As the man she hired to be athletic director made a controversial move Wednesday that could define his tenure, new USC president Carol L. Folt stood behind Mike Bohn and the process that led him to retain head football coach Clay Helton.
“I hired Mike to make this important decision, and I expect him to show outstanding results,” Folt told The Times.
“He believes very strongly that Coach Helton has led the football program with integrity. He’s deeply committed to student-athletes’ success, on and off the field. I’ve seen it myself. I think he and Mike both know that there’s important work to be done. We have very high expectations.”
Until Wednesday, it had been uncertain if Helton had done enough to fulfill those expectations, after finishing 13-11 over the last two seasons.
Folt said she left that decision entirely to her athletic director, and, like Bohn, did not consider any other coaches over Helton.
When asked why that decision dragged until Wednesday, after USC had been eliminated from Pac-12 title contention last weekend, Folt said she believed Bohn’s process was “very timely.”
Any suggestion that it took longer than necessary was “a little bit funny,” she noted.
“Didn’t I just hire Mike three weeks ago?” she asked.
“I think Mike said when he came in, he wanted to see that season come to a close. He wanted to have a chance to evaluate people, to get right in the ground. You don’t want to make any decision without putting any real effort and thought into it, especially for something that’s so clearly important not only to our fan community, but to our players and our prospective players.”
That fan community made its frustrations with the new athletic director known in the wake of his decision Wednesday. But Folt said she was optimistic that support would return, even if it took time.
“I’d say to the fans, you’ve been loyal for so many years,” Folt said. “That has been something the university has always really valued and still values now. We want you to be loyal to a university you’re proud of.”
Last month, at a gathering of USC’s many boards of counselors, Folt was asked about whether she’d be open-minded in the upcoming process to determine who would be the football coach. She answered that “whoever it is will have impeccable integrity.”
On Wednesday, an hour or so after Helton had been officially retained, Folt reiterated those expectations.
“My expectation is excellence with integrity,” Folt said. “I think about winning the right way, and I think about helping the entire community feel involved. I am very proud of what the university did in restoring the Coliseum for the city of Los Angeles. I think things like that all go together with building the program and having people be proud and excited about it.”