BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – A familiar face with a championship pedigree is back on The Hill as former WKU offensive coordinator Tyson Helton, a Conference USA and Rose Bowl Champion, has been named the 21st head football coach at Western Kentucky University.
Helton, who met with his new team on Tuesday morning, will be formally introduced to the public at a Noon press conference in the Jack and Jackie Harbaugh Club at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium today.
“When determining our next head football coach, there were many qualities we felt this person must have. Certainly they needed to have an excellent football mind, but also be a tremendous person who was respected inside and outside of the locker room. We found that person in Tyson Helton,” WKU Director of Athletics Todd Stewart said. “His background as an innovative offensive mind and a great motivator of his players fit our mission to find the next great leader for our football program. We are thrilled to bring Tyson and his wonderful family back to WKU.”
“I am pleased to welcome Tyson Helton back to the WKU family,” said Western Kentucky University President Dr. Timothy Caboni. “He is an outstanding fit for Western Kentucky University and his work to build a football program that competes for championships will advance our department of athletics and enhance the national reputation of WKU.”
Helton returns to WKU three years removed from the 2015 football season which ended with WKU’s final Associated Press ranking of 24 – the highest in school history – and a school-record 12 victories, including the first-ever FBS conference championship. Helton’s tenure coincided with quarterback Brandon Doughty’s astronomical ascension up the NCAA’s career record book and total rewriting of the program’s own offensive records.
During his three years away from the program, Helton spent two seasons at the University of Southern California as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach under head coach Clay Helton. Helton developed quarterback Sam Darnold into an All-Pac-12 First Team quarterback and the No. 3 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.
In that same draft class, another of Helton’s protégés, WKU’s Mike White, was also selected in the fifth round by the Dallas Cowboys.
Helton’s work with Darnold and the Trojan offense was instrumental in the team’s run to a thrilling 52-49 victory over Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl following the 2016 season. Darnold was named the game’s offensive MVP after throwing a game-record five touchdown passes and accounting for 36 points. Darnold’s 473 yards of total offense were also a new individual record for the Rose Bowl, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious postseason college football games. The 101 combined points scored was also a new game record. Following the 2017 season in which the Trojans won the Pac-12 Conference Championship with a 31-28 victory over Stanford, Helton and Darnold helped lead the Trojans back to the postseason with a berth in the 2017 Cotton Bowl.
Immediately prior to his return to The Hill as head coach, Helton was Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s first hire on his initial coaching staff as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2018. In just one season in Knoxville, Helton developed quarterback Jarrett Guarantano into one of the Southeastern Conference’s most formidable signal callers. The redshirt sophomore followed an up-and-down freshman campaign by becoming the No. 5 ranked SEC quarterback in passing efficiency (147.8) and completion percentage (64.5). His 144 consecutive pass attempts without an interception set a new school record, and he enjoyed new career highs for completions (27), attempts (39), passing touchdowns (2), and passing yards (328) under Helton’s tutelage.
Guarantano enjoyed a week of national awards following Tennessee’s 30-24 victory over No. 21 Auburn after he threw for 328 yards on 21 of 32 passing with two touchdowns. For his efforts, Guarantano was named the Maxwell Award National Player of the Week, SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week, Manning Star of the Week, and PFF College National Team of the Week.
All of this before even mentioning Helton’s otherworldly success as WKU’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2014 and 2015 under then-head coach Jeff Brohm. WKU’s offensive numbers ranked among the nation’s elite during Helton’s two years on the staff and featured the first-ever 4,500-yard passer (Brandon Doughty) and 1,500-yard rusher (Leon Allen) in the same season in FBS history in 2014.
WKU broke more than two dozen school offensive records under Helton, including the points scored record in each of his two years. The Hilltopper offense was in the national Top 10 in 2015 in passing efficiency (1st, 177.4), scoring (3rd, 44.3), passing (4th, 372.2), first downs (8th, 349) and total yards (9th, 526.4).
In 2014, WKU became the first NCAA program with a 4,500-yard passer and 1,500-yard rusher while winning the Bahamas Bowl to finish 8-4. That season, they were second nationally in passing (374.3), fourth in total offense (534.6) and sixth in scoring offense (44.4) and first downs (351).
Helton was among four finalists for the 2015 FootballScoop.com Offensive Coordinator of the Year Award. He coached quarterback Brandon Doughty to back-to-back Conference USA MVP honors as he threw 97 touchdown passes in 2014 and 2015 (the most in NCAA history in consecutive seasons). Doughty led the nation in 2015 in completion percentage (71.9), passing touchdowns (48), passing yards (5,055) and points responsible for (304) while ranking second in passing efficiency (176.5). That came off a 2014 campaign in which he threw for national bests of 4,830 yards and 49 TDs while winning the Sammy Baugh Award from the Touchdown Club of Columbus as the nation’s top quarterback. Wide receiver Taywan Taylor ranked second in the nation in 2015 in receiving touchdowns (17) and was third in receiving yards (1,467), both school season records as was his 86 receptions. Fellow receiver Jared Dangerfield had 82 catches in 2015, second most in school history.
