Clay Helton back in a familiar role

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
8:00
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- In approximately 48 hours, Clay Helton will once again walk down the famed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tunnel to be the eyes and suggestion-maker for another new USC Trojans head football coach.

Helton, however, still, hasn't forgotten that just nine months ago he was the third USC head football coach of 2013. The coach also hasn't forgotten that despite the unusual circumstances of last season, he thoroughly enjoyed his experience as a one-game interim head coach, guiding the Trojans to a resounding victory, 45-20, over Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

"I have very good memories and we had a great time as a football family putting together and capping off a 10-win season," Helton reminisced. "I was very excited for those players, for that team, and for our Trojans family, and I am even more excited to get this next season started and to carry on from there."

In less than a year, Helton's responsibilities have evolved from interim head coach of one of college football's most storied programs back to his familiar role as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.

If you think that once being the big cheese and returning to a subservient position as assistant has been difficult, nothing could be further from the truth and much of the credit goes to first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian and to Helton's own positive demeanor.

"Sark's a joy to work with," Helton said. He's one of those guys you love to have on your side. He's a player's coach. He gives you jobs to do as an offensive staff and delegates authority and challenges you as a coach. But then he makes it fun also, so he's a dream come true, really. I feel honored to be working for him and USC."

Sarkisian will call the offensive plays on Saturday against Fresno State, so how has that changed or added to Helton's responsibilities as offensive coordinator?

"My role as offensive coordinator is help Coach Sark in any way I can," said Helton, now in his fifth season as the Trojans quarterback coach.

"Whether it's from organizational like the organizing of practices, helping in the game planning, seeing what's going on from upstairs in the (press) box and letting him know what's going on with the defense to make the proper play calls, to giving him some suggestions after a series to where we might want to go."

Since Helton has some extensive knowledge of Fresno State from last season's bowl game encounter, does he consider it an advantage or disadvantage?

"I'll tell you what, I think the biggest you gain as an advantage is that it goes both ways," said Helton, son of former assistant collegiate and NFL coach Kim Helton.

"You actually know Fresno State's personnel now and you know their safety No. 13 (Derron Smith) is a heck of a football player. You can figure out the areas you may want to attack, and the areas that are some of their strengths that you'd better prepare for. Yeah, it does help you out when you play a common opponent year after year."

It could be said that playing the Bulldogs in back-to-back seasons is much like playing a conference opponent.

"No question," said Helton, 42, the former University of Houston quarterback, who actually played against the Trojans in the Coliseum back in 1993.

Helton's thoughts, however, are not about the past. He is solely concentrating this week in making sure the Trojans understand that despite last season's shellacking of Fresno State, the Bulldogs and the Red Wave, their rabid fan base from Central California, will be coming down to L.A. looking for revenge.

"This is a really, really talented Fresno State team and coach DeRuyter has done a terrific job with them, and we know they're going to come in hungry after the bowl game and looking to prove something," Helton cautioned.

For Helton, his years as a Trojans assistant has given him time to reflect from when he arrived in Los Angeles to coach under former head coach Lane Kiffin to where he is today under Steve Sarkisian. He understands that times change, teams change, and head coaches change.

Understandably, Helton is still proud of the positive work that he and another former interim Trojans head coach from last season, Ed Orgeron, did in picking for the pieces after Lane Kiffin's firing.

Helton is genuinely pleased Sarkisian has continued to embrace, enhance, and build upon the optimistic direction of the program since the Las Vegas Bowl.

"Obviously, Coach Sark has continued that way by helping us in spring ball and training camp," Helton said. "He has really brought this team together in a very positive way and has done a terrific job, and, hopefully, it will transfer over on game day."

And heading into Saturday, Helton, thus far, is impressed by what he's seen of the 2014 Trojans.

"I am very pleased with this unit how close they are, how hard they've worked in this training camp, and the energy that they've brought to make the Trojans family proud,' Helton said. "You can feel that as a coaching staff, and we're really looking forward to getting this season started so we can show what we are."

And what the Trojans are will begin to be revealed this weekend.

Greg Katz | email

Columnist, WeAreSC.com

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