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Column: Clay Helton is no longer the right coach for USC

USC head coach Clay Helton is congratulated by Athletic Director Mike Bohn at midfield after a 52-35 win over UCLA at the Coliseum on Nov. 23, 2019.
USC head coach Clay Helton is congratulated by Athletic Director Mike Bohn at midfield after a 52-35 win over UCLA at the Coliseum on Saturday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

As USC athletic director Mike Bohn hugged Clay Helton after USC’s 52-35 win over UCLA, Helton smiled and said, “You’re undefeated!”

USC has won three consecutive games since Bohn was hired Nov. 7 but chances are it won’t be enough to save Helton’s job. As the final seconds ticked off the clock at the Coliseum, players, coaches and athletic administrators hugged Helton. It felt more like a goodbye hug than a congratulatory embrace.

Bohn likely won’t make a decision on Helton’s future until next week and instructed him to live in the moment as they walked off the field.

“Enjoy this,” Bohn told Helton. “Go back there and enjoy this with your kids. I’m talking about your own kids and your players. Try to stay away from everybody who won’t let you enjoy this.”

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Helton came to USC in 2010 when coach Lane Kiffin hired him as the quarterbacks coach. He was with the team during crippling sanctions, the firing of Kiffin on an airport tarmac and the firing of Steve Sarkisian for showing up to campus appearing intoxicated. He was the team’s interim coach in 2013 after they passed on Ed Orgeron and again stepped in after Sarkisian was let go in 2015 before getting the job that November.

He was never the most popular coach but he was the right coach for USC each time. As low as the bar might seem, USC needed a steady, dependable coach who would not embarrass the university. Not only did Helton lead a drama-free program for more than four years, he coached the team to a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl win.

While Helton’s stability was needed in the aftermath of Kiffin and Sarkisian, he’s no longer the right coach for USC.

Whenever Helton’s name comes up, the word most commonly used is “good.”

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He’s a good guy, a good recruiter and a good coach.

That’s usually a compliment unless you’re coaching a football program with national championship aspirations.

USC needs a coach that’s better than good in order to compete for a playoff berth next season as opposed to a spot in the Holiday Bowl or Alamo Bowl.

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The only thing that irritates Lakers fans more than the team wearing purple at home, which will only happen three more times this season, is the way their gold uniforms have looked since the 2017-18 season when Nike replaced Adidas as the NBA’s official apparel partner. Many fans feel it looks more like highlighter yellow than the traditional gold the Lakers used to wear.

“The most often complained-about thing is that the gold is wrong,” Lakers chief operating officer Tim Harris said. “The first year we had the Nike uniform the gold did look like a highlighter but Nike tells us the gold that we wear now matches the gold back in the early days of Kobe [Bryant]. What fans are upset about is the evolution of the color but we were told they have the gold back to what it used to be but a lot of people think it’s still too yellow so we’re going to look at that after the season.”

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Some Lakers fans also don’t like the black stripes down the sides of the team’s purple jersey. They would prefer the Lakers have more traditional gold and purple uniforms without stripes.

“That’s just a nod to putting black in the uniform,” Harris said. “I love when our fans notice things like the black stripe or the neckline. When they’re getting into that level of detail that shows how much they care. They’re invested and we love that and we hear them.”

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The Board of Directors for the South Bay Cities Council of Governments unanimously approved a motion this week by Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts, Torrance Mayor Patrick J. Furey and El Segundo Mayor Drew Boyles authorizing the transfer of $560 million toward a regional transit project connecting the South Bay to the sports and entertainment district being built in Inglewood.

“I am optimistic that this will happen,” Butts said. “With all the things that are coming here, this is going to be such an economic benefit for the entire South Bay. We only have a certain amount of hotel rooms, fine dining and retail options here so there’s going to be people staying throughout the South Bay for these events. It’s our belief that we’ll be able to put together the funds to make this project viable and that will be the final piece of what will be the finest sports and entertainment district in the country.”

The earliest the $1-billion project could be completed would be 2024, which would be the Rams’ and Chargers’ fifth season at SoFi Stadium and potentially the Clippers’ first season at their new $1.1-billion arena proposed to be built across the street. The World Cup is expected to host some matches at SoFi Stadium in 2026 with the Summer Olympics coming in 2028.

The plan is to allow construction workers and residents to tour the $5-billion stadium in June of next year before it opens to the public. Butts also said Inglewood likely will host another major event in 2021.

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“I’m optimistic we’re going to get WrestleMania,” Butts said. “I was surprised at how popular the WWE is. Many people were more excited about us hosting WrestleMania than the Olympics.”


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