Southern California hired Clay Helton as its permanent coach on Monday, removing the interim tag after he guided the team to a division title since taking over for Steve Sarkisian.
Athletic director Pat Haden announced Helton had signed a multiyear deal.
“After weeks of searching the collegiate and pro ranks, interviewing candidates, and speaking with head coaches, athletic directors, NFL executives, and very knowledgeable football people, and after observing Clay in action the past seven weeks, it became abundantly clear that what we were searching for in a coach was right here in front of us,” Haden said in a statement.
The 43-year-old Helton has been an assistant with USC since 2010, working under both Lane Kiffin and Sarkisian.
He was offensive coordinator when Sarkisian was fired on Oct. 12. Sarkisian acknowledged he was struggling with alcohol after he went on an obscenity-laced rant at a booster function before the season and the coach and team continued to struggle for the first five games.
The Trojans have gone 5-2 since Helton took over and beat UCLA on Saturday to clinch the Pac-12 South and a spot in the conference championship game. The Trojans (8-4) will face Stanford on Saturday.
Haden said beating UCLA was not the reason Helton was hired.
“He was not hired because many current and former players voiced their support for him. And he was not hired because he is a Trojan. He is our choice because we believe he can win Pac-12 and national championships here. Clay Helton is the right man at the right time for the USC football program,” Haden said.
Since Helton took over, USC has victories against two Top 25 teams (Utah and UCLA) and the Trojans have outrushed opponents in each game (by an average of 263-124 yards) and been plus-9 in turnovers.
“During my six years here, I have learned the standard of excellence that it takes to be a Trojan. I understand the expectations of this great university and welcome the challenge. I am so proud to have the chance to lead what I feel is the pinnacle of college football and to represent our Trojan Family,” Helton said.
The move and the timing were surprising, but not a total shock.
There had been rumors and speculation that USC would make an attempt to lure Eagles coach Chip Kelly back to the Pac-12. Kelly helped turn USC rival Oregon into a national power before leaving for the NFL three years ago.
But otherwise little else has leaked about USC’s search, though it was clear Helton was doing his best to make a case for himself.
His promotion takes one of the best jobs in the country off the market during what has been an already active season for coaching changes.