On Monday, Scott Wolf reported that Lane Kiffin would looking for a defensive coordinator without ties to USC to succeed his father, Monte. That, coupled with Leon McQuay III being told that the Trojans would hire a ‘big name’ coach has given a new wrinkle to Kiffin’s coaching search. We’ve highlighted five ‘big names’ that Kiffin could conceivably target, starting with the most probable.
Preferred defensive scheme: 4-3
Current position: San Jose State interim head coach/defensive coordinator
Resume highlights: Defensive coordinator at Cal (1987-1991), Arizona State (1992-1994), Stanford (1995-2001), Notre Dame (2002-2004), Washington (2005-2007) and San Jose State (2010-present)
Baer is both a big name and a coach without ties to the USC program, though he’s been the defensive coordinator at four Pac-12 schools, plus Notre Dame, giving him plenty of familiarity with the Trojans.
After following Tyrone Willingham around the college ranks, he’s been Mike MacIntyre’s right hand man at San Jose State since 2010. Earlier this month, MacIntyre was hired at Colorado and the new head man in Boulder has made it clear that he wants Baer to join his staff once he completes his tenure at San Jose State as the interim head coach, which ended yesterday in the Spartan’s Military Bowl win over Bowling Green.
While it appears to be a formality for Baer to join the Buffs’ staff, John Henderson of the Denver Post wrote on Christmas Eve that, “unless a better opportunity knocks on Baer’s door in the next few days, he will be in Boulder soon.” The only job that could reasonably derail his trek to Colorado would have to be USC.
Baer’s focus is fits with what the Trojans are looking for. He’s a coordinator that loves to blitz, as seen with San Jose State totaling 40 sacks in 2012, which fits right in line with the pass rush that Ed Orgeron gets from his front four.
In the heart of the Pete Carroll era, the USC defense thrived on a potent pass rush from the front four on all three downs, and blitzes from the linebackers on second and third downs to pressure the offense. With Baer at the helm, that aggressive style of defense would likely return to Troy, which was absent under Monte Kiffin.
Also, and most importantly, Baer has a strong desire to defeat the spread and similar offenses that USC faces on annual basis. Baer’s Spartans were one of just four teams to hold Sonny Dykes’s Louisiana Tech Bulldogs under 50 points in 2012, and they forced three critical interceptions late in the four quarter to close strong when the game was on the line. With Dykes moving into the Pac-12 at Cal, a result like that may resonate more with Lane Kiffin, who now has to find a way to stop the Air Raid that the Bears will certainly run.
Moreover, Baer had considerable success in stopping run-first offenses in 2012, even though they didn’t face a running attack as potent as Oregon’s. San Jose State shutout Navy’s triple-flex option, as Baer’s defense held the Midshipmen to just 70 rushing yards, more than 200 yards below their season average.
And against the power-I attack that Stanford’s David Shaw deploys, Baer’s Spartans held the Cardinal to 3.8 yards per carry and didn’t let their tight ends beat them. With Monte Kiffin’s Tampa-2 scheme, the Trojans had significant trouble containing tight ends like Zach Ertz, Joe Fauria and Chris Coyle.
Baer’s ability to slow down three unique offenses from the brain trust of Sonny Dykes, Paul Johnson and David Shaw has plenty of value for the Trojans, who lately have only been able to consistently shut down straight-up pro-sets like those at Cal and Washington.
With Baer’s strong ties to Colorado, it’s going to take a lot for the Trojans to pry him from Ralphie’s grasp. But with the talent that the Trojans have on defense, in addition to the capital they have to spend, if USC wanted Baer’s attention, they have the means to get it.