Getting it together

Staffing up is Job 1 for Clay Helton and this USC football program. Lots of ways to go here. Some old. Some new. Some a little of both.

So how exactly does this all go together for Clay Helton? With no track record of doing this, we may have to just wait and see, although that won't keep anyone from venting on where he should go, who he should call and how he should hire his staff of assistant coaches.

Some are saying, screaming, even, that he should pursue no one who's ever been here at USC. New blood is what's needed. Cut out the nepotism, or worse? Stop it, they advise. USC hired Lane and Sark and we all know how that worked out. Pete's not coming back.

But isn't that the point? If USC could have hired Pete, most of you would have been fine with that. So it's not Pete and no more of the Pete Carroll Era. No problem in trying to get back there. It's the failure to figure out how to do it, as Lane and Sark showed they hadn't a clue, unfortunately.

But these things don't go together by formula. Or by edict: No newbies. Or no oldies. Or whatever.

And the formula you figure out is only as good as the people you put in place. For example, the creative tension between Pete and his defense-first way of looking at the game and the at-times difficult Norm Chow, worked. Sure, Norm maybe got more credit for the offense than he may have deserved at times although he certainly deserved more than his successors did -- at least when he was with Pete and Pete's players at Pete's practices. The interplay between Pete and Norm worked.

That's just one example. And we all know how things changed. The hardest task for any college coach is to keep the program moving in the right direction when assistant coaches start moving on in directions of their own. Sometimes you can bring them up through the system. Much of the time you can't. USC was the perfect example.

Ed Orgeron was a holdover and one of the smartest decisions Pete made was to keep CEO. Kennedy Polamalu worked out one time, not so much another. But both might be the kinds of guys you take a serious look at now. Kennedy for no other reason than it would kill UCLA fans. It's never wrong to tweak those guys.

Not that that's a good enough reason to do something. With Helton considering holdover running backs coach Johnny Nansen for other duties depending on how all the pieces fall into place, Kennedy, a Trojan through and through, wouldn't be a bad move with the young backs USC has returning.

But then neither would Tommy Robinson, after two years in Texas. Clearly, T-Rob fell in love with USC in his only year here. He was a great coach that season balancing five backs and developing every one of them starting with Buck Allen. The recruiting connections for the native Alabaman in Florida, Texas, Arizona and the South also would fit right in.

But back to CEO. With the young, talented D-line guys the Trojans have to bring along quickly over the winter, is there a better choice than a man with a couple of Football Hall of Famers already to his credit?

Or someone who can recruit better as his current LSU program, not surprisingly, is in line to replace USC as No. 1 for 2016? And is there one who connects more to the USC of the first decade of the 21st Century?

Really connects, we mean. Not a pretender. Someone with the kind of institutional memory of USC at its best that should always be a part of this program.

The ability for CEO to head recruiting would allow Helton to have Tee Martin focus more on figuring out the offensive direction for the program and holdover Peter Sirmon to concentrate on his linebackers.

And yet -- for Tee especially -- he could work hand in hand with his recruiting mentor. Might take some doing to get Ed back. But it would be worth the effort and could right a mistake made a couple of years ago. And not impossible.

And can anyone now say that Ed wasn't exactly right with his feelings about what the Sark hire would mean for USC football. And the ability for Ed and Tee to team up, something that hasn't been a hallmark of the staff Sark put together, is key here.

And yet, the last time Ed was here, he got to work with defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, now the '49ers' linebackers coach. We pretty much agree Clancy's more an NFL guy now but always worth touching base with.

What we liked there was how Ed, for example, worked with Clancy, a coach he thought was the smartest defensive guy he'd been around. And that makes the case that new blood is good. And having assistants who can really work with one another is a big deal.

Which makes the case that getting a new defensive coordinator like Wisconsin's Dave Aranda, a Redlands High guy who would be coming home from a program that has a reputation for not paying its assistants, might be doable. And sensible.

Anyway, it's worth a shot for a USC team that was 70th in total defense (allowing 401.3 yards a game) and 97th in pass defense (giving up 254.2 yards a game).

Aranda, just 39 and having worked his way up from Redlands High through places like Delta State and Southern Utah, became the lone Badger assistant to remain after that staff left for Oregon State a year ago. He teaches a quarterback-attacking, linebacker-featuring 3-4 defense based on quick strike guys.

Sounds like that would qualify to answer Clay's call for an "extremely aggressive" USC defense. And sure, it's the Big Ten but when you're No. 3 in the nation on total defense allowing just 267.1 yards a game and up in the same neighborhood with Alabama (No. 2 on defense) and Clemson (No. 7), that is where you want your team to be -- not No. 70.

You'll notice we're not throwing out a name for the secondary coach. USC hasn't had great luck there. Leaving that up to Aranda or whoever the new defensive coordinator is to bring his own guy.

That USC could put together a blended staff, some "old" old guys, some "new" old guys and some new guys would seem to be the way to go.

If they're the right guys.

And we haven't even gotten around to the one job that might be more important than any other -- offensive line coach. It's the hardest place for an outsider -- as we all are -- to have a clue. Not a place for an NFL guy to drop down, in most cases.

To be honest, we'd far rather have a guy from high school, like the former De La Salle head coach Bob Ladouceur, who built everything around an athletic O-line, rather than coaching guys like they're already in the NFL. Too often that happens.

And when you're 103rd in sacks allowed -- 2.69 a game -- you have to start to get this right.

Just as when you're saying you're a "run-first" team at the program that produced all five of the Pac-12's running backs for its All-Century Team, you cannot finish No. 61 in running the ball with 176.2 yards a game. Not when you have as exciting a freshman as there is in the nation in Ronald Jones II and a slashing senior-to-be in Justin Davis. That's not nearly good enough.

Hey, there's a thought. What about the Stanford guy? OK, we understand how tough it might be to get someone like Mike Bloomgren who is now the Andrew Luck Director of Offense and associate head coach in addition to O-line coach at Stanford, to make a move.

But I'd sure ask him. And court him. And put together a package for him. If you're going to be physical and run-first, might as well start at the place where they took that away from USC in order to get it back.

And if you can't get Bloomgren, then get the nearest thing you can find to him. Everybody hereabouts talks about "changing the culture" at USC. That would be a culture-changer for sure.

And just what USC needs. Might be one of those money-is-no-object moments. Any school that can pay its AD $2.5 million can surely come up with the money for a Mike Bloomgren.

Adding an Aranda and a Bloomgren would do more for Clay Helton's tenure than anything we can think of. Put the new blood with the old blood and we'll be fine with that.

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