USC’s new coaches are learning about L.A. and their old coaches are learning a new offense

Bowling Green coach Mike Jinks reacts to a first half fumble recovery while playing Michigan State on Sept. 2, 2017.
(Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

Mike Jinks had been with USC for three weeks as the Trojans’ new running backs coach when, in early January, he brought his wife and three kids to join him in Los Angeles.

After being fired as the coach at Bowling Green, Jinks had jumped at the chance to help good friend Kliff Kingsbury bring his version of the “Air Raid” offense to USC. It almost felt too good to be true, reuniting with his former boss at Texas Tech at one of college football’s traditional powers.

But then, stepping off the plane with his family, Jinks found himself jolted by a piece of unexpected news, delivered by his oldest son, Jaden.

“He’s like, ‘Dad, Kliff’s going to Arizona. Did we just get fired again?’” Jinks said.


Jinks initially did not know what the news meant for him.

“It was very difficult in that I couldn’t look my wife in the eye for about three days,” he said.

During those days, Jinks talked with Kingsbury about joining his staff with the Arizona Cardinals. He also talked with Trojans coach Clay Helton, who encouraged him to do what was best for him and his family.

“At the end of the day,” Jinks said, “I’m extremely happy for Kliff. It’s one that nobody would have turned down. But his situation and mine are completely different. Again, this is SC. When you look at position coaches, it was kind of a no-brainer to me. It was tough, because it’s your buddy, but you know, I wasn’t telling Mama we were moving again.”

Jinks could relay the story Thursday with a smile after USC’s second spring practice. He had stuck with Helton, who ended up rewarding Jinks’ loyalty by replacing Kingsbury with the next best thing, fellow former Texas Tech quarterback and “Air Raid” disciple Graham Harrell.

While Harrell would be teaching his offense to offensive line coach Tim Drevno, wide receivers coach Keary Colbert and tight ends coach John Baxter, Jinks would be able to aid him in the process, which was the plan all along.

“There are similarities,” Jinks said of Kingsbury’s and Harrell’s offenses. “Again, what Graham is doing, what Dana [Holgorsen] is doing, what I did at BG, we’re all kind of from that ‘Air Raid’ tree. When you look at the pass concepts, there’s definitely some carryover. So I was really excited about that from a selfish level. There’s less learning for me.”

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With the USC offense right now, everybody is learning something. Harrell is learning what his quarterbacks know and what they don’t, who can master the “small things” that require repetition like footwork and making the right reads. He’s learning that he has a gifted group of wide receivers who have the ability to make things easy on the quarterback and play-caller.

Harrell, living in a Radisson Hotel across from USC’s campus, also is adjusting to life in L.A.

“One thing, they lied to me,” he said. “They said it rains like ten days a year and it’s already rained like 15 since I’ve been here. It’s pretty nice when the sun’s out. What y’all call rain is a drizzle in Texas. It’s good, you know. Decent weather, the campus is beautiful. You’ve got green grass. What’s not to like? I’ve been living in the ‘Rad,’ so I haven’t had to deal with the traffic, so that might change my perspective once I have to start driving.”

Harrell has received early high praise from Helton and the Trojans, who are buying into his philosophy that simplification will lead to less thinking and playing faster.

Harrell’s offense has also brought a major change for offensive line coach and run game coordinator Tim Drevno, who has always coached in pro-style offenses.

“We have like four run plays, and he probably looks at me like, ‘What do you mean we have four run plays?’” Harrell said. “I think there’s some adjustment there for him. At times, he probably gets bored with, ‘This is all I’m doing?’ Yeah, this is all you’re doing. Get great at it. That’s the philosophy of the offense. He’s been awesome. I think he’s bought in.”

Drevno, who spent three years as offensive coordinator at Michigan before returning to USC last season, said the “Air Raid” concepts are easier to understand for offensive linemen, which should lead to more focus on perfecting technique.

“It really takes a lot off the line,” Drevno said. “Not so many adjustment-type deals. The adjustments are outside with the quarterback and receivers. I tell the linemen, ‘Be a great technician.’ This game is about technique.”

Now that Jinks’ family is in the fold, he can take a deep breath and enjoy working in an offense he knows how to teach — at a program that is a long way from his start in the profession as a high school coach in Texas.

At practice this week, Jinks gets to see first-hand the qualities that drew him and Kingsbury back in December.

“We had a good idea of what was in the stable,” Jinks said. “We knew that a couple things could be tweaked, and you’re back with a nine-win, 10-win season, you’re in the Rose Bowl.”


USC cornerback Greg Johnson, who entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal last week, practiced Thursday with the Trojans. Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast would not say whether Johnson’s presence meant he had decided to stay at USC. … Safety CJ Pollard will sit out spring practice because of a broken foot. … Former long snapper Jake Olson will bench press at USC’s pro day March 20 to raise money for retinoblastoma research. Olson went blind as a child due to the condition. Funds raised will go toward a device that could help kids with retinoblastoma not lose their sight. Olson’s pledge page:

Twitter: @BradyMcCollough