Yesterday, the University of Southern California announced that Clay Helton was being named the permanent head coach, removing the interim tag he has assumed since replacing former head coach Steve Sarkisian on October 12th.
Helton went 5-2 since replacing Sarkisian as the interim head coach, and will play in the PAC-12 Championship game vs. Stanford this weekend.
Nevertheless, USC’s decision to keep Helton has raised some eyebrows. Many media members and alumni have said that USC needed a “big name” for a job this prestigious and that Helton was not a worthy hire.
However, based upon the student-athletes’ reactions I would beg to differ. Did you see the reaction of the USC player’s when USC Director of Athletics, Pat Haden, told them that Helton was being retained? (USC Player’s Reaction to Helton Being Named Head Coach)
Haden noted that, “after observing Clay in action the past seven weeks, it became abundantly clear that what we were searcing for in a coach was reight here in front of us.”
This hire is a risky one for Haden, who himself is on the hot seat for the hiring of Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin and how both of those tenures ended. Haden also hired former Florida Gulf Coast University Men’s Basketball Coach, Andy Enfield, who has not produced since his arrival in April of 2013.
Nevertheless, I believe that Haden observed Helton, listened to the student-athletes and saw immediate results, on and off the field.
Let us not forget that Haden had the chance to hire another interim head coach in Ed Orgeron, back in 2013. Orgeron replaced Lane Kiffin just five games into the 2013 season. Orgeron went 6-2 during his interim stint, bringing life back to the USC football program and was widely supported by his players.
Despite Orgeron’s efforts and popularity, Haden went with Sarkisian. Sarkisian was one of the key members of the staff during the Pete Carroll era, an era Haden desperately wanted to rekindle.
However, for USC that era was long gone. Haden was essentially hiring an alum thinking that would be a quick fix to get back to the glory days. He was wrong. Very wrong. Just like the Carroll era that ended with shame, so did Sarkisian’s short tenure.
Plain and simple, Haden learned from his mistake. Haden clearly hired the person who EARNED the job. It was not about politics or personal agendas or getting a “big name.” It was about hiring the best fit for the program at that particular point in the program’s history.
Helton PROVED that he can run a program by getting the student-athletes to buy in to his coaching philosophy, by recruiting at a high level and by winning games the right way.
Kudos to Pat Haden for making the right choice. Maybe his decision to listen to what he observed will influence other athletic directors to make decisions with their head versus media hype, political/personal agendas or alumni/booster pressure.
Give ’em hell, Coach Helton!
Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo