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WeAreSC Mailbag

Questions this week touched on the defensive coordinator hire, an over/under on the 2020 win total, a reason for optimism, what’s left for recruiting, and other topics.

August West

Q: Why does SC make hiring and firing so difficult? Announcing something as simple as a coordinator is painful. Why?

A: There can be a big gap between finalizing a deal and actually getting all the smallest details ironed out and having something signed. Of course, USC now has to go through that tiny process of making sure whoever they’re hiring isn’t involved in a multi-million dollar, coast-to-coast fraud ring. So that might add a few minutes to the process as well. 

But whatever the case, it definitely feels like USC takes its time going through the hiring process with coaches.


Q: As a follow up to August West.. is Orlando angling for a multi year deal to protect himself in case you know who gets canned…hence the delay…I would if I was in his shoes

A: I can’t imagine there’s a coach out there in any position that would be okay with a one-year deal. There’s an interesting dynamic with Orlando because he had one year and $1.7 million left on his Texas deal and it was reported that because his Texas Tech contract paid less than that, Texas would make up the difference. So between the years of the deal, sorting out the financials, and discussing exactly how much autonomy Orlando would get with the defense, I can understand things taking a little while to finalize.


Q: If Todd Orlando is hired as DC, will our current Defensive line and secondary coaches be retained, or do you figure he will bring in his own staff?

A: I’m curious to see what Helton does in terms of a special teams coach. A full-time special teams could would fill out the staff, but wouldn’t allow the new defensive coordinator to bring in a full-time coach on that side of the ball. Clay Helton really likes what he has in those defensive assistants, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he pushes for a new defensive coordinator to come on board with those assistants still in place. I could see Orlando, or whoever winds up as the new defensive coordinator, being able to bring in several defensive quality control guys, as Harrell was able to do when he came in.

Burak Uslu

Q: I need some optimism. The hiring of Orlando seems like raising the white flag on the 2020 season. Can you please convince me otherwise?

A: I actually see this as the opposite. Orlando knows defense and he knows how to get quick results from a veteran unit. That’s what he’d have to work with at USC. And he brings a reputation as a really knowledgeable coach who lives and breathes tough, attacking defense. On paper, it makes a lot of sense.

Of course, the flip side of that is, on paper, you have Texas’ 2019 defensive statistics. Now, the Longhorns were hit by a ton of injuries and fairly inexperienced, but those pass defense numbers are atrocious. There’s also the point that he’s never had truly sustained success anywhere. This won’t be seen as a big-time hire right now, but if this had happened after the 2018 season, it probably would have been. 


Q: Looks like we may have 3 or 4 slots open to add grad transfers, depending on whether we continue to give scholarships to some walk-ons. Seems like we have immediate needs at back-up QB, LT, RT, reserve RB, reserve DE. Do you think we’ll be able to add some quality players from the portal– seems like a lot of volume in the portal.

A: USC is still chasing a few players in the 2020 recruiting class that can sign in February, so those numbers for regular/grad transfers are probably fluid. I definitely think it makes sense to look for another Drew Richmond in the portal. He wasn’t a dominant tackle by any means during his time at USC, but he gave the Trojans a veteran presence at a spot where they needed someone who they were confident could play and play right away. That definitely looks to be the case again, at both tackle spots. There are guys on the roster who might be a fit, but it makes more sense to me to go find a one-year answer there and hope this huge group of linemen you just signed can develop quickly enough to start filling in the two-deep in 2021.


Q: Any word on Katoa’s return?

A: Still nothing official. He didn’t leave until August of 2018, so if it’s two full years, there could still be a few months left. The only official word from USC when I last checked is that he’s still on the mission.


Q: Who are uncommitted recruits that still have offers from USC for 2020?

A: Quarterback Blake Shapen (Shreveport, La./Evangel Christian) tweeted that he’ll be taking an official visit to USC, so the Trojans still look to be in the market for a quarterback. Tight end Jack Yary (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta Valley) has also mentioned taking an official visit to USC this weekend. Arizona State and Washington are also in the mix for Yary. Running back Michael Drennen II (Dublin, Ohio/Dublin Coffman) took an official visit to USC in December, but chose not to sign during the early signing period. USC coaches visited him recently, so that interest is clearly still there. 


Q: Over/ Under win total next year

A: I think 8.5 is a fair number for now. The schedule isn’t harder, and you’d expect to get significant offensive production and better defensive production, so the goal has to be more than the eight wins USC produced in 2019. That means that of Alabama, @ Stanford, Arizona State, @ Utah, @ Oregon, Washington and Notre Dame, the Trojans need to find four wins (and win all the games not listed here). With USC’s roster and what those other programs lose to graduation, the draft and the transfer portal, if USC can’t do that, they’ve regressed from last year.


Q: Year before last we had Alex Rios and Eric Ziskin employed as the chief film watchers. The got fired last year. Alex title was Director of Recruiting and Eric was something similar. I looked up the coaching roster for his last year and we have no one in those positions with their titles. But there is a new title called, “Director of Video Operations”. These guys replace Alex and Eric? We need more film dudes.

A: Alex Rios and Eric Ziskin were both in the recruiting department and both left USC to pursue opportunities outside of football. USC has a few guys who handle those roles now. Trey Johnson is the Director of Scouting/Recruiting Strategy and was hired in June of 2018. Gordon Thomas, the Assistant Director of Football Operations, came on in February of 2019. And Drew Fox began as a Recruiting Graduate Assistant in 2018. There are a few other guys in the department as well, including Ishmael Lawrence (Recruiting and Player Personnel), Phillip Smith (Recruiting, Operations and Player Personnel) and Spencer Harris (Director of Player Personnel).

Erik McKinney
Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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