Helton spent the 2013 season as Cincinnati’s special teams coordinator and tight ends coach. Cincinnati set a school season total offense record (6,137 yards) as Helton coached tight end Blake Annen and kick returner Ralph David Abernathy IV to All-American Athletic Conference first team honors.
He spent the previous six seasons (2007-12) at UAB, the first five as the quarterbacks coach, and then 2012 coaching the running backs and serving as the recruiting coordinator. Under Helton’s guidance, quarterback Joe Webb developed into one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NCAA history. In 2009, when he finished sixth nationally in total offense and ninth in passing efficiency, Webb became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. The 2009 and 2010 Blazer offenses produced the two highest total offense yardage totals in UAB history, both topping 5,000 yards. Then in 2012, running back Darrin Reaves was an All-Conference USA first teamer as he ran for 1,037 yards and a school-record 13 scores.
Helton coached tight ends and special teams at Memphis for three years (2004-06). Tigers’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who established the school career scoring record, was Conference USA’s Special Teams Player of the Year in 2005 and has since won a pair of Super Bowls with the New England Patriots.
Helton began his coaching career at Hawaii for four years (2000-03), the first year as a graduate assistant working with the special teams and the final three seasons as the special teams coach. In 2001, his first as a full-time coach, the Warriors led the nation in kickoff return yardage and broke the NCAA record for season kickoff return average. Return specialist Chad Owens set NCAA game records for most combined return yardage and most kickoff return yardage and tied an NCAA record with 2 scoring kick returns in a game.
Helton played quarterback at Houston (1996-99), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 1999, after starring at Clements High in Sugar Land (Texas). His father, Kim, was the head coach at Houston during Tyson’s tenure.
Helton and his wife, April, have two daughters, Shelby Grace and Presley, and twin boys, Cole and Clay. Besides being Houston’s head coach (1993-99), his father, Kim, was an assistant in college (Florida, Miami and Alabama Birmingham), the NFL (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Raiders, Washington Redskins) and CFL (Toronto Argonauts).
THE TYSON HELTON FILE
Born: June 20, 1977
Hometown: Gainesville, Fla.
High School: Clements HS
College: Houston, `99
Children: Shelby, Presley, Cole, Clay
PLAYING CAREER (Quarterback)
High School: Clements High
College: Houston (1996-99)
2000: Hawai'i (Graduate Assistant)
2001-03: Hawai'i (Special Teams)
2004-06: Memphis (Tight Ends/Special Teams)
2007-11: UAB (Quarterbacks)
2012: UAB (Running Backs)
2013: Cincinnati (Tight Ends/Special Teams)
2014-15: WKU (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2016-17: USC (Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2018: Tennessee (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks)
2019: WKU (Head Coach)
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING ABOUT TYSON HELTON
Former WKU All-American offensive lineman Forrest Lamp on Tyson Helton:
“Coach Helton is the kind of coach who makes you feel like family. His knowledge for the game is unmatchable, but even more importantly, his passion exceeds any player or coach that I have ever had. His passion for the game and pregame speeches are what I remember most about Coach Helton other than our high scoring offense. He will literally make you want to run through a wall for him. He truly takes it upon himself to make sure we were as prepared as possible and raring to go on game day. I couldn’t think of anyone better to help take WKU to the next level.”
Former WKU quarterback Mike White on Tyson Helton:
“Coach Helton played a big role in my development during my time with him on The Hill. He helped teach me what it took to be a successful college quarterback on and off the field. He is the epitome of a vocal leader, and the locker room always rallied behind him when he was at WKU. I think Coach Helton will be a great head coach and the guys will really enjoy playing for him.”
Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt on Tyson Helton:
“Congratulations to Tyson Helton on being named the head coach at Western Kentucky. I’m grateful to Tyson for the hard work he put in this season and his help in setting the foundation for future success at the University of Tennessee. Tyson is an outstanding coach. I wish him the best and I expect he will do a great job at WKU.”
Tennessee Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer on Tyson Helton:
“I am very excited for Tyson Helton and his opportunity to become the head coach at WKU. Tyson is very well prepared to make this transition and has a great pedigree. His experience will serve him well, and he’ll do an outstanding job. Tyson has a great demeanor and a way with people, and his integrity is beyond reproach. His work ethic and people skills are tremendous. As a head coach, you have to be comfortable in any kind of situation, whether it be in recruiting or with donors selling the program, and I think he will do a great job in those areas.”