Sep 5, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California running backs coach Johnny Nansen celebrates after a Trojans touchdown against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Article continues below ...
With Tommie Robinson on his way out of LA to join Ed Orgeron at LSU, here’s five potential replacements for the running backs coach at USC.
USC hasn’t kept an unchanged coaching staff since 2008. Thanks to the departure of running backs coach Tommie Robinson, that streak will continue.
Robinson was officially announced as the new LSU running backs coach, assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator on Tuesday night.
Here’s a look at some potential options for USC to replace him, ranging from the most likely, to some based on connections:
There’s a ready-made replacement for Robinson on staff at USC already — outside linebackers coach Johnny Nansen.
In fact, Robinson replaced Nansen as the Trojan running backs coach when he returned to Los Angeles last year.
Nansen had served as USC’s RBs coach for two seasons with distinction. Under his tutelage, Buck Allen rushed for 1,489 yards in 2014, the best season for a Trojan running back since Reggie Bush.
After Allen’s departure, USC’s success at running back under Nansen didn’t slip as Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis each came within touching distance of a 1,000-yard season.
If Nansen were to shift back over to the offensive side of the ball, USC would still have to seek a replacement on the defensive side of the ball, but that would be an entirely different search with a whole new set of twists and turns.
USC has a penchant for re-hirings. Look no further than the man the Trojans are replacing, Tommie Robinson, who left the Trojans in 2013 only to return in 2016.
So as interesting a move as it would be, Clay Helton could turn to another person who’s been there before — Kennedy Polamalu.
Polamalu spent the last three years as UCLA’s running backs coach and then offensive coordinator before that job ended in disaster. Before that he had been USC’s running backs coach twice, with a stint ending in 2003 and another ending in 2012.
He was just hired on as the running backs coach for the Minnesota Vikings, but it wouldn’t be completely unheard of for a coach to make such an early change.
There are already a couple of links to USC’s roster that could help sweeten the pot for Polamalu. New safety recruit Isaiah Pola-Mao is related to Troy Polamalu, who is Kennedy Polamalu’s nephew, so there’s family relations there. Plus, linebacker Juliano Falaniko is from Pago Pago, American Samoa like Polamalu.
Jul 27, 2015; Mankato, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running backs coach Kirby Wilson walks to drills at training camp at Minnesota State University. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
If USC wanted to throw their weight around and go for an established running backs coach, they could take a run at the Cleveland Browns’s Kirby Wilson.
Wilson has 18 years of experience coaching running backs in the NFL. His most recent stint in the college game? A one year stay with USC as the wide receivers coach in 2001.
Before joining the Trojans, the Dorsey High School product was the defensive coordinator at Wyoming and the running backs coach at Iowa State.
Since then, Wilson has coached running backs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, coaching the likes of Adrian Peterson, La’Veon Bell, Rashard Mendenhall, Edgerrin James and Mike Alstott. He joined the Browns in 2016.
There’s a USC link in that NFL run, as well. Coaching in Arizona from 2004 through 2006, Wilson was on staff with current Trojan defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
It would take quite the enticement to bring Wilson back into the college ranks, but it could be worth the pursuit.
Oct 31, 2015; Iowa City, IA, USA; Maryland Terrapins head coach Mike Locksley looks on during the first half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
After being one of Nick Saban’s handy dandy support staff/reclamation projects, former Maryland interim head coach Mike Locksley was promoted to Alabama’s co-offensive coordinator two weeks ago, alongside Steve Sarkisian, who was literally just hired by the Atlanta Falcons.
But with that said, hear us out for a second. Lockley’s first foray into big-time college football came as a running backs coach, and he just so happened to give USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin his first college football job in 2009.
Martin has credited Locksley with being a key schematic influence, after running a spread offense together at New Mexico before Tee was hired away by Kentucky. Could that bond mean enough for a potential link?
It’s admittedly a huge long shot. Bruce Feldman noted two weeks ago that “Locksley turned down several coaching offers to remain with the Tide,” hinting that a return to being a head coach is the long term goal, despite controversy.
Before going to Maryland, Locksley was fired from his New Mexico head coach job in 2011 after a string of off-the-field trouble. He was involved in an altercation with wide receivers coach J.B. Gerald, and an allegation for sexual harassment that he was ultimately cleared of.
Not to mention, Locksley hasn’t coached running backs since 2004 on Ron Zook’s staff at Florida.
But if USC was able to land him — perhaps thanks to Nick Saban bringing on another OC rather than letting Locksley take the reigns completely — he’d be yet another extremely valuable recruiter. One with east coast ties, no less.
Sep 17, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators special teams coordinator Greg Nord prior to the game against the North Texas Mean Green at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Currently the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator at Florida, 60-year-old Greg Nord is a college football veteran. The Kentucky grad got his start as a grad assistant at UK in 1979, and has spent the bulk of his career coaching running backs, including a pair of stints with current USC assistants.
In 2011, Nord was at Kentucky alongside Tee Martin as the Wildcats’ tight ends and special teams coordinator. Three years later, he spent the 2014 season with Neil Callaway and Tyson Helton, serving as Western Kentucky’s running backs coach.
Other than his current post at Florida, Nord’s biggest claim to fame is a 15-year spell at Louisville from 1995 to 2009. He held multiple positions during the height of the Cardinals’ run under Bobby Petrino, while running back Michael Bush led FBS in scoring under him in 2005. As a tight ends coach, Nord coached Ibn Green to All-American honors in 1999.
All in all, Nord could potentially give USC some options, as a versatile coach similar to the Trojans’ John Baxter and Johnny Nansen. Either he could slot in as a running backs coach or take the tight ends off Baxter’s hands, in tandem with Nansen’s return to running backs.