What do three more coaching staff changes mean for USC?

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

USC officially parted ways with Greg Burns, Chad Kauh’aha’a and Johnny Nansen on Monday as new DC Todd Orlando builds his defensive staff for 2020.

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Clancy Pendergast and Joe DeForest are not the only defensive coaches leaving the building for USC in 2020. When all is said and done, no one from the 2019 defensive staff will remain.

Defensive backs coach Greg Burns, defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a and linebackers coach Johnny Nansen have been dismissed by head coach Clay Helton, USC confirmed on Monday after Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported on Sunday.

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The timing of those dismissals is interesting since the Trojans are days away from completing the 2020 recruiting cycle with Signing Day coming up on Wednesday. It is unusual for staff to be dropped ahead of that day for recruiting purposes.

The decision to move on from three more defensive coaches may be met with varying responses. Burns in particular was a well-liked coach who managed to get a solid level of performance out of a very young defensive backs group.

However, new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando reportedly intends to hire Craig Naivar, who was his co-defensive coordinator in 2019 and safeties coach at Texas for the last three seasons. It initially seemed possible for Naivar to coach safeties while Burns kept his place as a cornerbacks coach, but that doesn’t appear to be part of the plan.

If Orlando intends to employ a dedicated cornerbacks coach, at least one obvious option is off the table. Jason Washington, who served with Orlando at Texas and Houston, is reportedly on his way to join Mike Leach’s staff at Mississippi State.

Kauha’aha’a was popular with the media for his candid style, but the performance of USC’s defensive front certainly left something to be desired. His departure will make way for a defensive line coach of Orlando’s choosing.

If he wants to go with someone familiar like Naivar, he could target Texas defensive line coach Oscar Giles. However, that seems unlikely as Giles, a Texas alum, has been retained by new Longhorn DC Chris Ash.

Nansen’s departure will have an impact in multiple areas. His inside linebackers were one of the most consistently under-performing units in 2019. Nor was his role as Defensive Run Game Coordinator much of a success.

Orlando himself is a linebackers coach, so he could fill the gap left by Nansen as an assistant coach.

Where Nansen was an asset was in recruiting the Polynesian community, but USC’s failing recruiting standings over the last two seasons have undercut the value of keeping him on. Still, someone else will have to maintain the connections in that community with Nansen gone.

With Burns, Kauha’aha’a and Nansen gone, USC has three more spots to work with in filling the 10-man staff. The offensive side of the ball includes offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, offensive line coach Tim Drevno, wide receivers coach Keary Colbert and running backs coach Mike Jinks. Reports suggest John David Baker, an offensive quality control analyst, will take a full-time position as USC’s new tight ends coach. That’s five coaches devoted to offense.

Orlando and Naivar occupy two spots on defense, with the former able to cover linebackers and the latter covering safeties. The Trojans will need a defensive line coach, but will have flexibility with the remaining two places.

Since Orlando has utilized dedicated safeties and cornerbacks coaches in the past, he may bring someone on to partner with Naiver there. He could also employ a linebackers coach, leaving him to focus on his defensive coordinator duties or split the linebacker position with a coach devoted to inside linebackers and another to outside linebackers.

Alternatively, USC could use the final opening to bring in a dedicated special teams coordinator to replace John Baxter, who was also relieved of his duties after the 2019 season.

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