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Inside Georgia Southern's bold move to hire former USC Trojans coach Clay Helton

Helton was fired this season by the Trojans, and the Eagles earlier fired Chad Lunsford
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That didn't take long – for either side.

Georgia Southern is finalizing a deal with Clay Helton to be its next football coach, multiple sources told FootballScoop. Pete Thamel first reported Helton's impending hire at Georgia Southern, which in September fired Chad Lunsford after the Eagles' slow start.

Helton similarly was fired at University of Southern California early in the season after the Trojans' disappointing start.

GSU athletics director Jared Benko made the move to hire Helton -- an intriguing switch for the Eagles on two fronts.

First, Helton arrives in Statesboro, Georgia, after having served atop one of the sport's most visible programs in one of its largest media markets, Los Angeles.

Helton also is considered a strong offensive mind with a knack for developing pro-style quarterbacks.

Additionally, Georgia Southern long has been a triple-option team.

Long-time Eagles' boosters and supporters, understandably with visions of the program's former glory days as an Football Championship Subdivision power that won multiple national championships, strongly preferred to maintain that triple-option heritage in the program.

Specifically, there was a block of GSU supporters who preferred the program work to hire either Army offensive coordinator Brent Davis or Kennesaw State head coach Brian Bohannon.

Benko, however, had a far grander vision - and made strong headway in GSU's pursuit of Helton in late-October.

Sources had told FootballScoop on October 25 that Benko and Helton had talked in-depth about the position atop the Eagles' program.

That's when, per people with direct knowledge of the situation at Georgia Southern, "old-timers still want the triple-option, but Benko, who's been in the SEC, wants modern football and is working to make that happen."

Benko, along with GSU President Dr. Kyle Marrero, worked relentlessly to aide GSU in securing a new home for its basketball program, the under-construction Jack and Ruth Ann Hill Convocation Center.

Both Marrero and Benko are early in the their respective terms at Georgia Southern -- hired in 2019 and 2020, respectively -- and working to elevate the school's facilities and profile amidst college athletics' ever-changing landscape.

Helton also is returning far closer to his Southern roots. A Gainesville, Florida, native who spent the first two years of his playing career at Auburn University before he finished at Houston, Helton primarily coached in the South -- Duke, Houston and a long run at Memphis -- before logging a decade-plus at USC.

An ACC coach last week told FootballScoop, "The (GSU) A.D. wants to go Power 5 (for the football hire). Every move he's made as been from a Power 5 school and that's the way he wants to go to build."

Helton, with what sources told FootballScoop was a buyout from USC in the $10 million range, is expected to receive a five-year deal to run a GSU program that's just three years removed from a 10-win season under Lunsford and coming off three consecutive bowl appearances, two of them wins including last season's 38-3 throttling of Louisiana Tech in the New Orleans Bowl.

Helton's USC teams logged appearances in some of college football's biggest postseason events, including back-to-back New Year's Six bowl appearances in the Rose and Cotton bowls, respectively, after the 2016-17 regular seasons.

Sources tell FootballScoop Helton's deal with Georgia Southern will run 5 years and is expected to be for approximately $4 million in total. 


Update> The deal is done.