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USC Football: Will Offseason Staff Shakeup Save Lane Kiffin?

Rick McMahanSenior Writer IMarch 3, 2013

USC Football: Will Offseason Staff Shakeup Save Lane Kiffin?

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    As the 2013 college football season approaches, the USC Trojans and their coaching staff will be under the microscope with both their fanbase and school administration focusing on serious improvement after last year's disappointing 7-6 effort.

    And no one is feeling the heat more than their embattled head coach, Lane Kiffin.

    Though he has the support—for the time being—of his athletic director, Pat Haden, Kiffin is fully aware of his need to produce in 2013, and to that end, he has orchestrated a coaching makeover in an attempt to turn the men of Troy around.

    But will those coaching changes be enough to save Kiffin's job beyond this year?

    This slideshow will look at those changes and assess how effective they will be in improving the Trojans in 2013.

    Kiffin has rolled the dice with this new staff...now let's see if it will pay off.

Linebackers Coach Mike Ekeler Replacing Scottie Hazelton

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    One the Trojan units that took a step back in 2012 was that of the linebackers.

    In 2011, this group was on the rise with a strong performance turned in by the young trio of Lamar Dawson in the middle, Dion Bailey on the inside and Hayes Pullard on the outside.

    Coached that year by Joe Barry, who left to coach the San Diego Chargers, the linebackers were expected to be even better in 2012, and new coach Scottie Hazelton was to be the recipient of all that talent.

    However, that was not the case as the unit took a significant step backward in 2012 and Hazelton left for greener pastures as the new defensive coordinator for the Nevada Wolfpack.

    Enter Mike Ekeler as USC's new linebackers coach, who brings a sterling reputation to the position.

    Well respected throughout college football, Ekeler is a dynamic young coach whose experience includes learning defense under Bo Pelini at Nebraska among other stops at LSU and Oklahoma.

    Factor in Ekeler's recruiting prowess and this move can only benefit Kiffin in 2013.

    Analysis: Ekeler is a serious upgrade

Tight Ends Coach John Baxter Replacing Justin Mesa

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    It is difficult to assess the job that graduate assistant Justin Mesa did with the tight ends since this unit was often strangely absent from the game plan in 2012.

    Despite possessing one of the finest groups of athletes at this position in the nation, they were usually not a significant part of the passing attack, although they held their own in the blocking portion of their responsibilities.

    Due to NCAA requirements which stipulate restrictions on how long a graduate assistant can remain with the team, Mesa has been replaced by John Baxter, who also carries the assistant head coach and special teams coordinator titles as part of his duties.

    However, Baxter has many years of experience coaching tight ends as well, and his ability to have the ear of Lane Kiffin should translate into a much larger role for Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick in the passing game.

    Analysis: Upgrade

Mike Summers Joining James Cregg as Offensive Line Coach

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    Another unit that took a major step back in 2012 was the offensive line group.

    Of course, losing left tackle Matt Kalil to graduation didn't help matters at all and there were some injuries—most notably to center Khaled Holmes—that also contributed to the woes that offensive line coach James Cregg's unit experienced last year.

    Still, inconsistency along the line and the slow development of Aundrey Walker—who took over for Kalil—necessitated a shake-up with this unit and to that end, Cregg will receive help from new hire, Mike Summers.

    Summers, who will also assume the title of running game coordinator in addition to co-offensive line coach, comes to USC after stints as O-line coach at Arkansas and Louisville along with a stay with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

    Summers is a fine coach, and having extra attention offered to an inconsistent group of "big uglies" can only produce positive results.

    Analysis: Significant Upgrade

Running Backs Coach Tommie Robinson Replacing Kennedy Polamalu

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    How—and perhaps more importantly—why do you replace one of the most popular USC coaches on the staff?

    Yet, that is exactly the situation Lane Kiffin left himself when he unceremoniously gave offensive coordinator and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu the heave-ho shortly after national letter of intent signing day.

    Reasons for the move have run the gamut of Kiffin simply wanting to go another direction, to an irreconcilable personality clash that culminated in a pre-Sun Bowl dust-up between the two.

    Whatever the case, Polamalu is now gone and the unenviable task of replacing him falls to Tommie Robinson, most recently the running backs coach for the Arizona Cardinals.

    Robinson is a well-respected coach who has also made stops at Miami and Oklahoma State among others.

    So far, Robinson has made a good impression, but it remains to be seen how effective he will be.

    Analysis: Downgrade, at least for the time being

Defensive Backs Coach Clancy Pendergast Replacing Marvin Sanders

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    Another of those moves that is somewhat confusing, although when examined closely, it makes sense.

    Marvin Sanders only coached one year at USC and the results were mixed at best, with the Trojans finishing the 2012 campaign ranked 52nd nationally in pass defense.

    On the other hand, though, the Trojans did improve in passes intercepted, finishing tied for ninth in the nation with 19 picks.

    In the final analysis, the statistics may be coincidental because when Clancy Pendergast was hired as defensive coordinator, it was almost for certain that along with that job, would come the defensive back coaching responsibilities.

    And by all accounts, Pendergast is a very good d-backs coach too, but more importantly, in implementing his 3-4 defense, Pendergast must have his secondary on board in all facets of the scheme.

    As long as he can juggle both jobs effectively, this should be a good move for the Trojans.

    Analysis: Upgrade

Offensive Coordinator Clay Helton Replacing Kennedy Polamalu

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    Forgive Trojan fans if they are somewhat suspicious of Lane Kiffin's move to replace Kennedy Polamalu as offensive coordinator with quarterbacks coach Clay Helton.

    Those same fans might point to the promotion of Helton as a sign of more to come of Kiffin running the offense, and while that may be true, others who are more charitable think that Helton will actually take on a more important role in crafting the offense.

    Helton did have increased input last year in the offense, and if Kiffin is truly willing to listen to another voice, in giving up some responsibility in that area, he may find additional time to take care of other facets of the program which demand his attention.

    What is for certain is that this move did not placate the Kiffin haters, and as such, the pressure remains on the head coach to produce in 2013 on that side of the ball.

    Analysis: Lateral move as of now but this might change if Helton does indeed call his own plays.

Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast Replacing Monte Kiffin

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    I can't even fathom how difficult the conversation between father and son was that resulted in Monte Kiffin resigning from his defensive coordinator position with the Trojans.

    As tough as it had to be, it also was a necessary move and one that had to be made after USC's defense sank to historic lows in 2012.

    With a need to slow down the variety of spread offenses found in the Pac-12, Kiffin will turn to former Cal coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who has an impressive track record in doing just that.

    Cal struggled last year with a very young squad, but in 2010 and 2011, Pendergast guided one of the most effective defenses in the conference.

    What is for sure is that Pendergast will have much better athletes to work with at USC, and if he can get them to buy in to his 3-4 (and 5-2) scheme, the Trojans will be much improved in 2013.

    Analysis: Pendergast represents a significant upgrade

Conclusion

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    Sitting on the hottest seat in the conference—and perhaps the nation—Lane Kiffin has pulled out all of the stops in an effort to turn the Trojans around in 2013.

    On the coaching staff, only Tee Martin (wide receivers coach) and Aaron Ausmus (strength and conditioning coach) retain the same titles and duties that they had in 2012.

    With these changes, it is hoped that the Trojans will recapture some of the magic they enjoyed under Pete Carroll in the first decade of the new century.

    At first glance, the changes—for the most part—seem to be well thought out and will benefit USC in the upcoming season.

    And they better, or Lane Kiffin will be seeking employment elsewhere in 2014.

    Analysis: Overall, the staff has experienced an upgrade since 2012 and this will save Kiffin's job.

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