Monday, February 25, 2013
USC hirings done, but who will call plays?
By Ted Miller
USC coach Lane Kiffin has reconfigured his coaching staff with the official announcement -- many of the hirings were reported over the past few days -- of three new coaches: Mike Ekeler (linebackers), Mike Summers (offensive line) and Tommie Robinson (running backs).
Toss in defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, and four of Kiffin's nine assistants will be new in 2013. Quarterbacks coach Clay Helton also has been promoted to offensive coordinator.
The million dollar question, however, has not been answered: Who will call plays?
There's an overwhelming feeling around the program Kiffin should relinquish those responsibilities so he can better focus on the overall management of his team, something he fell short of doing during a horrible 2012 downward spiral from preseason No. 1. And his play-calling itself wasn't exactly inspired.
Here's a guess that the official word will be something to the tune of, "It's collaborative ... with Kiffin having final say."
A couple of further housecleaning moves: Special teams coach John Baxter will now also coach tight ends, and James Cregg, formerly the offensive line coach, will be co-offensive line coach with Summers, though Summers is the supervisor.
Summers was also named "running game coordinator," and Robinson, despite coaching running backs, will be "passing game coordinator."
The Trojans now have three coaches with "coordinator" in their title and two offensive line coaches. Here's a further overview.
"With so many young offensive linemen who will be so important to our success, I felt it was critical to have two coaches working with this group," Kiffin said in a statement. "It was a natural step to have John Baxter work with the tight ends because he has coached that position for much of his career."
Further, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, who was called the Trojans "defensive coordinator" last year even though he wasn't -- Monte Kiffin was -- will now be the "assistant head coach," the title held by Monte Kiffin, even though he was defensive coordinator.
Yes, if you were a cynical sort you could say the USC staff has become bogged down in semantics. That also could fall into the realm of Lane Kiffin focusing too much energy on things that matter not a whit and don't help you win football games.
The Pac-12 blog feels if you have a budding assistant coach who wants to be called something that makes his job definition less accurate -- a running backs coach as passing game coordinator? -- you should not hire him.
This staff also is imbalanced with six titled coaches working on offense and three titled coaches on defense -- presumably Pendergast will coach the entire secondary. That means graduate assistants will be called in -- again -- to fill important gaps.
Of course, it could work. Perhaps Kiffin has a well-planned vision of how this will all mesh together in 2013 and onward and cool his decidedly hot seat.
Athletic director Pat Haden has stood by Kiffin. He's allowed him to make important decisions and run the program as Kiffin sees fit. Raised eyebrows from fans and the Pac-12 blog ultimately don't matter.
If Kiffin and USC win eight, nine or 10 games in 2013, he'll likely be secure. Winning, as we all know, solves everything in college football.
But if Kiffin were hoping for a burst of enthusiasm from folks observing his reconfigured staff, this execution is not likely to get it.