USC Coaching Carousel: Top 10 Landing Spots for Clancy Pendergast
The prolonged quiet surrounding Clancy Pendergast's future at USC was disconcerting.
Ed Orgeron hardly grunted a syllable before Pat Haden officially replaced him with Steve Sarkisian following the UCLA letdown. After neutralizing Fresno State and its nation-leading passing attack, however, it seemed as though what happened in Vegas actually stayed there—with Pendergast abandoned at the buffet to ultimately be replaced by Justin Wilcox.
CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman first broke the imminent news that Sark's man from Washington is in, and USC's one-year defensive coordinator is out. With the forte of this new regime being offense, one would imagine stability and proven success being prioritized and maintained on the other side of the football. Incoming coaches package their staffs like an elementary school dodgeball draft at recess, but Pendergast's 5-2 scheme resurrected a Trojans defense that couldn't tackle a Song Girl or Stanford Tree in 2012.
Rather than reflecting on the emergence of freshman Su'a Cravens and All-American Leonard Williams or on his players' 35 sacks and No. 2 red-zone defense, Pendergast will now spend his New Year's Eve asking himself, "Where to next?"
From his Super Bowl berth with the 2008 Arizona Cardinals to this 2013 campaign, the Phoenix native remains an unpublicized commodity who still struggles to maintain a job. Whether at the collegiate or professional level, his resume should warrant high demand and a hand-picked breakout opportunity.
In lieu of Bowl casualties and the NFL's Black Monday aftermath, what is an ideal fit for Pendergast, and which teams should heavily pursue him? Is he comfortable remaining in the college football landscape, willing to relocate within the Pac-12 or upper echelon of programs? How perturbing is that itch to prove himself again in the big leagues?
Allow B/R to reward Pendergast’s semester with a belated stocking of interviews.
There are a few positions readily available at schools that protested against Belk and Beef O’ Brady’s nomenclature with mediocre records.
Connecticut’s new head coach Bob Diaco (previously Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator) shared in an interview with Matt Fortuna on Dec. 19 how "the barometer is to add people to the organization that fit with my ideologies." Pendergast can match those championship-caliber morals and feature aggressive linebackers in their combined strategy, as he transformed defensive captain Hayes Pullard into the Trojans' emotional leader and leading tackler (according to cfbstats.com), but playing in Storrs comes nowhere close to South Bend, so that sell would be hard for Diaco.
Hawaii’s “Island of Misfit USC Coordinators” calls for an interesting pairing as well. Southern California’s former offensive guru Norm Chow was greeted and dole-whipped by Pendergast’s defense earlier this season with four interceptions. Combining their talents creates fireworks on paper, but Chow’s necessity is a desperate last resort for Pendergast.
At 7-5, Toledo’s No. 14 rushing offense was one victory away from a bowl bid. A strong yet interdependent defense can help transfer those running numbers to the time-of-possesion battle (in which the Rockets ranked tied for 63rd), should he elect to join the mid-level MAC that is 0-4 so far this bowl season.
Basically, Pendergast has earned the right to decide whether he wants to build up one of these low-profile programs or elevate an already prominent one. Though there's nowhere to go with these mid-majors but up (and since the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, UConn cannot confidently be considered an automatic qualifier), the proposed challenge is a substantial step backwards at this point in his career.
10. USC (DC)
What if Justin Wilcox’s trip to USC isn’t the foregone conclusion everyone expects it to be? Contradictory to aforementioned reports, his brother Josh and Bob Rickert of OregonLive believe that the Ducks still stand a fighting chance in prying him away from Los Angeles.
Additionally, should the investigation and allegations circling Tosh Lupoi somehow come back to scorch Sark, Wilcox and USC, among the Coliseum’s ruins blossoms a second chance for Pendergast, pending a lack of pettiness and ego and drive to look forward.
Demonstrating versatility from the get-go, it was Pendergast's scheme that held Connor Halliday and Mike Leach to 215 yards and zero offensive scores (albeit in defeat), indirectly blocked Andre Williams from a Heisman (17 carries, 38 yards, 2.2 yards per carry), kept dual-threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton in check (164 total yards) and so forth. The defense was a chameleon and (more significantly) relevant.
As a coach who helped maximize talent on a depth chart limited by injuries and sanctions, the Trojans would welcome Pendergast back with open Coach O embroidered arms.
