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Tommie Robinson’s departure to LSU is a stinger for the Trojans. He was a key cog in USC’s running game, and a coach endeared by players. Justin Davis spoke at length about how happy he was to see him back during last year’s fall camp.
Now, Clay Helton’s insular hiring strategy is back at the forefront while we await a replacement, making prognosticating candidates a bit tricky.
The Trojans’ head coach built out his first staff by staying close to home, stocking up with existing coaches (Tee Martin and Johnny Nansen), former coaches (Robinson, Clancy Pendergast and John Baxter), his brother (Tyson Helton), his father’s offensive coordinator, whom he also played for in college (Neil Callaway), a protégé to another hire (Ronnie Bradford), and an inexperienced former USC All-American already employed on the support staff (Kenechi Udeze).
Without Robinson, the Trojans can essentially go three routes to fill their ninth and final spot on the coaching staff:
Helton can replace him straight up with a running backs coach.
Move Nansen from outside linebackers coach back to running backs, and bring in a new linebackers coach with ties to Clancy Pendergast.
Target a wide receivers coach –perhaps support staffer Keary Colbert– by putting Nansen with running backs and having Pendergast double up completely with linebackers.
The flexibility comes from Martin and Baxter already holding dual responsibilities, which left the Trojans without a dedicated wide receivers coach in 2016.
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
Such criteria could mean USC hires anyone from former running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu, to Florida assistant Greg Nord, who has previously coached with three current Trojan staffers.
That gives USC one more thing to think about, particularly about aforementioned options two and three.
If an additional staffer is coming down the pipeline, it might be best to wait on promoting from within (i.e. Colbert) given the ease of such a move. Which then puts the focus squarely on one question: Which role is more pressing for the Trojans to fill now, before next month’s spring camp and not if and when it happens?
Based on team need, that’s probably linebackers.
USC must replace Michael Hutchings, and a lack of overall depth means players like Jordan Iosefa, John Houston and newly enrolled Tayler Katoa need significantly more hands-on development than a crop of mostly veteran backs like Ronald Jones and Aca’Cedric Ware.
Does that mean you have Nansen and Pendergast tag team the linebackers like last year? Or is it best to a new guy, while having Nansen manage the backs like he did in 2014 and 2015?
We’ll have to wait and see.
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