Take 2: Debating assistant coach hires

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
12:00
PM ET
Two big names have rejoined Pac-12 teams at coordinator. But which is the stronger hire? Clancy Pendergast as USC's defensive coordinator or Dennis Erickson as Utah's co-offensive coordinator? Your bloggers debate:

Ted Miller: Not to sound optimistic about USC or anything, but I believe the Trojans defense will be significantly improved next fall. And not to be positive about Lane Kiffin or anything, but I think Kiffin made a good hire with coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Pendergast brings two things of note. First, his NFL background will appeal to USC's present and future players. Second, he knows the Pac-12 and its wide variety of offenses. There won't be a learning curve.

Sure, Cal's defense slumped this past season, surrendering 33 points and 441 yards per game. But everything around the Bears program slumped this season, which is why Jeff Tedford lost his job. The previous two years, however, Cal had an A-list defense.

In 2010, his first year in Berkeley, Pendergast's crew ranked third in scoring defense, first in total defense, third in pass-efficiency defense, second in yards per play and second in sacks. You might also recall the 15-13 loss to Oregon, the best defensive performance against the Ducks that season.

His second year, the Bears ranked fourth in scoring defense, first in total defense, second in pass-efficiency defense, second in yards per play and third in sacks.

Those numbers have to encourage USC fans. And, by the way, the further good news is Pendergast no longer will be coaching against USC, the team that seemed to give him the most trouble. The Trojans scored 48, 30 and 27 points against him the past three seasons.

It will be interesting to see how Pendergast's base 3-4 scheme is adapted by the Trojans personnel. Does Morgan Breslin (or Devon Kennard) simply take his hand off the ground and become an outside linebacker, or will the shuffling become more extreme? There are plenty of intriguing options.

Pendergast has a nice core coming back -- eight starters, including some talented youngsters. I expect him to develop a unit that ranks in the top third of the Pac-12 next fall.

Kevin Gemmell: Ted's right -- at least for the immediate future. Pendergast is certainly a stronger hire for 2013 than Dennis Erickson for Utah. Few would dispute that USC has more talent on defense than Utah has on offense, especially with the influx of high-end recruits. So for the immediate future we can probably assume USC's will look like the better hire early on.

But when you look at the potential long-term affects that Erickson could have on Utah, I'm leaning his way. For starters, his co-offensive coordinator, Brian Johnson, isn't going anywhere. He's not using Utah as a stepping-stone gig for a job elsewhere. He's a Utah guy through and through -- so he's going to be around until someone tells him to leave. So the more he can soak up from Erickson in these first few years, the better it's going to be for Johnson and Utah.

Second, Erickson isn't looking to go anywhere, either. If he wanted to be a head coach again, he need only cast a shallow net and someone would hire him. He's in a situation now where he doesn't need to control a locker room, he doesn't have to do the news conferences and he doesn't have to be the public face of the program. He can just grind on film and be a coach. Johnson should not feel threatened by this hire. And in the dozen or so times Johnson and I have talked, he doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who would take this personally.

So assuming there are no ulterior motives, Utah is getting a veteran head coach who has won national championships and been a three-time coach of the year within the conference. Not a bad addition.

He can essentially be the head coach of the offense while Kyle Whittingham focuses on what he knows best -- which is defense. With all of the issues the Utes had on offense last year -- the injuries, a first-year coordinator, the inability to fill holes on the offensive line -- Whittingham probably spent more time troubleshooting that side of the ball than he'd prefer. So this move benefits both sides of the ball.

Erickson's presence means a sounding board for Johnson. But more importantly, he's there to shoulder a lot of the burden. I'm guessing there isn't a blitz package, locker room problem or PR mistake that Erickson hasn't seen a few times throughout his career. I'm not expecting a huge leap forward from the offense in 2013 because the Utes still lack the top-to-bottom depth needed to hang out at the top of the stat sheet in this offensive-heavy conference. Johnson would have taken the brunt of the criticism all alone. And two straight years of that could dent his confidence. Now he's got someone to shoulder the load through what will likely be another bumpy offensive season.

But in two seasons? Three seasons? You could see Utah in the upper half of the league. And if the defense continues to mature and evolve under Whittingham (they were second in the league against the run last year) Utah could be a dangerous player in the South Division.

Consider Erickson's hire an investment for the future. And it's a safe bet you're going to see a return.

Ted Miller | email

College Football

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 11/1