USC Sports

USC Now mailbag: Coaching changes, recruiting and quarterback competition

USC Now mailbag: Coaching changes, recruiting and quarterback competition

USC Coach Clay Helton watches his team during warmups before the Pac-12 championship game.

(Jason O. Watson / Getty Images)

This will be an important week for the USC football program as Clay Helton tries to finalize his staff before coaches can hit the road for the final contact period with recruits before letters of intent are signed on Feb. 3. 

With the turnover of coaches on the defensive side, it seems to me that USC needs to bring in a big name defensive coach to keep and attract kids to the program. Why is it taking so long? We lost Keanu Saleapaga. How many more will we lose on the defensive side? We need not to lose any more since our defense was poor in 2015.

— Cass Brown

It has never been difficult for USC to attract recruits and keep top players in the program, regardless of who the coaches are.


USC should be close to officially announcing Clancy Pendergast as the defensive coordinator, which would bode well for current players and recruits.

Pendergast, while not the most active recruiter, has a great reputation among the players he coached during his season at USC.

As far as the decommitment of La Mirada defensive lineman Keanu Saleapaga, keep in mind players decommit for a variety of reasons and a decommitment doesn’t always mean that it was the player’s choice to leave, but sometimes other circumstances that came into play.

Is it me or does anyone else have concern over Coach Clay Helton’s recent hirings? The brother thing does not concern me. What does concern me is how does success at Western Kentucky translate to success at USC in the PAC-12? And how is USC’s brand enhanced by the addition of these two no-names to the staff? That is easy… it is not. When it is all said and done (recruiting, that is) I am afraid this hiring choice will be linked back to plenty of USC decommits.


— Chris Barron

Again, coaches must be in place to recruit, but recruits do not have a history of committing to USC solely because of the coaches.

High schools players over the last several years have even committed to USC when there weren’t permanent coaches in place (think Ed Orgeron in 2013.).

No recruits have decommitted from USC this year because of Clay Helton’s restructuring of the staff or because of the new hires and I don’t anticipate that any will.

(Linebackers Daelin Hayes and Mique Juarez had all but publicly decommitted before Steve Sarkisian was fired and Clay Helton took over as interim coach.)

While coaches from Western Kentucky might not excite USC fans who are obsessed with big-name, brand-name everything, Tyson Helton and Neil Callaway each have proven track records.

What is the current situation with the defensive line and who is actually coming and who are we still trying to get before signing day at that position?

— Joe Tovar


The defensive line will be one of the youngest, but most talented, units for USC next season.

Starters Antwaun Woods, Delvon Simmons and Greg Townsend Jr. exhausted their eligibility this season, along with reserves Claude Pelon and Cody Temple.

Freshmen Rasheem Green and Noah Jefferson earned valuable experience and likely will start as sophomores.

Freshman Jacob Daniel played in three games and Kevin Scott and Christian Rector redshirted.

The Trojans also return fifth-year senior Jordan Simmons, fourth-year junior Kenny Bigelow Jr. and third-year sophomore Malik Dorton.

Three linemen have committed to USC’s 2016 recruiting class: Liam Jimmons from Huntington Beach, Oluwole Betiku from Gardena Serra and Keyshon Camp from Lake Gibson Senior in Lakeland, Fla.

USC recently offered Jonathan Kongbo III, who is considered a top junior college prospect in the 2016 recruiting class.

Why do the Trojans have only 20 scholarships available? You said they have 14 commitments and six remaining. I thought they get 25 per year.


— Geno Apicella

You’re right, USC does get 25 scholarships per year.

However, there were five blue-shirt recruits on this season’s roster (offensive lineman Clayton Johnston, receiver Deontay Burnett, punter Chris Tilbey and tight ends Taylor McNamara and Daniel Imatorbhebhe) that counted toward the 2016 allotment, which leaves only 20 scholarships for this class.

USC has six scholarships available because offensive lineman Nathan Smith, receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe and defensive backs C.J. Pollard and Michael Pittman signed financial-aid agreements that guaranteed their scholarships and 10 other recruits have made verbal commitments.

Why did Marques Tuiasosopo leave? Money? New title? How bad will this hurt USC? Or will it? Maybe another big hire coming?

— Betsy, @girlygirl92833

Marques Tuiasosopo is expected to be named the quarterbacks coach at UCLA.

Tuiasosopo has not commented on why he is leaving USC, however there are likely several reasons - including money, title and working relationships.

Scout named Tuiasosopo the Pac-12 recruiter of the year after linebackers Porter Gustin and Osa Masina, both from Utah, and tight end Tyler Petite from Northern California signed with USC last February.

But as I’ve mentioned several times already, USC recruiting rarely, if ever, suffers solely because of coaching changes.

Tyson Helton likely will move from his announced role as running backs coach to quarterbacks coach.

Is Max Browne the favorite for the quarterback role next season right now? Any transfers or Matt Fink contending?

— Steve Sayles, @SteveSayles

Before Clay Helton was named coach, it wasn’t certain that fourth-year junior Max Browne would be the favorite to replace Cody Kessler, but now it is.

If USC had hired a coach who installed an offense that relied on a dual-threat quarterback, Sam Darnold would have been the front-runner.

But Browne, a former top-rated recruit, goes into spring with the edge, but no guarantee, after three seasons in the program.

Matt Fink, a commit in the 2016 recruiting class from Glendora High, is likely a candidate to redshirt.

Questions or comments about USC? Email me at or tweet @LindseyThiry and I will respond to select messages in a weekly USC Now mailbag.

Get our daily Sports Report newsletter