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USC’s new offensive line coach is a Mike Leach Air Raid disciple

USC logo at the Coliseum in 2018.
(Aaron M. Sprecher / Associated Press)

The roots of the Air Raid offense can be traced throughout the landscape of college football, from the Pacific Northwest to the Shenandoah Valley, but when USC set out to fill the remainder of its staff this offseason, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell didn’t have to dig all that deep.

He barely had to leave his own branch on the Mike Leach coaching tree.

Clay McGuire, the Trojans’ new offensive line coach, has spent the vast majority of his coaching career as a fellow disciple of the Air Raid, two seasons of which he spent with Harrell on Leach’s staff at Washington State. Before that, McGuire was on staff at Texas Tech, also under Leach, while Harrell set records as an Air Raid quarterback.

Tampa Bay assistant coach Todd McNair, who won another legal battle Friday, and running back Ronald Jones II made an instant connection as former USC Trojans.

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A few years later, McGuire helped recruit the Trojans’ new tight ends coach to Texas Tech. McGuire, a former quarterback himself, was still a legend at Crane High in West Texas, when Seth Doege’s father accepted the coaching job at Crane.

“He kind of took a liking to me when he would come back home and visit people,” said Doege, who also went on to quarterback the Red Raiders. “We would go training together, we’d throw the football around.”

Years later, they’d be hired to the Trojans’ staff together — Doege, after two seasons as a quality control assistant; McGuire, after two years at Texas State and a lengthy career as an assistant before that. Both boast the deep knowledge of the Air Raid offense which USC sought to find when it fired Tim Drevno, its previous offensive line coach, in early January.

That familiarity might breed contempt from those who still doubt the Air Raid is the answer for USC’s offense. But McGuire was careful in distancing himself from Leach and the “humongous, wide, throw-it-every-play” splits his offensive linemen were known for. He also promised that the Trojans’ run game, which averaged a paltry 97 yards per game last season, will “look significantly different”.

A comfort level with Harrell and the Air Raid should only help make that transition smoother, McGuire said.

“When it comes to protection schemes and things like that, [Harrell and I] come from the same background, same philosophy on how to protect the quarterback and how to run the offense,” McGuire said Friday. “I think it’ll be good for him, to make adjustments easier, to bounce ideas easier, and move forward a little bit easier. We come from the same place, same background, and there’s a lot of familiarity and trust with each other.”

That conversation is ongoing as it pertains to the Trojans’ rushing attack, which remains the primary concern on offense. McGuire said he and Harrell have already discussed at length how to run the ball more efficiently.

“When this offense is going, it’s because the running back can’t be stopped,” McGuire said. “We understand how key that position is. If we can be great at that position, which starts with the run game, it’s going to be hard to stop the other factors in this offense.”

Evan Mobley was on the sidelines for the last epic showdown between USC and UCLA. The Trojans are hoping for another upset against the No. 21 Bruins.

He didn’t offer any specific plans on how USC might reach that point. But he did seem to grasp one of the run game’s more pressing concerns. Unprompted, he opened the door to USC’s offense working in more under-center looks in short-yardage situations, where the Trojans were especially bad last season.

"[The plans is] to be able to get in multiple packages and create matchups and situations for success when you get in those short-yardage, goal line situations, instead of just trying to beat your head against a wall,” McGuire said.


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