Clay Helton Named Permanent USC Head Football Coach After Replacing Steve Sarkisian Midseason

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USC interim Coach Clay Helton reacts after an interception by Trojans cornerback Iman Marshall during the second half of the game against UCLA. (Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Clay Helton, who has served as the USC football team’s interim coach since Steve Sarkisian was fired earlier this season, was named the team’s permanent coach on Monday, according to the school’s athletic department.

As the interim coach, Helton guided the Trojans to a 5-2 record and a first-place finish in the Pac-12 South Division. The team will play in its first Pac-12 Championship game this Saturday against Stanford at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

Helton has signed a multi-year contract, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden announced Monday, two days after the Trojans defeated crosstown rival UCLA 40 – 21 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“After weeks of searching the collegiate and pro ranks, interviewing candidates, and speaking with head coaches, athletic directors, NFL executives, and very knowledgeable football people, and after observing Clay in action the past seven weeks, it became abundantly clear that what we were searching for in a coach was right here in front of us,” Haden said in a statement.

He described Helton as a man of “unquestioned integrity” and “a leader of young men.”

“He is a terrific communicator.  He brings high character, stability, continuity, consistency, toughness and resiliency to our program,” Haden said.

USC’s victory over the Bruins, the team’s first over their rival since 2011, was not the reason Helton was hired, Haden stressed.

“Clay was not hired because his team defeated UCLA Saturday. He was not hired because many current and former players voiced their support for him. And he was not hired because he is a Trojan. He is our choice because we believe he can win Pac-12 and national championships here.  Clay Helton is the right man at the right time for the USC football program,” the statement said.

Helton, 43, was named the interim head coach of the football team on Oct. 12 after Steve Sarkisian was abruptly terminated. Sarkisian was first placed on an indefinite leave of absence from the team after Haden determined he was “not healthy.”

He was fired the following day.

Previously, Helton — who has been with the team since 2010 — served as the team’s interim head coach in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl after the firing of head coach Lane Kiffin. USC beat Fresno State 45-20 in that game.

The new head coach said in the statement he was “extremely humbled” by the promotion.

“I am so proud to have the chance to lead what I feel is the pinnacle of college football and to represent our Trojan Family,” he stated.

“Through the hard work and resiliency of this year’s team, we have put ourselves in position to play for a Pac-12 Championship.  I would like to thank our players and coaches for the effort and dedication that they have given to this season.  It has been my most memorable as a coach.  We look forward to representing the Pac-12 South in Santa Clara this Saturday.”