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USC fires football coach Clay Helton following loss to Stanford

After years of unfulfilled promises and festering frustration over the direction of its underachieving football program, USC has fired football coach Clay Helton.

In a message posted to Twitter on Monday, USC athletic director Mike Bohn announced his decision to “make a change in the leadership of our football program” and thanked Helton for his time as coach.

Associate head coach Donte Williams is set to serve as USC’s interim head coach.

The decision to fire the embattled coach comes in the wake of a deeply disappointing 42-28 loss to Stanford on Saturday at the Coliseum, one of the worst defeats in recent memory for the Trojans. The coaching change came a week after USC struggled before eventually pulling away from San Jose State in the season opener and followed multiple tumultuous seasons. Fan discontent has swelled, reaching a feverish pitch during the loss to the Cardinal.

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Helton closed his tenure with a 46–24 record, but the team is 19-15 since 2018.

USC’s performance and swelling outrage among boosters apparently outweighed any concerns that came with paying a hefty buyout in the midst of a financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. That price tag, which has been difficult to pin down because USC is a private school not required to release contracts in response to public records requests, was believed to be one of the primary factors in Bohn’s previous decision’s to retain Helton.

Many thought USC might part ways with Helton after last season’s Pac-12 championship game loss to Oregon, which capped a year marked by more unfilled promises of progress. USC closed the 2020 season in the same position it was at the end of the 2019 campaign, when Bohn made the controversial decision to give Helton another chance.

As the health crisis wiped out games in 2020 and threatened to upend the season at any moment, the Trojans managed to win their first five contests and earned a place on the fringes of the College Football Playoff semifinal conversation.

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Yet three of those victories required furious comebacks in the final minute against teams that would finish with a 5-11 record during the shortened season. The luck finally ran out during the Pac-12 title game loss. USC did not earn a bowl bid and entered the offseason with more questions Helton ultimately ran out of time to address.

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