USC is attempting some sort of a makeover on offense.
Coach Clay Helton will take over play-calling duties for the rest of the season, and offensive line coach Neil Callaway has been fired, the school announced Monday.
Tee Martin will remain as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator, though in a reduced role, “assisting with the weekly organization of the practice and game plan and assisting on game days as Helton calls plays,” according to a press release. Martin is also the team’s wide receivers coach.
“I felt it was an appropriate time to become more involved in the offense as we continue to develop our team for the future,” Helton said in a statement. “Tee and I have had conversations about this decision and he was supportive. He has done a tremendous job here. He will stay involved with the offense as he remains the offensive coordinator, helps put together our practice and game plans and serves as my offensive eyes during games.”
In place of Callaway, running backs coach Tim Drevno will also coach the offensive line along with help from graduate assistants. Drevno was previously the offensive line coach at USC in 2014.
The timing of the shakeup was unexpected.
When asked about making potential changes on his staff during a Sunday teleconference with reporters, Helton said he would evaluate things at the end of the season.
“When we get done with these last four games, I’ll evaluate everything and see what we need to do, but right now, I’m more focused on trying to beat Oregon State,” Helton said, referencing the Trojans’ upcoming opponent for Saturday.
Helton meets with athletic director Lynn Swann on Mondays.
With a 38-35 defeat to Arizona State on Saturday, their second straight loss, the Trojans dropped to 4-4 overall and 3-3 in Pac-12 play, marking the first time since 2001 that they will enter November without a winning record.
Through eight games, the Trojans ranked 103rd in the nation in total offense, averaging 364 yards per game, as they have struggled to replace star quarterback Sam Darnold, who left early for the NFL. Darnold became the school’s first-ever 4,000-yard passer last season and was 20-4 as the starter, leading the USC to its first Pac-12 title since 2008 last fall.
With Darnold last season, the Trojans ranked 13th in the nation in total offense.
Freshman JT Daniels took over for Darnold behind center to start this season until he was sidelined with a concussion in a loss at Utah on Oct. 21. Third-string passer Jack Sears, a redshirt freshman, started against the Sun Devils in place of Daniels, who was not available for the game. Daniels will remain the starter when healthy, but had not been medically cleared as of this weekend.
Helton was not made available to speak with reporters on Monday about the staff changes.
As the play-caller, Helton will return to a role he held previously with the Trojans. He was previously the offensive coordinator under former coaches Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin. He also handled play-calling duties under Sarkisian in 2015 and under interim coach Ed Orgeron in 2013.
Helton tapped Martin as the offensive coordinator for his initial staff in 2016, and Martin signed a multi-year contract extension in February. Terms of the contract were not released.
Early in the season, Helton said Martin handled most of the play-calling duties, noting “Tee’s calling it all.” In his first two seasons, Martin was assisted by Tyson Helton, the younger brother of Helton who was the team’s passing game coordinator before he left to become the offensive coordinator at Tennessee.
Martin, a former BCS national championship-winning quarterback at Tennessee in the late 1990s, first joined USC as an assistant under Kiffin in 2012 and was then retained by Sarkisian and Helton.
Callaway, 62, was also hired as a part of Helton’s initial staff in 2016 and previously coached alongside Helton’s father, Kim. When Callaway was the head coach at Alabama-Birmingham from 2007 until 2011, Kim served as his offensive coordinator. When Kim was the head coach at Houston in the mid-1990s, Callaway was also on staff as offensive coordinator for four seasons.
Both Helton and Callaway are close, and Helton has in the past described Callaway as a second father.
“I want to thank Neil for all his hard work at USC,” Helton said in his statement. “He is an outstanding coach and a great friend. I wish him nothing but the best in the future.”
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