LOS ANGELES -- USC great Keyshawn Johnson was at Trojans practice Thursday to deliver a message.
"You got an opportunity to shut the nation up," the former wide receiver and current ESPN analyst told the team. "Because whenever USC goes through a little bit of [a bumpy road], you hear it. I got to talk about it. 'What's wrong with the coaching staff? What's wrong with the players?' I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about how you won at Notre Dame."
Johnson was joined by several other notable former USC players -- Willie McGinest and Keith Rivers also spoke -- plus approximately 100 students who rallied to support the team after a tumultuous week that saw Steve Sarkisian's tenure as head coach come to an end after just 18 games.
"The world will be watching to see how you respond," Johnson said. "If you respond positively, they say nothing. If you respond negatively, it's, 'He's not the guy, get him out of here, oh [crap], why don't we go get Chip Kelly, he can run the offense.'
"Enough of that. It's your opportunity to make [interim coach Clay Helton] the head coach. It starts Saturday."
At one point, Johnson asked the team if it wanted Helton, who previously served as the team's offensive coordinator, to become the head coach. The players' response, mostly through cheers, indicated they did.
"It's up to you, because I know he wants to be the head coach," Johnson said.
For Helton, who served as the team's interim coach during its win against Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2013, it was a special moment. He said Monday he would like the job full-time but understands the reality of the situation could make that difficult.
"It's very humbling. It's very humbling when you have guys out here and they see what you do and they respect you enough to say those words," Helton said. "It's extremely humbling that's about all I can say."
Since being terminated as coach after arriving to a team meeting Sunday seemingly intoxicated, Sarkisian has entered an out-of-state treatment facility, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad. However, Sarkisian took to Twitter on Wednesday evening to voice his support for USC as it prepares for No. 14 Notre Dame and thank the public for "their outpouring of support and well wishes."
USC went 12-6 under Sarkisian and will face Notre Dame under its fourth different coach in the last four years.