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O/NSO: New spring ball coaches

The Obvious: With spring ball set to begin on Tuesday (3:15 p.m. PT), much of the attention naturally is being focused on the players – returnees and early enrollees – and the “open” competition for positions, but what should also be fascinating will be the effect that the new members of the coaching staff will bring to Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Fields.

The Not So Obvious: In new offensive coordinator and QB coach Graham Harrell (photo above), running backs coach Mike Jinks, defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a (pronounced Cow-ha-a-ha-a), outside linebacker coach Joe DeForest, and secondary coach Greg Burns, it figures things will be different from the past based on each coach’s knowledge, teaching skills, experience, and perhaps most importantly of all, the ability to relate and interact with his position group’s players.

The Obvious: Graham Harrell is the new Trojans OC and QB coach.  

The Not So Obvious: As the O/NSO listened to Harrell’s Monday news conference, the take away points were all positive. Harrell said that the Air Raid Offense is more of a philosophy than a scheme, and that philosophy is “keep it easy and let the guys go play.” It’s an execution-based offense, and you’re not going to sit there and try to out-scheme people. Harrell added that he believed in running the football, and to win games at a high level, one has to rush the football successfully. He pointed out this is not the Mike Leach offense and if you wanted it to be, Mike Leach should have been hired. It was a good early impression leading into spring ball.

The Obvious: The players at USC are vastly different than those that Graham Harrell coached at North Texas.

The Not So Obvious: Harrell was quick to point out that he is excited by the riches of the Trojans’ wide receivers. He believes – not too shockingly – that those returning players have to get the ball in their hands to do damage. Graham is impressed with the film he has seen regarding the Trojans’ wide receivers and their potential. He said that the receivers were one of the main things that sold him on becoming to L.A. – not to dismiss that he said that USC is one of the top 5 or 10 all-time programs and only one of a handful of schools to realistically stand a chance to win a national championship. Harrell’s comments came across as sincere but not cocky or arrogant.    

The Obvious: One area that Graham Harrell is sure to get the attention of his quarterbacks is his philosophy regarding play calling.

The Not So Obvious: The new OC said for the record that after his new QBs understand the offense, he’d have no problem letting them make the calls or change the original calls coming out of the huddle. Harrell says that if his quarterbacks see something better or a matchup that they think will work, just go for it. You can bet the Trojan quarterbacks not only hear their new coach’s words, but probably giddy to the point that they can’t wait to see if it’s all true. For JT Daniels, it sounds a lot of what Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson allowed his former prep superstar to do. The O/NSO senses the Graham Harrell hire could be a job-savor for Clay Helton. Not guaranteeing it by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s intrigue there.   

The Obvious: One of the biggest concerns by Trojan fans is whether there will be open quarterback competition.

The Not So Obvious: Graham Harrell addressed that issue this week by saying he would wait to see how each quarterback adjusts to the new system, but he was excited about all of the quarterbacks on the roster including true freshman Kedon Slovis. Perhaps his biggest statement of the presser was, “We’re going to try to let their talents be free and see which one fits us best.” Game on, dude!

The Obvious: Mike Jinks is the new Trojans’ running backs coach.

The Not So Obvious: Before coming to Troy, Jinks was the head coach at Bowling Green. Mike was the running backs coach at Texas Tech for three years (2013-15), adding the associate head coach title in 2015.  He worked there under head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Prior to Texas Tech, Jinks was the head coach at Steele High in Cibolo (Tex.) for seven seasons (2006-12).  He went 76-18 at Cibolo, including being a National Coach of the Year finalist while winning the 2010 Class 5A Division II State Championship.  Steele was 43-4 in his final three seasons.  The Knights advanced to the state finals again in 2011 and to the semifinals in 2012.  Mike coached the West Team in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January 2013. Will all this experience and leadership roles help Jinks bond with his cardinal and gold running backs? Time will tell, but at least this unit has a running back coach by trade.

The Obvious: The Trojans know what an impact running coach looks like (i.e. Deland McCullough), so there are positives in the Mike Jinks hiring.

The Not So Obvious: We all saw how Deland McCullough raised the game of the Trojans’ running backs during his brief one-season tour of USC duty. Don’t underestimate the value of Jinks and his effect on the running backs. Consider that Jinks really places emphasis on speed in this offense, which should be interesting when he gets a firsthand look at returners Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai, and Markese Stepp. A lot, of course, depends on Carr’s health. New offensive coordinator Harrell says he already likes the tough running of Malapeai and is impressed with the strength of Stepp. As for Jinks, it will be a real plus that he has coached in the new Trojans’ offensive philosophy.

