Georgia Southern athletics director Jared Benko has found his man, but had to go all the way to California to find him. The Eagles are expected to officially announce the hiring of head coach Clay Helton in the next few days as the replacement for Chad Lunsford who was let go on September 26.
“I am very humbled to be named the head football coach at Georgia Southern University,” Helton said. “Thank you to President Marrero, Athletic Director Jared Benko, the search committee and the entire Georgia Southern family for this amazing opportunity. This football program represents a tradition of excellence spread over the past 40 years but has won six national championships and three bowl games in that short amount of time. The passion and love its alumni and fans have for the University are second to none. Georgia Southern has always prided itself on the highest levels of success, and I welcome those expectations. We will have a staff and a team representing the toughness, discipline and GATA mentality on which this program was founded. I cannot wait to get started to build a football program that is consistently winning championships and is the platinum standard of college football on a national scale.”
A press conference is expected this week to make things official, but the terms of his contract will be an average salary of $800,000 over five years according to Benko.
“What a great day for Eagle Nation with the announcement of Clay Helton as the new head coach of Georgia Southern football,” Benko said. “Clay is renowned for not only his coaching abilities but for the person that he is. He’s an elite offensive mind who has produced record-setting offenses and high NFL Draft picks everywhere he’s coached. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Clay throughout this process, and I know he’s committed like I am to the holistic development athletically, academically and socially of all of our student-athletes. He also takes great pride in producing men of character and future leaders. During this interview process, Clay demonstrated a thorough understanding of what it takes to be not only to be a head coach but to win at an elite level and he is the best choice to lead our football program here at Georgia Southern.”
Helton was fired after only two games this year as the Trojans were 1-1. Oddly enough there are many parallels to Lunsford’s tenure at Georgia Southern. Helton served as interim head coach at USC before being promoted to full-time head coach late in 2015.
The 49-year-old Helton went 46-24 (.657) as the head coach of the USC Trojans while leading them to three conference championship games and 12 victories over AP Top 25 teams, including three in the Top 5 and four in the Top 10. He went 5-1 in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season and was 8-5 in 2019 with wins over No. 23 Stanford and No. 10 Utah. Helton went 11-3 in 2017 with wins over No. 14 Stanford twice (including in the Pac-12 Championship Game) and No. 23 Arizona, and went 10-3 in 2016 with wins over No. 4 Washington, No. 5 Penn State in a legendary Rose Bowl thriller and No. 21 Colorado.
Helton had two years left on his contract when fired at USC and was owed $10 million. Typically that amount is forfeited or at least decreased considerably when a coach takes a new job.
Prior to arriving at USC Helton served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Memphis from 2007-09. He was wider receiver coach at Memphis from 2003-06. Before that Helton was running backs coach at Houston and Duke where he also served as a graduate assistant.
Helton played quarterback collegiately at Auburn from 1990-92 and transferred to Houston for the 1993-94 season.
No terms as to the salary base for assistant coaches has been announced.