USC has removed the interim tag from head coach Clay Helton, making him the official replacement to Steve Sarkisian, the school announced on Monday. The Trojans become the third team to promote an interim to permanent status during this coaching cycle, joining Minnesota and Illinois.
Helton replaced Sarkisian in October, following the head coach's dismissal due to alleged behavior while under the influence of alcohol at work. The Trojans went 5-2 under Helton, including wins in four of their last five games. A 40-21 thumping of UCLA in the season finale clinched the Pac-12 South title, and USC will play Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Saturday.
This was Helton's second stint as USC's interim, previously replacing interim coach Ed Orgeron in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl. He inherits a roster ready to win immediately. The only program that has recruited a higher percentage of blue-chip prospects in recent years is Alabama.
The Trojans do lose some key pieces to graduation, including QB Cody Kessler and a few senior defensive linemen. But there probably won't be many early NFL entries, with only linebacker Su'a Cravens likely to leave early. The new coach will inherit a disgusting receiving corps led by JuJu Smith-Schuster, a backfield with Justin Davis and Ronald Jones, a very talented offensive line and a quarterback with ability in fourth-year junior Max Browne. Defensively, the Trojans will have inexperienced talent up front, but some very promising linebackers and one of the best secondaries in the country.
The move comes as a bit of a surprise, as the Trojans were expected to be able to make just about any hire they wanted. USC had reportedly reached out to Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, and it was the unquestioned No. 1 job available (at least, unquestioned until Georgia fired Mark Richt).
A former assistant with Duke, Houston and Memphis who played quarterback at Auburn and Houston, Helton has been with the USC staff since 2010. Before he was named interim head coach, he was the team's offensive coordinator.
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