USC Football: Staff almost complete

The anticipation continues for USC Football even as more pieces fall into place. While head coach Steve Sarkisian has officially added more assistants to his staff, one spot still remains vacant. He did, however, finalize the roles for every filled position.

Rumors that Clay Helton would be retained after the Las Vegas Bowl were confirmed. Helton will remain offensive coordinator— at least in title— and quarterbacks coach. Tee Martin will also keep his role as receivers coach.

The new hires were Tim Drevno, Marques Tuiasosopo, Justin Wilcox and Ivan Lewis.

The positions are as follows:

Name Position
Steve Sarkisian Head Coach
Johnny Nansen Running backs/Special Teams
Clay Helton Offensive Coordinator/Quaterbacks
Tee Martin Wide Receivers
Tim Drenvo Offensive Line
Marques Tuiasosopo Tight Ends
Justin Wilcox Defensive Coordinator
Peter Sirmon Linebackers/Recruiting Coordinator
Keith Heyward Defensive Backs
VACANT Defensive Line
Ivan Lewis Strength and Conditioning

The big things to note:

The defensive line coaching position is still vacant with no news since Sarkisian claimed to be pursuing Ed Orgeron after the bowl game. Also,Tommie Robinson, Mike Summers, James Cregg, John Baxter, Aaron Ausmus, Mike Ekeler, and Clancy Pendergast were not retained.

It is unfortunate for Summers, Robinson, Ekeler, and Pendergast to be out of work just a year after starting at USC and despite helping the team finish at a decent 10-4 record. The Trojans are likely paying significant amounts for contract buyouts.

The biggest announcement was the official hiring of Justin Wilcox. Sarkisian had hinted at it for weeks, but waited until the Washington bowl game before finalizing the details.

USC Football

Justin Wilcox coaching from the sideline during a game (Photo credits: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Wilcox has moved up the ranks extremely fast. He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Boise State in 2001. He took a short stint as a linebackers coach at Cal in 2003. By 2006, just five years into his coaching career, he became a defensive coordinator back at Boise State. He moved to the SEC in 2010, coordinating the defense for the Tennessee Volunteers after Lane and Monte Kiffin left. His next stop was at Washington under Sarkisian.

Lots of media outlets have already gushed about Wilcox and his defenses. It may be tough to see why at first, but perhaps it will be more clear after close examination.

USC and Washington had very similar Pac-12 schedules, with Washington’s arguably tougher. The only difference is that Washington played Oregon instead of Utah. The Trojans and Huskies had a similar number of turnovers lost (17 and 16 respectively) and turnovers gained (23 for both), so those factors probably evened themselves out. Other factors to consider are that the Washington played alongside a hurry up offense that allows the defense less rest. Meanwhile, USC’s offense dominated in time of possession and pinned opponents inside their own 20 with punts (and they punted more than Washington) which really helped out their defense. Despite that, Washington only allowed 2.44 more points per game than USC did during their Pac-12 slate.

If Wilcox can do this with Washington level athletes, imagine what he could do with USC level athletes.

But just to temper your expectations, USC will have to deal with continued depth problems due to sanctions. The situation is worsened with the early departures of George Uko and Dion Bailey.

On to the other big hire, Drevno.

Drevno has been coaching alongside Jim Harbaugh since 2004. He was offensive coordinator and offensive line coach on the San Diego Toreros (an FCS team) and left with Harbaugh for Stanford in 2007. He coached tight ends for two years and offensive line for his final two years before following Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers in 2011.

It seems kind of strange that Drevno would leave a Super Bowl contender in the NFL to make a lateral move. He has been an offensive line coach at the FCS level, FBS level, and the NFL. Why all of a sudden move back to the college ranks?

Whatever the case, he has to be doing something right for Jim Harbaugh to bring him along at every stop on the way to the NFL. This may be one of the most welcome additions seeing as how USC has allowed about double the number of sacks (34) than they have in the previous decade (previously a high of 18 and a low of 8). If Drevno brings the toughness with which Harbaugh’s offensive line plays, the USC line should be much improved.

Sarkisian made the bold statement that he would assemble one of the “best coaching staffs in America” and so far it looks mostly like a mishmash of Washington and USC assistants. The Drevno hire was a step in the right direction, though. The pending defensive line coach will, hopefully, build on that.

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