USC football adds staffers, but still has understaffing concerns

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC football has added to its support staff this offseason, but there are still concerns about staff size as the Trojans look to replace recruiting director Eric Ziskin.

SPRING CAMP. Day 4 Notes

On Tuesday after USC football’s fourth practice of Spring Camp, head coach Clay Helton recited a list of newly hired staffers.

On the strength and conditioning side, Aaron Ausmus added Darren Mustin, formerly an assistant S&C at Nebraska; Ty Webb formerly the director of S&C at Southern University; and Jared Klingenberg, formerly an assistant S&C at San Jose State.

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“With the leadership of Aaron Ausmus, these men are going to do an amazing job with our kids in preparing them for the upcoming season,” Helton said.

Also confirmed were the hiring of new director of on-campus recruiting Kelsea Winkle and assistant director of football operations Gordon Thomas.

Four new quality control analysts were added as well, with John David Baker, Seth Doege, Shawn Howe and Joe Bolden joining the staff. Baker was a staffer alongside new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell at North Texas while Doege was the wide receivers coach at Bowling Green under new running backs coach Mike Jinks.

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The head coach also confirmed the departure of director of recruiting Eric Ziskin. It’s his loss which really puts USC’s support staff situation into perspective.

Helton said Ziskin had decided on a chance of profession back in February. Ziskin confirmed that much to Brady McCollough of the LA Times this week, clarifying that his leaving had nothing to do with the recent admissions scandal which rocked USC.

Of course, Ziskin isn’t the only Trojan staffer who has left the program in the last few months. Alex Rios, who was USC’s director of recruiting before Ziskin, also jumped ship in September. Mirroring Ziskin’s desire for “a better work-life balance,” McCollough wrote that Rios’ departure was due to “hours and exhaustion.”

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College football is a high stress field with difficult hours across the many different career paths one can find themselves on, but USC doesn’t exactly make it easy on their staffers.

Helton explained on Tuesday that USC has operated with a four-person staff for recruiting.

Rios described the situation as “severely undermanned” when he was at USC.

“To say that I was burnt out would probably be an understatement,” he told McCollough.

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Without Rios this fall, Ziskin and company worked a man short.

The good news for USC is that the team is expanding somewhat. The four-person operation will expand to five with Gordon stepping into place. Graphic designer Ryan Miller makes it six. Having more full-time assistants who are more committed to recruiting should help some too.

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The direct football staff is also seeing a boost. Last year, the Trojans employed six analysts. Now that number is seven, with Steve Murillo, Lenny Vandermade and Brett Arce returning along with the four newcomers.

“It’s got a couple more guys on it,” Helton said. “I appreciate the investment that our athletic department has made to be able to supply that staff.”

Still, comparing USC’s support staff to that of elite college football programs like Clemson and Alabama is sobering. There are 15 “support staffers,” six “administrative support staffers,” six staffers devoted to “player development,” six graduate assistants (USC has four), three “player relations” staffers and a life coach on Clemson’s payroll.

First things first, Helton has to replace Ziskin. That task will be done by the end of Spring Camp, Helton said, just in time for the recruiting period which stretches between April 15 and May 1.

“This is a big hire for us and I’m not going to rush into it,” Helton said, comparing Ziskin’s importance to that of an offensive or defensive coordinator.

What is Helton looking for in his new director of recruiting?

“He’s got to have organizational skills as well as run a department, be able to scout, be able to have personality when people come on campus,” Helton explained. “It’s somebody that has to be able to basically be your general manager.”

No pressure.