New USC Football Coach Says Players’ Reaction To His Hire Was Priceless

After parting ways with Steve Sarkisian earlier this season, USC named Clay Helton its interim head coach.

Well, Helton no longer holds that title. As of Monday, Helton, who has gone 5-2 in seven games this year, has been named the Trojans’ official head coach.

USC players, well, they’re pretty happy with the decision. In fact, they went fairly nuts when athletic director Pat Haden told them the news, jumping up and down and pumping their fists.

Helton was already informed that he had been hired.

“I had found out Sunday morning after the UCLA game, and we really wanted our players to be the first to know,” Helton said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “What’s amazing to me is (we were) able to keep (it) a secret for 24 hours (with) today’s technology and allow our players to be the first (to know). You could see their reaction. It was priceless. It’s a memory that I’ll never forget.”

Haden asked Helton to keep the news private for roughly 24 hours, which we did.

“I actually didn’t even tell my wife until about 1 a.m. that Monday morning,” Helton said. “(I) just alerting her that you probably need to pull the kids out of school and come into the office (the next day because I’m) going to be the head coach at USC.”

Yes, Helton’s children got out of school for this.

“Bonus,” Helton said, laughing. “Daddy gets to be the head coach and (they) get to be out of school.”

In all seriousness, Helton, 43, has done a masterful job since taking over at USC. His only losses have come at Notre Dame and at Oregon, as USC has won five of its last six games, including a 40-21 win over then-No. 22 UCLA this past Saturday.

“They saw exactly who I am and the culture that is being created here and they really liked it,” Helton said of USC’s athletic department. “I feel like I’ve interviewed for (this job) a couple times, to be honest with you, as the interim head coach of the Las Vegas Bowl two years ago and now seven games here this season. (I’ve) really shown exactly what I want to be as a head coach and the culture that we wanted to establish – the physical, hard-nose, blue-collar, gritty football team that believes in establishing a culture of winning, a culture of academics, a culture of compliance and a culture of respect. It’s something that they believe in, and I’m just very fortunate that they believe in me.”

Still, some boosters and USC fans were probably upset by the hire, mainly because Helton doesn’t have the name brand of an Urban Meyer or a Nick Saban.

What would Helton say to fans underwhelmed by his hire?

“Well, I’ve never said that I was a flash name and don’t plan on being flashy,” Helton said, “but I believe that I’m a very, very good football coach that knows how to lead young men. I know that this is a production-based business and you have to prove yourself, and I plan on doing that.”

Helton could win over a lot of non-believers if he’s able to lead the Trojans (8-4) to victory over No. 7 Stanford (10-2) this Saturday in the Pac-12 Championship. USC lost at home to the Cardinal, 41-31, on Sept. 19, when Sarkisian was still the head coach.

USC has improved drastically since then.

“I think we’re playing some disciplined football right now,” Helton said. “Over the last seven games, I look at our blueprint of running the ball and trying to out-rush our opponent every game – and we have, following the Notre Dame game. I look at us securing the ball in turnover margin, and usually if you run the ball, stop the run, don’t turn the ball over and play great special teams like we have, you’re going to find yourself in championship games. That’s what we’ve shown over the last seven weeks and feel very fortunate to be playing a good Stanford team for a Pac-12 Championship.”

Kickoff from Levi’s Stadium is at 7:45 p.m. ET.

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