9. Massachusetts (HC)
If the ultimate goal for a coach is the power to opt for a Jack Del Rio suit or Bill Belichick hoodie on the sideline (among other dire decision-making) as head honcho, then it's time to attain that pay raise and experience.
Matt Vautour of GazetteNet.com reported the firing of UMass head coach Charley Molnar on Thursday after his 2-22 tenure. Upon joining the Mid-American Conference in 2011, the Minutemen have been seeking a leader both on and off the field.
Pendergast showcased after USC's 2013 Spring Game his calm in front of the media, albeit under the lower stakes of a scrimmage. It's a small sample size, and he isn't a household name or flamboyant personality by any means, but Massachusetts would be a serviceable outlet for the growing pains of learning to be a head coach. He either flames out like Orgeron did at Ole Miss and returns to the defensive ranks, or miraculously makes a Cinderella’s Georgia Southern out of them every single week and paves the way for his future.
The chances are slim, particularly because UMass would be hard-pressed to consider Pendergast before, say, Orgeron.
8. Army (DC)
Before the Christmas Eve hiring of Jeff Monken, the Black Knights would have benefited from enlisting a fresh defensive perspective to accompany the country's fifth-best rushing offense. The waning threat of the military’s triple option can be revolutionized by an adequate defensive front waiting in the bunkers, establishing a ball-control offense that sustains leads.
Army isn't all that sexy of an Independent, based on achieving one lonely winning season since 1996. Nonetheless, if Pendergast were to serve as a mentoring soldier to Monken and make the Cadets remotely competitive, the response of college football fandom and ensuing feel-good unity from a common rooting interest could inscribe the next great chapter of this sport.
As a human being, Pendergast should’ve relished in the chance to restore the Navy rivalry and so much more. According to LA Times’ Gary Klein, he is a hybridized player's disciplinarian, respected for his feistiness and hoarseness, as if he were field general surveying the battlegrounds of Troy. Of course, without the opportunity lead that charge as head coach, it’s too tall a tale, but boy is it enticing by Hollywood’s standards.
7. Texas (HC/DC)
This would be a luxurious yet overwhelming opportunity for Pendergast. The Longhorns are a marquee college football brand and a hotbed for recruitment, and the program could be primed to bounce back.
The void following Mack Brown's resignation is at the forefront of college football as the sport heads into the offseason, but quite possibly not for much longer. Patrick Schmidt of FanSided reported that Jimbo Fisher and Art Briles have already been appointed front-runners in the race.
Not that hiring a virgin coordinator as head coach is unheard of, but the last time Pendergast checked his driver’s license, he isn’t either of those people.
Texas must wait until its head coach is procured before pondering Mr. X's supporting cast. Too many question marks and conditions encompass this scenario, but after witnessing how USC performed under lofty adversity and mainstay expectations this season, Pendergast's potential as Brown's replacement remains intriguing.
6. Rutgers (DC)
From the days when Greg Schiano was teaching his kids to bull rush students in the hallway whenever they knelt to tie their shoes, Rutgers refurbished its physical identity on the national scene.
In 2013, however, the Scarlet Knights surrendered at least 41 points on five occasions. In order to survive in their rented Big Ten space with Michigan State and Ohio State, defense needs to come first.
According to Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger, "[Head coach Kyle] Flood said that the next defensive coordinator does not have to run the same type of system as Rutgers did under Dave Cohen, and in previous years, but it will stay to the same philosophy, based on speed."
Speed bodes well in conjunction with Pendergast's aggressive and unforgiving scheme. At the very least, it's a minimal step toward "shoring" up Jersey.
5. Washington (DC)
As the Coaching Carousel Turns episode recap: Orgeron is sacked; Chris Petersen expresses no interest; USC hastily settles for Sark; Petersen remembers he has legs and walks out of Boise to Washington; Tommy Trojan stabs the blue turf and force-feeds it to Petersen; Harry the Husky retaliates by devouring Traveler and Wilcox invades Pendergast's cubicle in Heritage Hall.
The Emmy is in the bag should Pendergast complete the cycle and rejuvenate Washington's defense with the same sort of pixie dust he sprinkled in Southern California.
Familiarity with the Pac-12 might as well be preserved, and Pendergast already helped plant a flag in the middle of Stanford’s psyche with USC’s primetime upset of the Cardinal. The next step for the Huskies following a nine-win campaign (including their inspired Fight against Hunger vs. BYU on Friday night) is surpassing Stanford and Oregon in the North division. After stints with the Golden Bears and Trojans, perhaps it’s time Mr. Pendergast goes to Washington.
