USC retains coach Clay Helton despite fan dissatisfaction

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Southern California head coach Clay Helton signals to fans from midfield after a 52-35 win over UCLA in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LOS ANGELES, CA – Southern California has decided to retain Clay Helton, extending the head coach’s improbable 4 ½-year tenure atop the West Coast’s winningest college football program.

New athletic director Mike Bohn announced the decision four days after the No. 24 Trojans (8-4, 7-2 Pac-12) missed out on a trip to the conference title game when they finished one game behind No. 5 Utah in the Pac-12 South.

“His commitment to our student-athletes and to leading with integrity is vital to restoring our championship program, which is the goal for all of our teams," Bohn wrote on his Twitter account. “Heading into 2020, Coach Helton and I will work together to take a hard look at all aspects of the football enterprise and will make the tough decisions necessary to compete at a championship level.”

Helton’s current Trojans beat the Utes and won five of their final six games, but his 13-11 record over the past two seasons has instilled widespread dissatisfaction in many fans and deep-pocketed alumni around a program with perennial national championship ambitions.

But for the second straight year, Helton has avoided a widely anticipated dismissal. Bohn, who was only hired Nov. 7, waited 11 days after the Trojans’ regular-season finale to officially stick with Helton, who has a lucrative contract through 2023.

“It is abundantly clear that we now have the support, resources and tolls to build a championship team," Helton said in a statement. “We know the expectations of our fans are high, as they should be. Those are the same expectations I have for myself and that our staff and team have as well. Our future is bright. We have a young team on the verge of doing something special. We are headed to a great bowl and we plan to finish the season strong. And we are putting the final touches on an outstanding recruiting class. I believe in our team and in our fan base. I know we will all come together to succeed. I am excited about the future."

The 47-year-old Helton is 40-21 at USC in his first head coaching job, which began with two interim stints before the longtime assistant coach got the permanent job on Nov. 30, 2015. Although his Trojans won the Rose Bowl in his first full season and the Pac-12 title in his second, the last two seasons have been less impressive — and they included the school’s first losing season since 2000 when they went 5-7 last year.

USC rebounded this season after hiring offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, finishing second in the division despite being forced to use three starting quarterbacks and playing the toughest schedule of any school west of Texas.