LOS ANGELES (AP) — USC coach Clay Helton fired four of the Trojans’ assistant coaches Sunday night, including defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Helton made the moves six days after the interim tag was removed from his title, and one day after the Trojans (8-5) lost 41-22 to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game.
Helton also fired defensive backs coach Keith Heyward, defensive line coach Chris Wilson and offensive line coach Bob Connelly. Wilcox and Heyward were among several assistants who left Washington for USC along with Steve Sarkisian after the 2013 season, while Helton had been an assistant at USC since 2010.
“Each of these men are outstanding men and outstanding coaches,” Helton said. “At this point in time I made the decision to go in a different direction, but these are quality individuals that I have the highest respect for.”
USC also accepted a berth in the Holiday Bowl on Sunday, agreeing to face Wisconsin on Dec. 30.
Helton said he didn’t wait until after the bowl game to begin reshaping Sarkisian’s former staff because “I wanted to give them the best opportunity to move forward with their career.”
Helton was the Trojans’ offensive coordinator until Sarkisian was fired in October, and he led USC to a 5-3 finish.
Although Helton could make quick hires, he has made plans to have a short staff while the Trojans prepare for their second straight postseason trip to San Diego to face a dangerous 9-3 Badgers team. Among the coaches retained by USC are tight ends and quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo, who also followed Sarkisian from Washington, and receivers coach Tee Martin, a standout recruiter and fellow Kiffin holdover.
Helton is confident USC will prepare well for the Holiday Bowl with its current coaches and graduate assistants, although he didn’t immediately designate a defensive coordinator. He also didn’t set a timetable for hiring new assistant coaches, noting that his staff plans to spend next week out recruiting.
“I will take my time and due diligence to get the best coaches in to reach our goal of winning a national championship,” Helton said. “I’ll be looking at all avenues, several coaches. You get the opportunity to be head coach at USC one time, and we want to get it right.”
Helton was hired as an assistant at USC by Lane Kiffin six years ago, working as the quarterbacks coach before becoming the Trojans’ offensive coordinator in 2013. After serving as the interim head coach for the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl, he stayed on Sarkisian’s staff as the coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Wilcox has been a defensive coordinator at four schools since 2006, coaching at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington and USC. His defense has been roundly criticized by USC’s demanding fans this season when it struggled against prolific offenses despite its wealth of five-star talent.
Connelly spent just one year working with Helton after coaching the offensive line at Oklahoma State in 2014. Wilson is a veteran defensive line coach who left Georgia to join Sarkisian’s first staff last season.
Helton served as his own offensive coordinator and still called the Trojans’ plays after his promotion this season, but he said that will change in 2016. He plans to hire an offensive coordinator who will call plays, allowing Helton to be “a head football coach and a CEO of a football team,” he said.
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