LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California fired football coach Clay Helton on Monday, two games into his seventh season in charge.
Athletic director Mike Bohn made the move two days after an embarrassing 42-28 home loss to Stanford that dropped the Trojans (1-1, 0-1 Pac-12) out of the AP Top 25.
Donte Williams, the Trojans’ cornerbacks coach and associate head coach, is taking over as head coach. Williams, a Los Angeles-area native and the first Black head coach in USC football history, joined the program in 2020 and has played a major role in USC’s significant recruiting advancements over the past two cycles.
USC visits Washington State this weekend for its road opener.
Helton went 46-24 during his improbable tenure in charge of the longtime West Coast college football powerhouse. The career assistant coach twice took over as USC’s interim head coach before getting his first head coaching job on a permanent basis late in the 2015 season.
“Clay is one of the finest human beings I have met in this industry, and he has been a tremendous role model and mentor to our young men,” Bohn said in a statement. “We appreciate his many years of service to our university and wish him nothing but the very best. Consistent with our values as an institution, he deserves the utmost respect from the Trojan Family during this transition.”
While Helton brought stability to a tumultuous football culture and ran a clean program that inspired loyalty and love from his players, he never won over a significant portion of the Trojans’ vast fan base, even during his early successes. His folksy demeanor didn’t inspire confidence in fans used to Pete Carroll’s intensity, while Helton’s genteel Southern twang and mannerisms always seemed out of place in California.
The Trojans won the Rose Bowl after the 2016 season and the Pac-12 title in 2017 while Sam Darnold was their quarterback, but Helton’s teams otherwise struggled to live up to the sky-high expectations around a program with 11 national championships.
Helton was 19-14 since the 2017 season, and he repeatedly avoided vocal calls for his dismissal from fans and boosters during that stretch. Bohn replaced Lynn Swann as USC’s athletic director in November 2019, and the school’s aspirations for national title contention ramped up again with major additions to all areas of the football program.
“The added resources carried significantly increased expectations for our team’s performance,” Bohn said. “It is already evident that, despite the enhancements, those expectations would not be met without a change in leadership.”