Mike Riley’s decision to leave Oregon State for Nebraska could have major implications for the Pac-12 and USC in particular as the Beaver coaching search could very well involve at least one Trojan assistant coach, namely defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Wilcox has been a hot name among assistant coaches looking to move up the ranks to a head position over the past few years. The defensive coordinator was linked to coaching searches at Washington following Steve Sarkisian’s departure and Boise State when Chris Petersen filled the Huskies’ vacancy.
Connections in the Pacific Northwest may give Wilcox a leg up over other candidates in Corvallis. Wilcox spent four years as the defensive coordinator at Boise State with his defenses consistently ranked among the top of the nation, albeit playing outside the competition level of the Power Five conferences. After a brief stint at Tennessee, Wilcox returned to the region as Sarkisian’s defensive coordinator at Washington.
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After whipping the Husky defense into shape, Wilcox was consistently named among the most likely assistants to receive a promotion if opportunities became available.
Of course that was 2013, and 2014 was not particularly kind to Wilcox.
There’s no question that Wilcox’s star has faded somewhat as the defensive coordinator for the Trojans. While his defense finished the regular season ranked in the top three teams in the Pac-12 in total, rushing and scoring defense, the bulk of the blame for USC’s four losses this year has stuck firmly to Wilcox.
After a dismal display against Boston College, which included giving up 452 yards rushing to the Golden Eagles, the Trojans squandered a nine-point lead in the final three minutes against Arizona State and conceded the game-winning touchdown to Utah in the final ten seconds. A blowout loss to UCLA could not have helped Wilcox’s case either.
Momentum may not be on Wilcox’s side, but he still boasts a pedigree that could make him an attractive option for the Beavers.
What would that mean for USC?
Some Trojan fans, and even some former players, would certainly rejoice at the possibility that Oregon State could take Wilcox off their hands.
However, a Wilcox departure would mean installing a fourth new defense in as many years. USC has not retained a defensive coordinator for more than one year since Monte Kiffin left the program in 2012.
On the other hand, there are a couple former Trojan defensive coaches sitting at home who could step back into the fold. Ed Orgeron remains unemployed and recently spoke about interest in returning to USC. Then there’s last year’s defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who was a popular figure with Trojan players and fans, though his willingness to come back is in question.
From without, USC would have many other options as well.
Mark Banker, Oregon State’s long-time defensive coordinator under Riley, was supposedly on the Trojans’ radar last year and his position is in flux with Riley’s departure. A disagreement with Sarkisian over USC’s blocking techniques early this season could derail that option before it emerges, if Banker opts not to follow Riley to Nebraska.
In the less likely, but available, category stand recently fired coaches Brady Hoke, Bo Pelini and Will Muschamp, if USC wanted to pursue a big fish.