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USC Sports

Craig Naivar joins Clay Helton’s staff as USC’s new safeties coach

Another former Texas coach is joining Clay Helton’s coaching staff at USC.
Another former Texas coach is joining Clay Helton’s coaching staff at USC.
(Timothy J. Gonzalez / Associated Press)

After months of uncertainty in which its head coach was retained, two of its coordinators were fired, one was hired, and the only other coordinator interviewed for multiple jobs before eventually opting to stay, USC’s football staff should nearly be finalized following its latest addition.

Craig Naivar, who coached the past three seasons at Texas, will join USC’s staff as safeties coach. He tweeted “#FightOn” on Friday night, confirming suspicions that he would become the Trojans’ second outside assistant hire this season.

The hiring also reunites Naivar with the other new assistant on USC’s staff, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, with whom he worked closely at both Texas and Houston. When Orlando was fired as Texas’ defensive coordinator in December, it was Naivar who led the Longhorns’ defense to a dominant performance in the Alamo Bowl as interim coordinator. Texas held Utah to just 254 yards and didn’t allow a single point until late in the third quarter.

Nonetheless, Naivar was not retained by Texas coach Tom Herman after the season. Until Orlando was hired at USC last Friday, Naivar looked poised to follow his close coaching friend to Texas Tech, where Orlando had landed as linebackers coach.

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In both of their previous two stops together, Naivar was considered a co-defensive coordinator with Orlando, whose defensive scheme prioritizes the safety position. At USC, that won’t be the case.

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Naivar also served as special teams coordinator for two of his three seasons at Texas, following stints in the same role at Kentucky, Rice, Sam Houston State and Southern Illinois. But a USC official confirmed that Naivar will not fill that vacancy at USC, either.

Which leaves the Trojans still searching for a special teams coach to replace John Baxter, though more changes could still be on the horizon.

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USC could opt to add another new assistant to its staff to coach special teams, but would need to say goodbye to another current assistant to do so, per NCAA rules. It may also choose to entrust special teams duties to current inside linebackers coach Johnny Nansen, whose role on Orlando’s defense remains in question.

Given Orlando’s past experience as a linebackers coach, Nansen, the last remaining assistant from coach Clay Helton’s first USC staff, could potentially be expendable on the current one.

It’s one of the many titles he’s answered to over six years spent with Helton. Nansen also served as running backs coach (2014-15), assistant head coach (2014-18), recruiting coordinator (2016-18), linebackers coach (2016-18) and defensive run game coordinator (2019). He came with Sarkisian from Washington in December 2013 and forged a close relationship with Helton, one that’s outlasted any other assistant on his staff.

Naivar’s only connection to USC is through Orlando, who was hired just last Friday. Nineteen of his 24 seasons as a football coach came in Texas, where his deep ties in the talent-rich state should only help the Trojans on the recruiting trail.

“USC you hired a hell of man, coach and mentor!” former Texas safety Antwaun Davis wrote on Twitter. “Watch what he does to those safeties.”

Last season, USC didn’t have a dedicated safeties coach; instead, defensive backs coach Greg Burns handled both safeties and cornerbacks, with help from graduate assistant Chris Hawkins, who was hired away by Arizona State in December. Naivar’s presence likely means Burns will focus his attention primarily on USC’s cornerbacks, all of which are set to return next season.

Naivar’s addition should also mark the end of a tumultuous time for USC’s football staff. Since the excruciating, 11-day wait which preceded the announcement that Helton would remain as head coach, the future of his staff had been left largely unsettled.

Nick Rakocevic scored 16 points with 15 rebounds, Elijah Weaver added 14 points and USC rallied for a 56-52 victory over Utah in game that honored Kobe and Gianna Bryant.

USC fired Pendergast and Baxter less than 24 hours after the Trojans were blown out in the Holiday Bowl. Shortly after that, Graham Harrell, the only remaining coordinator on staff at the time, spoke with the Philadelphia Eagles about their coordinator vacancy.

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But Harrell, who also interviewed at Texas, stayed. His close coaching friend, John David Baker, was promoted from offensive analyst to tight ends coach. A few weeks later, Orlando was hired.

USC is still looking to hire more football support staff. The university posted five support positions to its job site in the past week, including football recruiting roles for a director of marketing and branding, as well as a graphic design manager.


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