Los Angeles Times
How USC came to the decision to remove Helton as coach.
AD Bohn had four benchmarks to evaluate Helton and moved quicker than expected
The criteria for the most consequential decision of Mike Bohn’s career were established ahead of the football season, weeks before the disastrous defeat that accelerated the end of Clay Helton’s disappointing tenure as USC’s coach.
In the late summer it was understood among Bohn, USC President Carol Folt and Rick Caruso, chairman of USC’s board of trustees, that the athletic director would take stock of his embattled football coach at specific points during the season.
At each pre-assigned benchmark, Bohn would evaluate the criteria they agreed upon, from the energy and culture of the team to its on-field performance and competitiveness to recruiting momentum and fan sentiment, among other variables. How would firing — or retaining — Helton affect each of those variables going forward?
Bohn ultimately needed just one evaluation. The first of four planned benchmarks, according to a person familiar with the decision to fire Helton, came last Saturday night.
As USC fell in humiliating fashion, 42-28 to Stanford, every discernible flaw of the Helton era was laid bare in front of a half-empty Coliseum. There were sloppy mistakes and ill-timed penalties, a stagnant offense and a defense that lacked discipline. The stands were draining before the fourth quarter, with USC trailing by four scores. The sideline was lifeless, sending an ominous message to the university decision makers watching from on high.
That night, Helton spoke like a coach who believed he had time. “We didn’t play our best tonight, but I know this, at the end of the season, see where we’re at,” he said. “See where we’re at.”
But that time had run out on Helton after six seasons, the last three of which were clouded by intense on-field scrutiny. Had he passed that first benchmark, Helton likely would’ve lasted until the bye week, which was slated as the next point to assess the team’s progress.
Bohn said Tuesday that he didn’t want to make a major decision Saturday night, “in the heat of the emotions associated with a game,” but the next step was evident at the time to those tasked with making the decision.