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USC’s Clay Helton had highest reported salary among Pac-12 coaches in 2019-20

USC football coach Clay Helton leads his players onto the field before a game.
USC football coach Clay Helton was paid $4.813 million from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, an increase of more than $244,325 over the previous fiscal year.
(Orlando Ramirez / Associated Press)

As Clay Helton clung to his job following a 5-7 season in 2018, the embattled coach’s USC salary continued to rise. During the 2019 season, he had the highest reported salary among Pac-12 football coaches, according to a federal tax return filed by the university and obtained by The Times.

Helton earned $4.813 million from USC and its related organizations from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, an increase of more than $244,325 over the previous fiscal year, when a contract extension courtesy of previous athletic director Lynn Swann boosted his salary by more than 40%.

Helton saw a much more modest pay increase in 2019, as USC finished 8-5 and questions about his job security reached a fevered pitch. But the raise was still enough to narrowly eclipse what was previously known to be the top salary among Pac-12 football coaches.

It is unclear whether Stanford coach David Shaw was awarded a salary increase during the 2019-20 fiscal year. As private institutions, Stanford and USC are not required to disclose employee salary information. Shaw made $4.812 million in 2018, according to USA Today’s coaches salary database. His total pay in 2019 has not yet been disclosed.

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Top-ranked USC dominated rival UCLA in the NCAA championship Sunday in a wire-to-wire 18-9 victory to capture the program’s sixth NCAA title.

Helton’s pay in 2019, according to the university tax return obtained Monday, climbed $1,635 above the Stanford coach’s 2018 earnings, previously the high-water mark for coaches in the conference. Helton’s 2019 earnings made him at least the second highest-paid coach in the conference and placed him among the top 20 highest-paid coaches in the nation that season.

USC, meanwhile, continued to stumble. After an 8-5 finish in 2019, Helton fired two coordinators and retooled most of his staff. The pandemic turned what was probably a make-or-break season into an uneven and unusual 5-0 run to the Pac-12 title game, where Oregon promptly ran USC off its own home field to steal the conference crown.

Helton still has three years remaining on his USC contract after signing an extension in February 2018, which has since been a major source of ire among frustrated Trojans fans. The extension bumped Helton’s pay from $3.2 million in 2017 to more than $4.5 million in 2018.

Helton’s built-in raise ahead of the 2019 season was much smaller than past pay increases. Helton’s $2.6-million salary in 2016 rose to $3.2 million the next year after a run to the 2017 Rose Bowl. An 11-win season and trip to the Cotton Bowl the following year was enough to convince Swann to give Helton an extension and a substantial pay raise to more than $4.5 million in 2018.

USC running back Stephen Carr has decided to enter the NCAA transfer portal, a person familiar with the decision confirmed to The Times.

Helton’s pay may have dropped slightly in 2020, after he, basketball coach Andy Enfield, and athletic director Mike Bohn agreed in May to return a combined $1 million in compensation as the university braced for major financial strain from the pandemic.

Enfield, whose team made a surprise run to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight this season, saw his salary increase during the 2018-2019 fiscal year from $3.126 million to $3.35 million. Only Oregon’s Dana Altman and UCLA’s Mick Cronin earn more among Pac-12 basketball coaches, according to the latest coaching salary records available.


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