The Obvious: One of the biggest additions to the staff ball is new defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a, who figures to be a positive addition in the spring.

The Not So Obvious: Chad takes a group that universally is considered very talented but for whatever didn’t live up to the press clippings. It is believed that with “Coach K” the Trojans will increase their number of sacks and quarterback pressures, which was dismal to be kind. Can a coach make a difference? Well, just ask past players how much impact Ed Orgeron had on their USC D-line experience. Two major spring objectives should be stopping the run and sacking/pressuring the quarterback.  

The Obvious: Chad Kauha’aha’a was the defensive line coach for Utah in 2011-2012.

The Not So Obvious: If Chad brings a “Utah mentality” to the Trojans’ D-line, what an improvement that would be. It certainly doesn’t hurt Coach K’s credibility when his new players understand he helped the Utes rank in the national Top 25 in rushing defense in his two seasons there. Starr Lotulelei (twice) and Derrick Shelby (2011) made the All-Pac-12 first team, and Lotulelei won the league’s Morris Trophy in 2011. 

The Obvious: Joe DeForest, 53, is the Trojans’ new outside linebacker coach.

The Not So Obvious: Last season, Joe was a defensive analyst for the Trojans staff. Of all the hires, he may be the least known and drew some eyebrows when it was learned he hadn’t coach outside linebackers since, well, a long time ago. His last fulltime coaching position was at Kansas, directing special teams (2016-2017). Prior to Kansas, he was at West Virginia for four seasons (2012-15). In his first year with the Jayhawks, he was associate head coach/defensive coordinator and coached the safeties, and then he was the special teams coordinator and safeties coach in his final three years. And prior to that, he was at Oklahoma State as special teams coordinator and secondary coach from 2001 to 2004, then was the associate head coach, special teams coordinator and safeties coach from 2005 to 2011. DeForest began his coaching career as the outside linebackers coach at his alma mater Titusville (Fla.) High for two seasons (1988-89).
He was a four-year (1983-86) starting linebacker for Southwestern Louisiana, twice earning All-Southern Conference honors. Got all that? 

The Obvious: So, when was the last time Joe DeForest coached outside linebackers?

The Not So Obvious: Well, according to the bio the O/NSO researched on Joe, he started coaching in college at Rice for four years (1990-93), the first couple of seasons as an offensive graduate assistant working with the running backs and then the next two seasons as the outside linebackers’ coach. He did coach linebackers and special teams at Duke (1994-2000). So, what’s the Clay Helton connections? Helton’s first coaching job was as an assistant at Duke (1995-96). DeForest was Blue Devils’ linebackers coach and special teams coordinator.

The Obvious: Greg Burns is the Trojans new secondary coach.

The Not So Obvious: A lot of negatives were directed at last season’s secondary coach Ronnie Bradford for various reasons, so Burns gets his shot at tutoring the Trojans’ secondary, which will be a near total revamping. Greg was the secondary coach on USC’s 2003 and 2004 national championship football teams under Pete Carroll, so he has some street cred to go along with a stint in the NFL. The bad news is that a couple of potential starters, safety Talanoa Hufanga and corner Olijah Griffin may be held out of spring due to shoulder surgeries.  

The Obvious: Greg Burns will be mentoring his players to the philosophical style of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

The Not So Obvious: Of course, there are the basic fundamentals of secondary play that are universally taught; however, some techniques vary depending on the philosophy of the system. It will be interesting to see how Burns adjusts to the philosophy of Clancy Pendergast’s defense and what this new guy will bring to the table. The Trojans are challenged in the secondary in experience and numbers, especially at corner, so more than a lot of eyes will be trained this spring on the development of the secondary although work on this unit will continue well into training camp.

The Obvious: And finally, we know that some of the other coaches that remained on staff from last season have been either reassigned, returned to a position group that they have coached in the past, and/or will pull double duty.   

The Not So Obvious: These returnees (Keary Colbert from tight ends/wide receivers to wide receivers; John Baxter’s return to tight end coaching while maintaining special teams; Tim Drevno from running backs/O-line to fulltime O-line) will also have vital input into the spring development. It appears, with perhaps the exception of Joe DeForest,the coaching staff has been slotted into their natural coaching positions.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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