The ink is dry and the USC football staff has finalized its staff roster. Here's a rundown of who's out, who's in and the final verdict on what head coach Lane Kiffin calls the "reconstruction of our staff."
Out: Monte Kiffin, defensive coordinator
In: Clancy Pendergast, defensive coordinator (via Cal)
Out: Scottie Hazleton, linebackers coach
In: Mike Ekeler, linebackers coach (via Indiana)
Out: Marvin Sanders, defensive backs coach
In: No hired replacement
Out: Kennedy Polamalu, offensive coordinator/running backs coach
In: Clay Helton, offensive coordinator, (USC quarterbacks coach)
In: Tommie Robinson, running backs coach/passing game coordinator, (via Arizona Cardinals)
In: Mike Summers, co-offensive line coach/run game coordinator (via Western Kentucky)
Added responsibilities: John Baxter, current special teams coordinator, will also coach tight ends.
Since Ed Orgeron is the defensive line coach and Ekeler is the linebackers coach, it seems strange that there is no secondary coach, especially considering how poorly the secondary performed in Monte Kiffin's defense last season.
Multiple reports indicate that USC will go from a 4-3 defensive scheme (four down linemen, three linebackers in the box) to a 5-2 (five down linemen, two linebackers in the box). Obviously, this defense is designed to stop the run and with the way the Pac-12 has evolved over the last few years, this might be a good move.
How would you grade Kiffin's new staff?
Oregon and Stanford both have very strong running games and both teams went BCS bowling last season so this change in scheme makes sense. Against a team like Washington State, obviously this scheme won't work very well and will have to be tweaked to a 3-4. But here is an interesting question: What if the change in scheme doesn't improve USC's defense from last year's unit that went 7-6 ?
Unfortunately, it may result in a complete staff overhaul, including head coach Lane Kiffin, since Monte is now longer around as the scapegoat.
And perhaps that's why Kiffin struggled to find an outside hire for his offensive coordinator—who wants to risk taking a job that may only last one year? Remember, when a head coach is let go, his staff is usually not retained by the incoming head coach.
There's also this: Could Kiffin's insistence in calling the plays be scaring away good offensive coordinator prospects?
Nobody knows if Kiffin is the play caller this year—there has been no announcement on whether or not the play-calling duties have been handed off to new offensive coordinator Clay Helton.
But unless Helton is involved with the play calls on game day, his title is a paper title only which doesn't bode well for his potential advancement/promotion at another school. Why would an up-and-coming offensive coordinator come to USC? Even if he did, as long as Kiffin is calling the plays, his résumé is not nearly impressive as the resumes of other coordinators who have been play callers.
This brings up another question: If the team improves but the play-calling and clock management are still suspect, would Kiffin still be on the hot seat?
It would be a stretch to think that Haden would not retain Kiffin after his fourth year because Kiffin has been mostly operating under scholarship restrictions—hard as it may be for Notre Dame and UCLA fans to swallow, both of their teams beat a USC team well into its 75-scholarship sanctions. While many fans are frustrated with his vanilla play calling and at times puzzling clock management, they can't be unhappy with the talent that Kiffin & Co. have brought in.
So is this current staff set? Frankly, I see room for change.
The secondary is too important of a unit to be without its own specific coach. While Baxter is experienced working with tight ends, I can't see tight ends getting coaching priority over defensive backs when there's an open spot for the secondary coach.
Either Kiffin feels that the secondary will improve by virtue of the elder Kiffin no longer in charge of the defense or he couldn't get the secondary coach he wanted so he didn't fill it. Why have two guys coaching the O-line (James Cregg and new hire Mike Summers) while not hiring an assistant coach for the defensive backs?
Was there a problem convincing a defensive back coach to come coach at a school still on probation, still serving out NCAA sanctions and still under investigation by the NCAA?
There's also a question of whether or not Kiffin should be calling the plays—it's not difficult to understand why a coach would be oblivious to a ticking clock when his head is buried in a play call sheet. That's a problem that won't go away—compounding that is an eerie sense of detachment that Kiffin exudes while involved in play-calling duties.
He's on Kiffin Island—alone, isolated and having little eye-to-eye contact with humans around him. Shouldn't the head coach be macro-managing instead of micro-managing?
Maybe this all gets fixed this year.
If it doesn't get fixed, one of two scenarios may happen.
One scenario looks like we can count on at least one more assistant coach for the defensive backs and Clay Helton—if he's qualified—calling the plays in 2014, perhaps even this year if things go badly early in the fall.
And of course, we don't have to explain what that other scenario is.