USC Football: Breaking Down Trojans' 2014 Coaching Staff

Kyle KensingContributor IJanuary 16, 2014

Dec 21, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Southern California Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian attends the Las Vegas Bowl game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Sam Boyd Stadium. USC defeated Fresno State 45-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian's roller-coaster search for a defensive line coach ended Wednesday with the hire of Chris Wilson from Georgia, which filled the vacancy Alabama-bound Bo Davis filled six days prior.

Wilson, whose experience includes a stint as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, has a more impressive resume than Davis, which is earning the hire some praise.

His addition also further solidifies the pipeline from the Southeast to USC, as half of Sarkisian’s staff has SEC coaching ties. Recruits pulled from SEC country will have a profound impact on USC’s 2014 outlook: Running back Buck Allen, wide receiver Nelson Agholor and defensive end Leonard Williams, with whom Wilson will work directly, came from Florida.  

The hire of Wilson finalizes Sarkisian’s staff, barring any unforeseen developments, and it's a solid foundation for the next phase in USC football. 


Justin Wilcox, Defensive Coordinator

When Washington finished near the bottom of the Pac-12 in points allowed in 2011, Sarkisian charged Justin Wilcox with repairing the Huskies defense. Washington saw results immediately, shaving more than 10 points off its per-game yield.

Dec 27, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Washington Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox reacts during the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl against the BYU Cougars at AT&T Park. Washington defeated BYU 31-16. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I asked Sarkisian last summer what fueled the stark turnaround, given Wilcox was operating with many of the same players at Washington the previous season. Sarkisian's response was simple: Wilcox built his strategy around his players' talents.  

 “He had a different scheme at Boise [State]. He had a different scheme at Tennessee,” Sarkisian pointed out.  

Added Sarkisian: “Justin’s a bright guy, and we’ve got a great defensive staff”—some of which came with Sarkisian to USC—“I think our best days are still ahead of us.”

His assessment of the Huskies still improving turned out to be prescient: Washington became one of the conference's top sacking defenses in 2013, and it trimmed another 1.4 points per game off its average from the previous season. 


Peter Sirmon, Linebackers

Peter Sirmon came with Wilcox to Washington from Tennessee in 2012 and was among the first hires Sarkisian made after he was introduced as USC’s head coach—a savvy move that helped address some of the challenges of recruiting on a shortened schedule. Sirmon’s addition already paid dividends on the recruiting trail. According to, Sirmon contributed to landing verbal commitments from 4-star prospects including offensive lineman Chris Brown and tight end Bryce Dixon

Linebacker is a position of particularly high repute at USC, thus Sirmon’s unit will be under a particularly skeptical microscope. He got some good news for his first year with the Trojans, though, with Hayes Pullard opting to return for his senior season.


Keith Heyward, Defensive Backs

Another addition from Washington's defensive staff, Keith Heyward already helped his cause as defensive backs coach on the recruiting scene by landing 4-star cornerback Jonathan Lockett

Heyward is well acquainted with the Pac-12, having spent time at Oregon State prior to his hire at Washington in 2012.  


Clay Helton, Offensive Coordinator

Dec 21, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Southern California Trojans interim coach Clay Helton (center) celebrates with linebacker Anthony Sarao (56) after the game against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. USC defeated Fresno
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Former USC head coach Lane Kiffin brought Clay Helton on board last offseason, though Helton did not take on play-calling duties until after Kiffin’s ouster in September.  

Offensive inconsistency was a common critique of Kiffin. In response to the Trojans’ struggles through the season’s first half, Helton opened more of the playbook and entrusted more responsibility to more players. USC averaged 26 points per game in the five games prior to Helton assuming play-calling duties, and it jumped to 31.8 points per game in the nine games following, including the Trojans' 45-point effort in their Las Vegas Bowl. 


Tee Martin, Wide Receivers

Another holdover from the Kiffin era, Martin is a vital cog in the USC recruiting machine. Martin has been instrumental in smoothing over the transitional period between staffs, particularly on the recruiting trail. Olajuwon Tucker andRahshead Johnson are two of the verbal commitments credits Martin for recruiting, and he helped land early enrolling 4-star Jalen Greene


Marques Tuiasosopo, Tight Ends

USC's 2014 coaching staff is rare in that it features two coaches who won bowl games in 2013—neither of whom are the head coach. Helton led USC to its Las Vegas Bowl victory, while Marques Tuiasosopo filled in for Sarkisian in Washington's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl appearance. 

Tuiasosopo takes on a particularly important job for the Trojans offense. In his introductory press conference, Sarkisian touted Washington's use of the tight end in its offense; Austin Seferian-Jenkins earned All-American honors at the position in 2012 and 2013. 


Tim Drevno, Offensive Line

Tim Drevno is among the more intriguing additions to Sarkisian's staff, having spent most of the last decade as an assistant to Jim Harbaugh—fierce rival to Sarkisian's former USC colleague, Pete Carroll.

Sarkisian wasn't shy about crediting Drevno's work with the offensive line for a share of the success Harbaugh enjoyed with stops at the University of San Diego, the San Francisco 49ers and in the Pac-12 at Stanford.  

“Tim Drevno is the one common factor in all three of those stops,” Sarkisian told The Daily Trojan. “He’s been the architect behind that offensive line and their physicality—their ability to run the football—and that’s something that this program will be built upon has well.”


Johnny Nansen, Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator 

Johnny Nansen was with Sarkisian from the beginning at Washington. Nansen is yet another former Huskies assistant who came to USC with a proven recruiting track record, serving as the program's recruiting coordinator. 


Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is obtained via