The only reason why this isn't an ideal move for Pendergast is the same one that makes him thankful for his cardinal-and-gold exit, and that's Tosh Lupoi and the legal status of both schools. Besides, there’s the possibility Peterson stays loyal to Boise State wingman Bob Gregory, akin to the committed relationship of Sark and Wilcox.
Fret not, though, for if you can’t beat or eat the Ducks, then…
4. Oregon (DC)
Long-tenured Nick Aliotti announced on Friday his intentions to retire, making the Valero Alamo Bowl all the more pertinent for Pendergast.
B/R’s Kyle Kensing relays how “[Pendergast’s] 52 base formation affords players the freedom to make plays, but it is also rooted in a power style, which is precisely the element lacking at Oregon in recent seasons.” The Ducks’ defense portrayed softness allowing 482 total yards to BCS-crushing Arizona and stalled at the mercy of a more physical Stanford program in back-to-back years.
As is the case with Washington, claiming a conference foe’s subtraction imaginably pushes a program’s prospects over the edge. The delectable sauce atop the duck confit is that Oregon’s sanctions are well behind it.
Naturally, though, Pendergast’s eagerness to coach on Sundays again is what stands in the way of any Rose Bowl aspirations.
3. Houston Texans (HC)
ESPN's Adam Schefter declared Pendergast "already on the NFL radar" on Twitter, and the ongoing slew of pink slips can dramatically alter this list by eradicating the NCAA allure altogether.
The Houston Texans have been waiting the longest, at the midseason expense of Gary Kubiak. Recent connections to the gig involve free agent Lovie Smith and Penn State's Bill O'Brien, according to Ross Jones of Fox Sports and Michael David Smith of NBC Sports.
The lack of head coaching experience persists in the evaluation of Pendergast. Following Arizona’s Super Bowl loss and Pendergast’s subsequent termination, the Kansas City Chiefs glazed over him in favor of offensive coordinator Todd Haley. If it weren’t for Arizona State, Pendergast arguably possessed more momentum for his implemented revitalization of USC’s defense, despite Orgeron’s superior presence in the community.
Of course, should interim Wade Phillips not be retained as DC, a healthy Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt make Houston a compelling destination for someone with established pedigree as a defensive coach at both the collegiate and NFL levels.
Though not a Texas man, Pendergast's NFL career did begin with the then-Houston Oilers. If the Lone Star State is indeed bookmarked in Pendergast’s GPS, then he can afford to think bigger.
2. Dallas Cowboys (HC/DC)
Pendergast coached segments of Dallas’ defense from 1996-2002. He replaced Monte Kiffin at Southern California, and he’ll stalk him westward if he has to, snake-charming Jerry Jones into breaking up with Jason Garrett in the process.
America’s Team was dead-last in total defense and 31st in sacks. Accredit the nagging injuries of DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee and company, but Jones is running out of justification for keeping this incumbent staff in place in light of three consecutive division chokes.
The entire NFC East should be vying for Pendergast’s employment. The New York Giants’ champion mystique has effectively evaporated. The finger-pointing of Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III is better directed at the Redskins’ No. 31 scoring defense. The Philadelphia Eagles are essentially a Pac-12 team and the NFL’s third-worst secondary needs to get on Chip Kelly’s level.
In an increasingly subpar division, however, the mesmerizing Jumbotron conserves the chops to procure Pendergast. For the sake of Tony Romo, only one elite quarterback is hungrier for reputable playoff redemption, which can make the sole difference.
1. Denver Broncos (DC)
Peyton Manning’s window is closing. He and Pendergast can gallop through it together.
Jack Del Rio, another USC disciple, interviewed for Orgeron’s temporary role himself this past November while playing substitute teacher during John Fox’s medical leave. While Manning coaches the offense anyway, the proclaimed defensive specialist strung together a meager No. 28 pass defense, headlined by a 51-48 October shootout with Dallas.
The Trojans skimmed Denver’s pool, so with Del Rio garnering his own demand within the sport, the Broncos would be wise to return the favor. Pending recovery from a torn ACL, Pendergast could perform wonders with Von Miller, stealing the spotlight from a record-setting offense.
A prolonged postseason run can prevent that from happening should Pendergast be wrapped up by another franchise or collegiate program, unless Peyton contracts a cough in the January weather. Regardless, greatness lies in Pendergast’s future, and USC will miss him.