USC football is interested in Illinois’ Austin Clark, a former Trojan graduate assistant, to replace Kenechi Udeze as defensive line coach, per Football Scoop.
USC football has a type when it comes to identifying coaches. Prior connections to the program have reigned above all else in recent years. If there was hope of that trend ending as head coach Clay Helton and athletic director Lynn Swann revamped the Trojans’ staff for 2019, that hope will be undercut by a new report on USC’s open defensive line position.
According to Football Scoop, USC “is interested in hiring” Austin Clark, currently of the Illinois Fighting Illini and formerly a USC graduate assistant, to take over as defensive line coach.
The Trojans parted ways with defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze on Tuesday in a wave of major staff changes which raised the total number of assistants from the 2018 season who will not be around in 2019 to five.
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Udeze was a first time defensive line coach when USC hired him in 2016, so it stood to reason retained defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast could search to find a more seasoned figure to foster one of the most important units on the team.
Instead, if the report is accurate, Pendergast is set to pursue yet another inexperienced line coach.
Clark played on the defensive line at Cal from 2009 to 2014 in career plagued by injury. When his playing days ended he spent one season on the Bears’ support staff before joining USC as a graduate assistant, working with the defensive line and outside linebackers. He spent two years with the Trojans before being hired by Illinois for his first full-time position in 2018.
The inexperience alone would be a red flag, but Clark’s defensive line has not exactly thrived in Illinois. The Illini rank 130th in line yards, or the number of opponent rushing yards created by the offensive line winning battles upfront. They are 125th in opportunity rate, which is the percentage of runs which gain four yards or more. And it doesn’t get better at 128th in stuff rate and 107th in sack rate, all statistical measures which reflect most heavily on the defensive line.
Illinois head coach Lovie Smith certainly saw something in Clark to take a chance on him as a first time defensive line coach. And Pendergast clearly sees something too, if he is indeed looking at bringing him back.
However, Clark is not a name likely to inspire much optimism from USC fans already skeptical about the Trojans attempt to rebuild and rebound from a 5-7 campaign in 2018. Especially when familiarity, rather than merit, appears to be driving the interest.