Many sons follow their fathers into the family business. The Helton family is not unusual in that regard, the only thing a little different is the family business is coaching.
Georgia Southern head coach Clay Helton and his brother Tyson who is the head coach at Western Kentucky were born into coaching as they followed their father the legendary coach Kim Helton around to his various coaching stops
Coach Kim Helton has had success on every level of football. After a brief stint at Eastside high school in Gainesville Helton took over as offensive line coach at Florida at the age of 23. In 1979 at age 29 he was hired by Howard Schnellenberger as Miami’s offensive coordinator.
From Miami Helton spent over 10 years coaching in the NFL for Tampa, Houston and Los Angeles. In 1993 Helton accepted the head coaching position at the University of Houston where he remained for the next seven years. Helton returned to the NFL with the Washington Redskins and spent his final five seasons as offensive coordinator at UAB.
Clay Helton has said he feels a family atmosphere at Georgia Southern and Tuesday that was literally the case as his father visited with him at practice on the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek.
“He has been my mentor and hero and having him here today is so special,” said Helton. “We don't get him out very often but when he is here and can help coach our coaches with the kind of wisdom and knowledge he has is so special.”
Kim Helton joined his son at his hiring press conference but this was the first time he’s been at a Georgia Southern practice with his son in charge. He says he didn’t offer any advice on whether or not to take the Georgia Southern job, but feels like he made the right decision on his own.
“This is a great college town with a wonderful football tradition,” said coach Kim Helton. “Any time you can go somewhere with tradition and passion is a really good thing. I think his goal is to turn things back to where they were at one time here. I think it’s like a honeymoon here now and you hope it turns into a marriage and he’s doing all he can to make that happen. I am really impressed by the staff he has put together here.”
Many people think of Clay Helton as a west coast guy as he spent over 10 years at USC, but Helton has spent the majority of his coaching life in the south, as well as growing up in Florida.
“I was born in Gainsville Florida and most of my family is in the southeast,” said Helton. “To be back in this area of the country is special for me and my wife. To be a part of a community like this is great. You look around practice and you see all the people out here watching with alumni and fans and recruits. It’s kind of like an NFL training camp vibe as there have been up to 200 or more people at some of our practices. That provides great energy for our players.”
Helton’s father is on his way up to visit his brother Tyson at Western Kentucky where he will probably stop in at his practice and give him some notes as well.
“He has an iPad and can watch both our practices,” said Helton. “He is always giving us his thoughts and I can sometimes find pages of notes after a session. He has always been there for me and my brother each and every day.”
Kim Helton was familiar with Georgia Southern if for no other reason his ties with legendary head coach Erk Russell whom he squared off with on various occasions.
“Coach Russell was one of my all-time favorite coaches,” said Helton. “I was a 23-year-old coach at the University of Florida in 1973 and we played his Georgia Bulldogs a few times. I always appreciated how tough his defenses were while I was trying to get our offensive line ready for them.”
While the future is still uncertain as to the success of the Georgia Southern football program there is one thing that coach Kim Helton can see in the present time as far as where his son Clay is.
“He is happy,” said Helton. “That is the biggest thing that I can tell.”