USC Trojans saddened by Helton's "heart-wrenching" firing
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Clay Helton's players hate the fact that the sacking of their head coach was a cause for celebration for much of Southern California's huge football fan base.
When these players went back to work Tuesday night, Helton's sudden departure was a cause for sadness and reflection - and a renewed determination to make him proud.
"It definitely hurt," said Security Veteran Isaiah Pola-Mao. “The coach has always shaped me a lot. I signed here with him in mind. We wanted him to be the next Pete Carroll. We wanted to pick it up and make it big. Of course things don't go the way we do. "
At the high-pressure level of USC-inhabited college football, it's sometimes easy to forget that the vast majority of Helton's players decided not to share the deep dislike for their coach that virtually every vocal fan of the Trojans seems to harbor.
Thousands of people sang for Helton's dismissal last Saturday night at the Coliseum during USC's embarrassing loss to Stanford. Many of these people greeted sporting director Mike Bohn's decision on Monday with online glee - and the players saw it.
Many of the people who dealt with Helton on campus and in the locker room on a daily basis still adore him as the mentor and father figure of his players. Many of these players still fail to understand that they will have to continue a long season without the coach who recruited them and took the responsibility of helping them develop into well-rounded adults.
"It has been heartbreaking for a lot of us," said recipient Drake London. “He's such a good man to us, on and off the pitch. It was sad to see him go. "
The day after Helton's seven-year tenure ended with his sacking, the Trojans (1-1, 0-1 Pac-12) held their usual opening practice of game week on campus. USC is visiting Washington State on Saturday for its street opener with Donte Williams as the interim head coach.
USC only allowed three team captains to speak to reporters after training, but Bohn and Williams both spoke at length of the challenges ahead after changing the lead just two games in a season.
"It's very, very difficult for young people to suddenly change, and it's really difficult for all of us," said Bohn. "I have a lot of respect for Clay Helton as a trainer and a man."
Helton and Bohn brought the news to the team together on Monday. Bohn said Williams will run the Trojans with his great motivational skills, while coordinators Graham Harrell and Todd Orlando will do most of the game planning as they did under Helton.
"It happened pretty quickly," said punter Ben Griffiths. “But it was nice to have this time. ... We see ourselves as players, we have a job to do and that is to end this season. "
Bohn did not reveal anything new about the reasons behind the unusual timing of his decision against Helton, who had won nine straight season games prior to the Stanford blowout.
"It really felt like the time was right, and I think it was the right time for (Helton)," said Bohn. “You feel like you know when to play things a certain way and you have a gut feeling. I think we had the right thing. "
But USC's actions make it clear that the school was tired of waiting for Helton's success on the field to catch up with his team building skills. A program that believes it should be an annual national title contender has finally said goodbye to a coach who never made it.
Helton's record was 46-24 - also a pretty solid mark on a regular program, though in 2018 he also had the school's first losing season in 18 years, more Pac-12 crowns in the conference title game.
Improvements to the Trojans over the past decade include building their $ 70 million headquarters at the John McKay Center and $ 315 million in improvements to the 98-year-old Coliseum. USC expanded its recruiting and research capabilities into measures that gave Helton every chance of success and built a strong structure to recruit a successor when Helton was gone.
"We had a great offseason with great recruits and continued investment in the football company," said Bohn. “In the end, when we really came out, I don't think we just had the same belief that with all the resources and dedication we put together, we could really go for those national championship goals we talk about all the time. "
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