- Kyle Bonagura, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES – USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton contends he was not interested in leaving USC during the offseason, and coach Steve Sarkisian’s decision to hand over play-calling duties wasn’t done as a way to incentivize him to say.
“I’ve been with this Trojan family, we’ve developed that we’ve finally made it through the sanctions. You’ve finally got to a place where you think you can win a championship, why would you leave?” Helton said. “Whether it’s as the offensive coordinator helping do game plans or as a play-caller, you don’t leave that situation. You don’t leave USC for that and that’s why I’m here and that’s why I hope to be here for a long time.”
Of course, “a long time,” in coach-speak is hard to define, but, regardless, Helton is excited to be calling plays again after Sarkisian held the responsibility in his first year as the Trojans’ head coach.
“[Sarkisian] loves play calling. He loves to call plays, but he also has a great vision for this university and our football program,” Helton said. “He wants to win a championship here and to do that he felt like he had to overview everything, not just scoring points and setting records.”
From a viewer's standpoint, it’s unlikely there will be anything noticeably different. As has always been the case, Sarkisian, Helton and the rest of the offensive coaching staff will be in constant communication throughout the game and Helton’s calls will take into account input from several people. The biggest change, for him, will be that instead of sitting in the booth like in years past, he’ll be on the sideline, which was designed, at least partially, to improve communication with quarterback Cody Kessler.
“That’s going to help me out a lot more because instead of having to go over and get on the phone and call upstairs to him, I can go over to him and he can walk me over to the side and we can sit down and he can show me visually also what he sees or what’s going on out there and our communication will be a lot better,” said Kessler, who added Sarkisian and Helton have always been on the same page.
Receivers/pass game coordinator Tee Martin and tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo, both former quarterbacks, will be in the booth. Their experience, Helton said, made it an easy call to make the move to the sideline.
It also doesn’t hurt that Kessler, a fifth-year senior, would probably be pretty successful making calls on his own.
“It’s like he’s reading my mind,” Helton said. “He knows when it’s myself or Coach Sark calling plays, he understands now what we want and exactly why we’re calling the play.”
Saturday’s season opener against Arkansas State also represents a reunion of sorts for Helton. He spent 57 days as a coach at Arkansas State before former USC coach Lane Kiffin brought him to Los Angeles.
“Got the opportunity to come out here and this is one of those things that you can’t pass up,” Helton said.
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