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Thursday, February 28, 2013
Roundtable: How will new staff work out?

By WeAreSC staff

Now that the coaching staff is set, give your thoughts on the coaching moves and how you think the new staff will shake out.

Garry Paskwietz
I like the vast majority of the changes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. There had to be a change at the top, and the move from Monte Kiffin to Clancy Pendergast should be a good one.

Adding Clancy Pendergast as defensive coordinator was the biggest of many coaching staff changes.
Pendergast runs a vastly different system to the one Kiffin used, and the football people I’ve talked with seem to think it will prove to be a very good hire. There is a lot of respect out there for Pendergast and his background of aggressive, multiple defenses. He also has a nice working knowledge of the Pac-12. Not sure how much of a recruiter he is, but he doesn’t need to be the one who hits the bricks; he just needs to be able to help close.

The new linebacker coach Mike Ekeler will do a lot of the hustle work in recruiting, along with Ed Orgeron. Ekeler had a background as a bit of a wild man as a player (his nickname was "Crash") and is considered an up-and-comer who could be in line to succeed Bill Snyder at his alma mater, Kansas State. It says something that Ekeler was the only player Snyder ever personally appointed as a team captain.

The Trojans also were able to keep Orgeron, who probably got a nice bump in pay along with the title of assistant head coach. That move by itself insures that USC recruiting will stay at a high level.

On offense, there is still much to be learned, but Kiffin certainly has put an emphasis on this side of the ball with six assistant coaches having a role on offense as opposed to three on defense.

The loss of Kennedy Polamalu is a wild card, because things were so solid at that spot, both with the on-field coaching and recruiting. Tommie Robinson has big shoes to fill, that's for sure.

I like the emphasis on the offensive line by bringing in Mike Summers -- who is well respected among other coaches -- and keeping James Cregg, as well. Kiffin has talked a lot this offseason about a renewed commitment to physical football, and this sure seems like a step in that direction.

John Baxter will take over responsibilities with the tight ends. He's such a good teacher that I can't imagine there will be any issues.

Now it just remains to be seen how the play calling with shake out. Clay Helton was given the offensive coordinator title, but Polamalu had it too, and he didn't call plays. What is the play-calling arrangement, and what is the strategy behind it? What will be the identity of the offense? How these questions are answered will help determine if the offensive coaching moves are a success or not.

Greg Katz
Well, coming from the 1960s tell-it-like-it-is school of journalism, my thoughts on the coaching moves are a mixed bag. The guy in charge of the Trojans defense, Monte Kiffin, resigned amid doing a pretty poor job, which might have affected the perception that the departed coaches were incompetent.

Now, I do think that new DC, Clancy Pendergast, should be a major improvement, and most would agree on that. The new linebacker coach, Mike Ekeler, looks and sounds promising, but it's a wait and see. It is said that Ekeler is a dynamic and aggressive recruiter.

As for the offense, well it's a hard sell that hiring a new running backs coach, Tommie Robinson, and naming him passing-game coordinator is going to fire up the masses. I don't see this a win-win situation here, because former running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu is as good a combination running backs coach/recruiter as there is in the country, and a former Trojan to boot.

James Cregg
Former line coach James Cregg now will take a back seat to the recently hired Mike Summers.
The 2011 Trojans offensive line was pretty darn good, and James Cregg was the coach. To think he became incompetent after that season is a stretch. Sure, the new offensive line coach, Mike Summers, brings a different philosophy, but we'll see how that plays out with the play calling. No matter what type of line play philosophy, you have to be committed to run. Since Cregg is now the subordinate to Summers, I guess two coaches is better than one on the offensive line. Convince me.

Since special teams coach John Baxter has experience in coaching tight ends, I think that is a plus. Perhaps having Baxter as the tight ends mentor will convince the play caller to throw them the ball.

Lastly, you can change an orchestra's instrumentalists, but if the conductor stays the same it can be expected that while the instruments might sound better, it's the same song selections and director. In other words, Lane Kiffin is still the head coach with a revamped coaching staff. Naming quarterback coach Clay Helton as the offensive coordinator sounds logical, but will he get to call the plays? As for Kiffin, can a leopard change its spots? There is a lot of justified skepticism whether Kiffin will give up calling plays and, perhaps more importantly, revamp his offensive philosophy by being committed to a physical rushing attack.

We'll see what happens, but it all starts at the top.

Johnny Curren
While you can argue that none of the new coaching additions necessarily jump out as home-run hires in terms of pure name recognition, the one thing that they do all possess is an incredible wealth of experience.

For a USC squad coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, guys like new offensive line coach and running game coordinator Mike Summers -- who has 33 years of work to his credit -- and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast -- with 22 years under his belt -- are sure to make a positive impact as they try to right the ship.

It's the Pendergast hire that I'm most excited about. His attacking 5-2 defense looks like the perfect answer for a Trojans team that has struggled against the up-tempo, spread offenses that have become so en vogue in the Pac-12 over the last few years. I do wonder, however, if the hires were spread out between the two sides of the ball in the perfect way. With just three coaches on defense now -- compared to six on offense, plus Kiffin -- it will be vital to find a couple of more-than-capable defensive graduate assistants.

All in all, though, the ingredients to a successful staff do appear to be there for the Trojans, at least on paper. We'll know a lot more this spring when we see how the players respond to the new faces coaching them -- and that likely will be the ultimate key to everything.