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Five things you need to know about new USC interim coach Donte Williams

USC cornerbacks coach Donte Williams works with players
USC cornerbacks coach Donte Williams works with players during an NCAA football practice on March 11, 2020.
(USC Athletics / John McGillen)

For the fourth time in the past eight years, an interim head coach will take the reins of USC’s football program.

Donte Williams was named USC’s latest interim head coach Monday after Clay Helton was fired following an embarrassing loss to Stanford in the second game of the season. Williams will lead the Trojans through at least the final 10 games of the regular season.

“Donte is an experienced and well-respected coach who is renowned for his ability to develop relationships with student-athletes, and I appreciate his willingness to take on this challenge,” athletic director Mike Bohn said in a statement.

Here’s what to know about the new man in charge at USC:

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He’s made an immediate impact at USC

The 39-year-old Williams joined the Trojans staff in February 2020 as the cornerbacks coach and defensive pass game coordinator and added the associate head coach title less than a year later. In 2020, he led a USC secondary that gave up 216.3 passing yards a game, its fewest since 2013. That average ranked 43rd in the country, an improvement from 96th the year before.

USC has fired embattled coach Clay Helton, who had long been a source of fan discontent, in the wake of the team’s 42-28 loss to Stanford on Saturday.

He’s a recruiting ace

In addition to his work on the field, Williams has earned a reputation as a top recruiter. For the class of 2021, he helped USC jump 50 spots in the national recruiting rankings and was credited as the primary recruiter for five-star prospect Korey Foreman. The defensive lineman was the No. 2 recruit in the nation and top prospect at his position.

While at Oregon, where he coached cornerbacks for two seasons before coming to USC, Williams was 247Sports’ top recruiter in the Pac-12 for the class of 2020 and the seventh-best in the nation. He lured top Southern California talent such as five-star linebacker Justin Flowe (Upland High) and Lancaster’s Mykael Wright to the Ducks, who have had the Pac-12’s top-rated recruiting class for three straight years, according to 247Sports.

USC was right to fire Clay Helton, but the Trojans need a big name to return them to glory. Maybe not Pete Carroll, but the power and swagger Carroll represented.

He has history with previous USC head coaches

Former USC coaches Pete Carroll and Steve Sarkisian played early roles in Williams’ coaching career.

Williams, who started coaching in 2007 at L.A. Harbor College, was a graduate assistant under Sarkisian at Washington in 2010 and ’11 and worked as a summer coaching intern for the Seattle Seahawks in 2012. Carroll was in his third year as the Seahawks head coach and Williams used the experience to get his first full-time assistant job at the Division I level the following season when he joined San Jose State.

His other college coaching stops include Arizona (cornerbacks in 2016), Nebraska (cornerbacks, nicklebacks and dimebacks in 2017) and Oregon. He has never held a coordinator position.

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He’s back home

As a player, Williams was a team captain and two-time defensive most valuable player at Culver City High, less than eight miles away from the Coliseum. He continued his football career at Pasadena City College as a defensive back in 2002 before transferring to Syracuse, where he played one season that included five games and one tackle. He came back West to play for Idaho State, where he was an All-Big Sky first-team defensive back.

He’s the first Black head coach in USC football history

Even with the interim tag still attached, Williams will make history as the first Black head coach in USC’s storied football history. He is the fifth Black head coach in the Pac-12 this year, joining Stanford’s David Shaw, Arizona State’s Herm Edwards, Washington’s Jimmy Lake and Colorado’s Karl Dorrell.


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