USC parting ways with three defensive assistant coaches


With a new coordinator set to take over USC’s defense, the Trojans will have an entirely new defensive staff next season, as three assistants from last season are on their way out.

Defensive backs coach Greg Burns, inside linebackers coach Johnny Nansen, and defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a will not return, according to a person with knowledge of the decision. Only new safeties coach Craig Naivar, hired last week, remains on USC’s defensive staff.

The Trojans plan to hire replacements at cornerbacks coach and defensive line coach, but will not replace Nansen as linebackers coach. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is expected to take on the responsibility of coaching linebackers, as he did in his previous two stops, at Texas and Houston.


USC is still planning to hire a special teams coach after firing its previous coordinator, John Baxter, in the wake of its Holiday Bowl defeat. The new special teams coordinator is not expected to share any other positional responsibilities.

The addition of Orlando, whose hiring was officially announced last week, had already left the Trojans defensive staff on uncertain ground. His experience as a linebackers coach made Nansen unlikely to stick around, but the departures of Burns and Kauha’aha’a came as something of a surprise after both impressed last season in their debut on USC’s staff.

Craig Naivar is named safeties coach at USC, where he will rejoin defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, with whom he worked at Texas and Houston.

Feb. 1, 2020

Burns led a defensive backfield of mostly freshmen and sophomores to a respectable season, while Kauha’aha’a helped develop a defensive line that was unquestionably USC’s most formidable unit on that side of the ball. Under Kauha’aha’a’s guidance, sophomore Jay Tufele and freshman defensive end Drake Jackson were named to the Pac-12’s first and second teams, respectively.

The departure of both, in addition to Nansen, who also served as recruiting coordinator, suggests that serious changes are on the horizon for USC’s defense, which struggled to take advantage of its talent in recent seasons.

Under former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, the Trojans declined in yards and points allowed in each of his four seasons. Those issues culminated in a horror-show defeat to Iowa at the Holiday Bowl, which led to Pendergast’s firing.


Those issues portended change on USC’s defense then. Now, with a new defensive coordinator in place — and several other assistants on their way out — it appears that more change is still in store on that side of the ball.