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Lincoln Riley’s USC coaching staff taking shape even if roles remain unclear

USC football coach Lincoln Riley, left, and USC athletic director Mike Bohn take part in a news conference.
USC football coach Lincoln Riley, left, and USC athletic director Mike Bohn take part in a news conference at the Coliseum on Nov. 29.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

The night before he officially left Norman, Okla., for Los Angeles, Lincoln Riley invited two Oklahoma assistants and two other staff members to join him on an early morning flight.

As defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, receivers coach Dennis Simmons, strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie and director of football operations Clarke Stroud boarded that plane in Oklahoma, the implications of their invite was clear.

“These guys got on a plane with me this morning, without a contract, without anything,” Riley recounted during his opening news conference. “I said, all right, the plane leaves at 6 a.m., they were there at 5:40. They have been instrumental in our success at Oklahoma and I think it says a lot that they wanted to be here with you.”

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Lincoln Riley and USC have no connection to the 2021 Heisman Trophy finalists. That should strengthen their resolve to keep the best quarterbacks in L.A.

There have been a few more plane rides ferrying Sooners assistants to USC since. As Riley has ramped up his recruiting pitch ahead of Wednesday’s signing day, he has quietly filled out his staff with coaches, many of whom he previously worked with at Oklahoma or elsewhere.

Three additional assistants from Oklahoma’s defensive staff have since joined Riley and Grinch at USC, including defensive backs coach Roy Manning, inside linebackers coach Brian Odom and defensive ends/outside linebackers coach Jamar Cain. All three have already been out recruiting for USC and have updated their social media accounts to reflect their places on USC’s staff.

Their roles remain unclear, as USC has yet to officially announce additions to Riley’s staff.

Oklahoma inside linebackers coach Brian Odom.
Brian Odom, who coached inside linebackers at Oklahoma, is among the former Sooners assistants working under Lincoln Riley at USC.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

Mississippi State inside receivers coach Dave Nichol, who worked with Riley at both Texas Tech and East Carolina, is joining the offensive staff as a receivers coach, according to multiple reports. Tulsa offensive line coach Zach Hanson has joined USC’s staff, reportedly as tight ends coach, but his exact role has not been announced.

Hanson’s wife, Annie, has also joined USC’s staff in a recruiting role. At Oklahoma, Hanson held the title of assistant athletic director of recruiting strategy and administrative engagement and was widely viewed as one of the driving forces behind the Sooners’ recruiting operation.

Riley still has several openings to fill on his offensive staff, as well as a defensive line coach. USC is currently without a running backs coach and an offensive line coach, and it doesn’t appear that Riley plans to poach either from the Sooners’ staff. Oklahoma announced Friday running backs coach DeMarco Murray and highly respected offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh would both be retained by new Oklahoma coach Brent Venables, dashing some USC fans’ hopes that Bedenbaugh would follow Riley to Los Angeles.

With Lincoln Riley coming in to coach USC, some players are announcing their intentions to enter the transfer portal or declare for the NFL draft.

USC’s last offensive line coach has already found a new landing spot. Clay McGuire took the same position at Washington State, returning to a program where he coached for six seasons. Robert Stiner, who was hired less than a year ago as USC’s new strength and conditioning coach, also landed on his feet, joining former coach Clay Helton at Georgia Southern.

The rest of last season’s USC staff remains in limbo. Only McGuire and defensive line coach Vic So’oto, who penned a goodbye message on social media earlier this week, have made it public that they’re no longer on staff at USC.

It appears unlikely any of the remaining staff will be retained. Interim coach Donte Williams has been rumored for several Pac-12 openings, but in the week since the season ended, neither Williams nor USC has offered any update on his status. Elsewhere on the staff, new coaches have already been hired to coach receivers, tight ends, edge rushers, inside linebackers and cornerbacks.

The final few openings should be filled in the coming weeks, as Riley and his new staff make their final, frenetic push on the recruiting trail.

Andrew Vorhees, the top-rated offensive linemen for USC, will return to the Trojans in 2022 to play under new coach Lincoln Riley.


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