences also. God forbid they got a taste of what we have.

Wazzu let it go unchallenged? I didn’t see it.

Trojan5
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We see PAC12 refs up close and personal on a regular basis. And far too often their performance is woeful. Unfortunately PAC12 fans aren’t the only ones howling at the moon. If you listen to any national shows or the wildly entertaining Mr. Finebaum you will get an earful from SEC fans. I don’t know the solution to an obvious problem, but I hope the people responsible for fixing it get off their duff and get it done.

MarkZ
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Considering we are playing and WINNING (ugly counts) with virtually a 2ND STRING team and NO RUNNING BACKS, I think Coach, staff and ESPECIALLY the players deserve a HELL of a LOT of CREDIT & PRAISE for their dedication. I am not saying Helton should stay, but how many other teams have tripped and never gotten back up? Looking forward to a new coach and era at SC, but I am DAMN PROUD of THESE TROJANS and our coaches for NEVER QUITTING and living our mantra … to rise again and again to FIGHT ON!!

LawyerJohn
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If I wrote that, MarkZ, I’d be tarred, feathered, and railroaded to sucla or Siberia, whichever comes first. Negativity rules with most people, apparently. But I for one am still basking in the great grab by London, the pounding in the end zone by the Freshman, and then the Freshman streaking over 50 yards. Finally, the 95 yard strike Slovis to St. Brown. 28-7 first quarter. Now that was a sight to see! It appears it has been a lousy 2 1/2 months for most of the SC posters. But never fear, the end is near. Only 12 more days… Read more »

Rock2112
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I am pretty sure that we all enjoyed those great plays just as much as you did LJ. We’re longing for the day when the great plays are surrounded with a lot of good workman like plays and a few that don’t work like other top teams — not followed by three quarters of utter incompetence. Trust me, there is not a Trojan around that did not bask in that first quarter — it reminded us of how great we can be when we do things right.

LawyerJohn
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Perhaps I had an advantage over some others, Rock. After the first quarter, I thought the game was a lock, and I went back to work and did not see the balance, so I had only the first quarter to reflect upon.

ATL D.D.S.
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Well, alright then, LJ. That’s the secret. Invest no more than a quarter in a Clay Helton coached team performance! Then return to your pile of daffodils and puppy dog tails and doze the afternoon away…. lol

Scipio
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ibid

Steveg
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Problem is Mark, we were nearly back to full strength. If you think Criston is NO RUNNING BACK, then I don’t know what to tell you about that. If he had a hole to run THROUGH they could have almost shut the passing game down. That he is #5 is very telling about the program and why we are all so discouraged. Did we jump up and down on each TD? Of course we did. I know exactly how you feel, it has taken me perhaps longer than others to realize the entire culture of athletics needs to change at… Read more »

USCJojo
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If there are any veterans on this site, I want to thank you for your service. Thank you for giving us the freedom we enjoy.
Happy Veteran’s Day.
Fight On

Trojan5
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Thanks to all that served or are serving.

ATL D.D.S.
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Amen!

Steveg
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Thanks Jojo.

Jamaica
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I believe the overall team has improved over the course of the season and mostly winning when they should. But the PAC-12 conference is very weak competition-wise and has been for some time. USC’S talent level, even though it has lowered due to Helton’s recruiting weakness bringing in more below USC standard 3-star athletes and continual depth issues, is still better than most the other PAC-12 programs. That has to be noted when you win ugly and not qualify for the conference championship which should have been a slam dunk. I would say in grading the HC & staff that… Read more »

TrojanMPA90
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The biggest problem I had with yesterday’s game was that we got out to a huge lead and played a great 1st Quarter and then played poorly the rest of the way and were lucky to win. The lack of not playing at the same level as the 1st Quarter is a reflection on the coaching staff. When you jump on your opponent early, you have to expect that they will make adjustments to get back into the game. We saw that last year at Texas and Utah when we jumped and ahead and then got blitzed by both teams… Read more »

Jamaica
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The difference is MPA90, with Urban Meyer as HC, he would go to his OC or DC and say, “this is what we are going to do”. With Clay Helton, it’s, ” OK what do we do next if anything” with a blank look on his face. Then CH will continue walking up & down the sideline with a serious look on his face.

Steveg
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Perhaps if Helton just took an attitude that it isn’t okay to win like that people might listen. But when you get a game handed to you, the time to be humble and quiet is much more appropriate. I didn’t see Saban’s presser, but I bet it was not very pretty. Did USC win? Yep, but it just doesn’t feel like it. It seems when we win it is by accident. To start out like that and fall flat like they did just encompasses the culture Helton has created. They don’t know how to finish, and play not to lose… Read more »

Jamaica
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You are so right Steveg, good HC’s will admit their team was lucky to come out ahead at the end of the game, praise the other team and admit he did a poor job of keeping the team focused after the 1st quarter. But Helton will stand there with a serious look on his face and say he is proud of his warriors winning the game, it is an honor to act as their servant.

HOF19
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“This university has been great to me for 10 years and the people of it have been great to me ” <<<<<<<<< Maybe I am reading too much into that ………………But does that sound like the beginning of a realization that he KNOWS it is over ?????????

Trojan5
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I am not a psychologist, I just play one on TDB. CH sounds like a man who knows what his fate is, and has begun to accept it. I know more than a few people want CH gone and think he deserves any shame or embarrassment that a public firing would cause. I hope his dismissal is done professionally & respectfully. Lane Kiffin being “tarmaced “ is funny, but it also makes USC look bad. Treating CH with respect will not add to the the recent string of school wide embarrassments. Rather, it will signal USC is now being led… Read more »

rleeholder1
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I agree with you 100 percent Trojan5. Clay Helton is a decent human being and deserves to be treated professionally when he is relieved of his HC duties. Being a two-time SC Alum (Bachelors and Masters in Business), our culture is one of class, and usually First Class. I hope the new AD handles this situation professionally and without embarrassment to CH. A good role for Clay might be as an advisor, just like John Robinson was after he was dismissed. He’s now doing that for Ed O at LSU thanks to Lynn Swann. IMO, you can’t have enough ambassadors… Read more »

Paul_Muad_dib
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Sounds like a dead man walking to me…

Jamaica
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“So they’ll get my best effort as well as our staff’s” ? Hmm, now is a pretty strange time to be saying that as if you haven’t given your best yet. There are a lot of people who have watched your headcoaching who feel you don’t have a best to give. But being a servant might explain your attitude about all this.I’m sure that statement was for AD Bohn to hear. But does Bohn want to hear a HC slobber meekness or take charge and lead?

Golden Trojan
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First Helton may be giving his best but it is just mediocre. Bohn sounds tough no excuses AD that expects results.

USCJojo
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“Helton made the case that if the team remained on this path, there would be more games like this.” Hell, this sort of play has been going on for years! The only case he’s made, is he needs to be replaced. He’s not a coach. He’s avoided making the tough decisions that are required, if you’re going to be a head coach. He played favorites and never showed control over the staff. If he really took his job seriously, he would have fired Baxter knowing his job is on the line this year. Mr. Bohn should be able to see… Read more »

Chris
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Sorry Dylan, but no. This game was everything wrong with the Clay Helton tenure. This wasn’t some sort of turning point moment, it was Groundhog Day, full of everything wrong we have seen for years.

This guys spin is just plain incorrect.

RialtoTrojan
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The game yesterday was a microcosm of Helton’s tenure at USC. This probably doesn’t need to be pointed out to Michael Bohn