USC hires Clay Helton as permanent coach

— -- USC hired Clay Helton as its head coach, signing him to a multiyear contract Monday after he guided the Trojans to a 5-2 mark as the interim coach.

A source told ESPN's Brett McMurphy that Helton received a three-year deal, and the contract includes incentives for a two-year option if he attains certain goals.

"After weeks of searching the collegiate and pro ranks, interviewing candidates, and speaking with head coaches, athletic directors, NFL executives, and very knowledgeable football people, and after observing Clay in action the past seven weeks, it became abundantly clear that what we were searching for in a coach was right here in front of us," athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement.

"Choosing a coach is an inexact science. In Clay's case, there is exactness. We have a man with unquestioned integrity. He is a fantastic person and he is real. Clay is a leader of young men. He is a terrific communicator. He brings high character, stability, continuity, consistency, toughness and resiliency to our program."

A source told McMurphy that USC never talked with Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, but school officials did have discussions with a representative of FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano -- along with other current NFL coaches and assistants.

The Trojans (8-4)  beat UCLA 40-21 on Saturday to win the Pac-12 South and clinch a spot in the conference title game against Stanford.

The 43-year-old Helton, who has been an assistant with USC since 2010, assumed the interim coach title after USC fired Steve Sarkisian in October. He also was put into that role after Ed Orgeron resigned prior to the Las Vegas Bowl in 2013, and he led Memphis for nearly the entire offseason in 2006 while then-coach Tommy West dealt with health issues.

"I am extremely humbled," Helton said in a statement. "During my six years here, I have learned the standard of excellence that it takes to be a Trojan. I understand the expectations of this great university and welcome the challenge. I am so proud to have the chance to lead what I feel is the pinnacle of college football and to represent our Trojan Family."

Haden said beating UCLA was not the reason Helton was hired.

"He was not hired because many current and former players voiced their support for him. And he was not hired because he is a Trojan. He is our choice because we believe he can win Pac-12 and national championships here. Clay Helton is the right man at the right time for the USC football program," Haden said.

Since Helton took over, USC has victories against two Top 25 teams in the AP poll (Utah and UCLA) and the Trojans have outrushed opponents in each game and have been plus-9 in turnovers.

"He earned this opportunity," Haden said. "He has been positive and upbeat handling adversity. He was built to be a head coach. Football is his family business. He is a coach on the rise and he will be coaching a team on the rise. As our interim head coach, Clay brought back USC's style of physical football. I have been impressed with how hard and how inspired our team has played for him, as well as the support they have shown for him."

Former USC coach Pete Carroll, who now coaches the NFL's  Seattle Seahawks, tweeted his excitement over the news.

Helton's promotion takes one of the best jobs in the country off the market during what has been an already active season for coaching changes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.