USC Football: Assistant Examination

For those who have been living under a rock, Steve Sarkisian has been hired as USC Football’s new head coach— and he did not leave Washington alone. He, so far, brought along three of his assistants: Johnny Nansen, Peter Sirmon, and Keith Heyward. No doubt they are strangers to many Trojan fans.

Assistants play a vital role in the success of a program. Just look back at USC’s 2009 team. Pete Carroll lost both his offensive and defensive coordinator going from 2008 to 2009 and it showed— Carroll lost the most games since his first season with the Trojans including two of his largest margins of loss. Of course, there were other factors, but losing two of the most important assistant positions was a significant loss.

So far, Sarkisian has only officially retained Tee Martin from the USC staff and brought Sirmon, Nansen, and Heyward from Washington. According to the NCAA bylaws, teams are restricted to one head coach and nine assistant coaches. That means that Sarkisian has yet to fill five of those slots. At that point, he would likely finalize and assign each individual coach’s responsibilities. For guys like Sirmon and Heyward, it may be more obvious, but for someone like Nansen, it would probably depend on the rest of those who are hired.

Meanwhile, you can get better acquainted with the new staff through their playing and coaching background. They combine for over 30 years of coaching experience.

Johnny Nansen has coached a plethora of positions on both offense and defense. At Washington alone, he had five different positions during his time there.

Playing Career
Quarterback- Long Beach Jordan High
Linebacker- Washington State 1994-1996

Coaching Career
Defensive Coordinator- Long Beach Cabrillo High 1998
Graduate Assistant Defensive Line)- Louisville 1999
Running Backs Coach- Montana 2000
Cornerbacks Coach- Idaho State 2001-2002
Secondary Coach- Idaho State 2003
Linebackers, Defensive Line, Special Teams- Idaho 2004-2008
Special Teams Coordinator- Washington 2009-2013
Recruiting Coordinator- Washington 2009-2012
Defensive Line Coach- Washington 2009-2011
Assistant Head Coach- Washington 2012-2013
Running Backs Coach- Washington 2013

Keith Heyward had some particularly interesting stops in his pro football career. Undoubtedly, that has given him lots of experience and perspective in different areas. Heyward would probably end up as a dedicated secondary coach, which USC has not had since they let Marvin Sanders go at the end of the 2012 season.

Playing Career
Taft High
Cornerback- Oregon State 1997-2000
Defensive Back- BC Lions (CFL), Scottish Claymores (NFL Europe), L.A. Avengers (AFL)

Coaching Career
Graduate Assistant (Cornerbacks ’05, Defensive Line ’06)- Oregon State 2005-2006
Linebackers Coach- Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 2007
Secondary Coach- Oregon State 2008-2011
Secondary Coach- Washington 2012-2013

USC Football

Peter Sirmon during his playing days with the Tennessee Titans (Photo credits: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Peter Sirmon has spent the most time playing the game at the pro level out of the three of all the coaches. He spent quite a few seasons in the NFL before starting his coaching career in 2008. He will likely continue to be a linebacker coach.

Playing Career
Walla Walla High
Linebacker- Oregon 1996-1999
Linebacker- Tennessee Titans 2000-2006

Coaching Career
Linebackers Coach- Central Washington 2008
Graduate Assistant- Oregon 2009
Graduate Assistant (Safeties)- Tennessee 2010
Linebackers Coach- Tennessee 2011
Linebackers Coach- Washington 2012-2013
Recruiting Coordinator- Washington 2013

Little news can be found on them, while their careers have been upwardly mobile. This is probably a good sign. They are not followed by controversy or big headlines.They can advance their careers without causing a stir, which should be much needed respite after, whether justified or not, former head coach Lane Kiffin was mired in such stirs.

Going forward, Trojan fans are probably anticipating announcement of the defensive coordinator and offensive line coach the most. The official hiring of the remaining assistant coaches should take place well before signing day.