USC commits thrilled as Helton named permanent head coach


USC announced Monday morning that it would remove the interim tag from Clay Helton, making the former offensive coordinator the permanent head coach of the Trojans. It’s a choice that will likely be met with plenty of mixed feelings, as many affiliated with USC believed the Trojans capable of plucking one of college or pro football’s proven successes and bringing him to Los Angeles. But one group of people that met the news with unanimous approval is USC commits, as well as recruits in general.

After USC’s dismantling of Utah in late October, Trojans commitment began to rally around Helton and push for him to take over the position permanently. After a 5-1 record and a 19-point win against UCLA this past Saturday, those calls turned to shouts, as several recruits took to social media to voice their desire for Helton to remain on as head coach. Early Monday, those prospects got their wish.

“Couldn’t be happier,” said USC quarterback commit Matt Fink, the nation’s No. 3 dual-threat prospect. “I wanted him as the guy since Day 1.”

“Clay Helton is a great coach and person,” said fellow ESPN 300 prospect and USC commit C.J. Pollard. “He is well-respected all around campus and by the players. I have faith in what he has done in the past month, and I know the Trojans have a great path to the national championship.”

USC holds the nation’s No. 11 recruiting class and No. 2 group in the Pac-12, but things got off to a rocky start immediately following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian earlier this fall. USC lost a commitment from its top prospect, outside linebacker Mique Juarez, and another ESPN 300 linebacker, Daelin Hayes -- who had signed early enrollment financial aid paperwork -- left the class as well. Since then, things have remained steady, though many recruits took visits and were exploring other options. With USC playing in the Pac-12 championship game this Saturday, Trojans coaches won’t be able to hit the recruiting trail quite as hard as other programs taking advantage of the start of the contact period, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see an uptick in prospects picking up interest in USC or setting future official visits now that Helton has been named head coach.

Juarez is someone USC is looking to bring back into the fold and the Helton news made a positive impact.

Fellow local standout Jack Jones, an ESPN 300 cornerback and top target of both UCLA and USC, has had something of an up and down relationship with the Trojans. But the Helton news was all “up” for Jones.

“I’m happy [they] made that move,” Jones said via text. “USC should do great things now and I can’t wait.”

Prospects committed to Pac-12 rivals came out in support of Helton as well. ESPN 300 wide receiver Theo Howard was a longtime target of USC, but made a recent commitment to UCLA.

Stanford commit David Long, another local ESPN 300 prospect, as equally as impressed.

“That’s a big hire,” Long said.

And Helton has support from the high school coaching community as well.

“I think USC is getting a genuinely great guy who truly cares about people,” said Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro coach Jason Mohns. I think the hire will provide a huge spark for USC, as coach Helton is the kind of man that kids want to play for and parents trust with their kids.”

USC commit Josh Imatorbhebhe, who signed early enrollee paperwork with USC this past week and was on hand for USC’s big win against UCLA, was the first to join the chorus of approval, and fellow ESPN 300 commit Frank Martin did as well, soon after.

The only thing that might be able to derail the positive momentum this hire created on the recruiting trail is the upcoming decisions Helton makes with his assistant coaches. While prospects have a more settled feeling knowing who their head coach will be, assistants play a huge role in securing commitments and creating that atmosphere of familiarity that can either keep prospects committed or send them looking for other options. But at least two prospects say Helton is enough.

“All of my trust is in him,” Fink said. “Whatever he believes is best, I agree with.”

“I can play under any [assistant] coach,” Pollard said, citing his scheme versatility.

There is still a long way to go until a verdict can be returned as to whether this was ultimately the right hire for USC. But when it strictly comes to finishing this 2016 recruiting class and moving on to 2017, there is little doubt that Helton was the best thing for the Trojans.

USC offensive line commit Nathan Smith likely summed it up best for the prospects committed to USC or looking hard at the Trojans.