Fire Justin Wilcox. It’s a hashtag. A movement. A fan-driven, booster-nudged, insider-suggested demand just five games into his tenure as the USC Trojans’ defensive coordinator.
It stems from the reaction of the Trojans surrendering 510 passing yards to Arizona State’s backup quarterback Mike Bercovici, just three weeks after giving up 452 rushing yards to Boston College.
And it’s utterly ridiculous.
Every loss doesn’t need to result in the termination of a coach, yet without hesitation, it’s where a vocal sector at USC winds up after a loss. Always. And like clockwork.
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This isn’t the Premier League. This is college football. Firing coaches at the drop of a hat just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
It’s not a mentality limited to USC, but it’s certainly one that thrives a bit more in the bright lights of Troy.
Past glories have shaped sky-high expectations and the Trojans play in a media market that is the largest in all of college football, under the biggest microscope in the game.
Quite simply, the USC Trojans are the Toronto Maple Leafs of college football. They’re the Yankees. The Cowboys. Real Madrid.
Every positive story line is seen as a means of sycophancy in the eyes of doubters, while every flaw finds itself making national headlines to slowly bleed out the hearts of the faithful.
And so it carries over to fandom, who bask in the witch-hunt that is overreactionism.
Firing Wilcox now or at any point during the season solves nothing.
Unlike the firing of Lane Kiffin and the anointing of Ed Orgeron last season, bringing in a new coordinator mid-season is a no-win situation, due to the schematics involved.
If USC brought in a new defensive coordinator right now, you would have an entire defense learning a new scheme on the fly. That’s counter-productive.
If USC promoted from within today, then the schematics of the defense that Wilcox deploys would still be used despite his absence. Moreover, a position unit with a specialized coach would be without a coach, given how many offensive coaches the Trojans have.
The firing of Kiffin worked offensively a year ago, as Clay Helton already held the title of offensive coordinator despite not being allowed to do anything with it. Removing Kiffin finally allowed him to actually do that job.
Add that into the fact that Orgeron got his players to buy into the emotional power of playing football, and it’s easy to see how the Trojans found lightning in a bottle and turned the season around.
This wouldn’t be that.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The best way to improve and turn a corner defensively is to continue to let the plan marinate throughout the season –if not longer– even if you have to crash and burn a little bit along the way.
Wilcox was not a bad hire. He’s a hire that has yet to pay dividends.
He came to USC because he had done more with less at Washington, and had a strong rapport with Sarkisian in all walks of the program. He became Sark’s right hand man, and if any head coach has a chance to bring in their guy –and a highly touted guy at that– with them, they’re going to do it.
Wilcox’s struggles in two games, losses at Boston College and at home to Arizona State, shouldn’t be pinned on Sark as a gigantic mistake.
Yet it is, given the success of Clancy Pendergast as the Trojans’ defensive coordinator last season.
Pendergast did everything asked of him and then some, as he fixed the defensive mess that Monte Kiffin had left behind him after the 2012 season.
Without question, he was worthy of staying on board.
But Sarkisian had the opportunity to bring in his hot-shot defensive coordinator with head coach aspirations. Regardless of who was waiting in limbo, any other coach in America would have done the same thing, if they had believed that they had already found their Robin.
And so in the eyes many, both inside and outside of the program, on and off the donation list, comparisons to Pendergast are inevitable, when things turn for the worst and USC loses a game after six minutes of sub-par defense.
Wilcox becomes the goat, and Pendergast the GOAT.
This all with Wilcox’s two biggest failures being the anvil of statistics.
Outside of the 452 rushing yards given up to Boston College, USC has allowed 3.28 yards per carry. That would rank 28th in he country and ahead of the nation’s best defense: Stanford.
On Saturday night, Arizona State entered the Coliseum with the Pac-12’s best run game, having averaged 262 rushing yards per game with the conference’s most dangerous playmaker, in D.J. Foster.
The Sun Devils ran for a total of 31 yards on 22 attempts.
Foster had just 13 yards. Moreover, outside of his long of 10 yards, he had just three yards on nine carries and his 86 all-purpose yards were his fewest of the season.
Of ASU’s 510 passing yards, 239 came in the game’s final 6:26 as the Trojans dropped into a prevent defense.
And this after allowing just 622 passing yards in the season’s first four games, without a passing touchdown.
Oregon State’s Sean Mannion had the worst game of his career against USC last week, with career lows in passing yards, completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating. He’s on the brink of being the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer.
For as bad as many of the season-spanning stats look and how poor as the Trojans defense has looked in glimpses, the failures themselves reek of small sample size.
One incredibly bad game of rush defense. One horrific quarter of pass defense.
Both a result of failing to make counter-adjustments to respond to adjustments USC’s game planning forced their opponents to make.
There’s plenty of room for the USC defense to grow and improve on, with coaching being a point of emphasis. And even in a win over Stanford, there were aspects that warranted improvement.
But the definition of what this defense fully is, has yet to be written.
We’ll learn if the explosive failures of the defense are the feature story or if they’re the strife of the arc for added drama.
A year ago, Pendergast’s defense was in the same exact boat.
A strong start to the season defensively was wiped away by a 62-point performance by ASU in which they wracked up 612 yards of total offense and embarrassed the Trojans.
His defense rebounded, as the small sample size was proven to show that the ASU game was the exception, not the rule.
Wilcox has to have that same opportunity to respond, and it comes against his toughest opponent to date: No. 10 Arizona. If that isn’t a motivation to improve, then there’s bigger issues.
Firing him before getting that chance solves nothing.