There was never any question that the defensive line coach succeeding former Trojans defensive line coach Ed Orgeron would be filling some legendary shoes, not to mention that booming Cajun voice.
In fact, it wouldn’t be a reach to say that replacing Orgeron -- one of the most beloved and respected football coaches in USC football history -- was a daunting to near impossible task.
Enter former Georgia defensive line coach Chris Wilson, 45, who accepted the challenge of replacing the charismatic and intense Orgeron by focusing this spring on making his own footprint as the new mentor of the Trojans’ extremely talented and deep returning defensive line.
So how difficult is it replacing a larger than life figure like Orgeron?
“It’s not difficult at all,” Wilson said. “Ed Orgeron is Ed Orgeron. He is a tremendous coach, a tremendous teacher and a great recruiter, and I am a pretty good Chris Wilson. I kind of just do me. That’s the biggest thing.”
And how does Wilson’s style compare with the loud and intense Orgeron?
“I am kind of like ribs and chicken; I am a combo,” Wilson said with a laugh. “What I do requires of us is to be successful and what that means is that you have to know your players and how they respond and what they respond to. If anything, I am a studier of my guys. I try to find out how they respond and what they do well.”
The departure of Orgeron was not exactly a smooth transition, as Trojans first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian first tried to coax him back to his long-time roots at USC. While those efforts didn’t come to fruition, the Trojans CEO is excited that he could get a respected SEC coach from another fabled program to come west to Los Angeles.
"We are thrilled to add Chris Wilson to our coaching staff," Sarkisian said. "He is one of the premier defensive line coaches in the country and he is also a great recruiter."
Wilson and his wife, Tina, married for 18 years with two children, are no strangers to Southern California. In fact, one of their recent visits to the Southland actually had some foreshadowing and cardinal and gold connections.
“We’ve been out here on vacations before, and a couple of years ago we came out here to visit Ted Gilmore, now with the Raiders, who was here as a receivers coach on Coach [Lane] Kiffin’s staff,” Wilson said. “We’re close friends and we came up and spent a day here with him. I thought even then what a neat place. To be here after three years from that moment is pretty different.”
Of course, anytime you decide to transplant your family from one end of the United States to the other, it takes some discussion and forethought.
“Any time you move across country, there is a lot of dynamics that go into it,” said Wilson, who was a four-year (1988-91) letterman linebacker at Oklahoma and a 12th-round NFL draft selection by the Chicago Bears in 1992. “Just the sheer opportunity to be here are SC, it was a no-brainer. We’re excited to be out here and be with Coach Sarkisian and his staff. It was one of those deals when my wife and I sat down and talked about it, it was pretty clear for us.”
Of course it didn’t hurt for Wilson to know he had some future NFL quality talent at his disposal. But is it the type of talent he saw when he was in the SEC?
“Absolutely,” said Wilson. “We’re big and athletic.”
Then there are those so-called experts that are already proclaiming the Trojans D-linemen the best in the Pac-12 for 2013. Is that a realistic evaluation?
“We have the potential to be, but obviously we haven’t played a game yet,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a lot of talent and we’ve got a lot of unproven talent.
“I like our mindset and I like our work ethic. We have a chance to be as good as anybody in the country if we can just stay the course. We are very big across the board, and what I like about us is that we’re able to play on all three downs. They’re not just space-eaters.”
“They’re very talented and gifted athletes,” Wilson said. “They’re strong and very explosive. They’re what you look for in any conference.”
Of course all this perceived defensive talent and the first-year defensive line coach are adjusting to a new system directed by new coordinator Justin Wilcox, who came south with Steve Sarkisian from Washington.
How challenging will the new defensive system be compared to past season’s?
“They are similar, but every call we make has specific fundamentals and it’s no different here,” Wilson said. “For every call that Coach Wilcox makes it requires a certain technique. If we’re playing an odd front, there is a certain technique. If we’re playing a four-down front there’s a certain technique. We have to master every call we have in our arsenal.”
In terms of learning, Wilson believes that the Trojans’ new defensive system is a necessity with the type of explosive offenses in today’s college game.
“Everybody has to be so multiple nowadays, so at Georgia we were a 3-4 and also we were a 4-3 defense,” Wilson said. “When I was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, we mixed in both the 3-4 and the 4-3, so you have to be very multiple nowadays to stand up to these spread offenses as well as the quarterback run game.”
Judging by the early results before this week’s spring break, it appears Wilson has successfully instilled the foundation of his own coaching footprint, and Sarkisian and the Trojans defensive linemen thus far couldn’t be happier with the fit.