New USC defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders was just getting used to his new job at Florida Atlantic when the Trojans came calling earlier this month, but he found he couldn't resist Lane Kiffin's recruiting efforts. Kiffin had initially looked at the former Nebraska assistant for the DBs vacancy when Willie Mack Garza resigned last September, since Sanders had left the Huskers in February.
After taking the full 2011 season off, Sanders then signed on to be the defensive coordinator at FAU under Carl Pelini in December, but he quickly scrapped those plans and will now coach Nickell Robey, T.J. McDonald and the USC secondary.
Here's an ESPNLosAngeles.com interview with the 44-year-old coach following a Trojan throwing session last week.
Question: So you're probably an expert in getting acclimated to new jobs by now, right?
Answer: I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's a little bit of both, I think. You have to understand that's part of the profession. Any time you have an opportunity like USC, whatever it takes to get here is easy.
Q: New receivers coach Tee Martin told me he turned down Lane's offer at first and then eventually changed his mind. What was your thought process like?
A: You get a chance to talk to Lane and you realize why he's the head coach at 'SC at such a young age. He just has so much -- I don't know if talent's the right word -- but there's something about him that you know he's going to be successful. He can really sell USC football.
Q: Had you ever talked to him before?
A: Briefly. And I had a good relationship with his dad, who's a Nebraska guy as well. It was just kind of a good fit for us.
Q: When you take a new job, how much of the decision whether or not to take it depends on the coaches and infrastructure in place and how much depends on the players currently there? Which one's more important?
A: It's a combination of a whole lot of things. It's a combination of being the right fit for your family, No. 1, and the right fit for coaching staffs both ways -- me to them and them to me. And talent plays a factor in it, too. You want to be in a situation where you can win a lot of games and compete at the highest level. At USC, you have that every time you step on the field.
Q: Had your family moved to Florida since you took that job?
A: No (laughs.) Luckily, no. Nobody's moved anywhere. It was funny -- I had all my clothes shipped down to Florida but I never actually went back, because I was in Nebraska when I officially accepted the offer. And so I had to have all my stuff shipped here. But it's been a good transition.
Q: What does it mean to you to take this job after signing day? Did you feel badly for the kids you signed at FAU that you don't get to coach?
A: I think I signed five or six kids down there, and it's always tough whenever you leave, either before recruiting or after. If you're recruiting a bunch of kids and you leave, that staff has to catch up. If you leave right after recruiting, the kids you signed that thought they were going to have an opportunity to play for you don't. That, to me, is a really hard thing. Even though guys for the most part understand that the coach has to do what's best for his family and his career, that is tough, because you start building relationships and getting to know guys.
Q: What are your recruiting responsibilities going to be like at USC?
A: I'm in the L.A. area, which I've had experience in before when I was at Nebraska. But Ed Orgeron has done such a tremendous job as a recruiting coordinator organizing our recruiting program and targeting who we want to go after, so that makes our focus a lot better.
Q: How did you do recruiting L.A. at Nebraska?
A: It's funny, when I did my interview here I ran into a bunch of the players I was trying to recruit there. Marqise Lee, Robert Woods, Hayes Pullard.
Q: Has Nickell Robey made the most out of his ability so far? Or at least more than the vast majority of college players?
A: I visited with him (last week) after I was watching film of some of the things he's done. He's really eager to learn a lot more. He's like, "Coach, can we spend more time together? An extra hour a day?" And that's exciting, when you have a talented guy who wants to get better. He's already asked me if I have film of Prince Amukamara or Fabian Washington, guys I've coached before. I told him I'll get it to him soon and we'll sit down and take a look at all of it.
Q: Do you think his size limits him significantly? Can he, from your experience, be a big-time player at the next level?
A: There's a lot of different factors and things that teams look at. But I coached a young man named Alfonzo Dennard at Nebraska, who's projected as one of the top two or three corners in the country and is probably going to be a high draft pick, even though he's not huge either. I think they look for guys who make plays. Size is always good, but if you've got a guy with his heart and his talent, I think he'll have an opportunity.
Q: Have you seen two transfer safeties with as much talent as Gerald Bowman and Josh Shaw? It wouldn't be hard to see both starting for half the teams in the FBS right away, if not more.
A: I recruited Josh Shaw to Nebraska when he was coming out of Southern California. He's a very talented young man. To have him there and I think one of the top JC recruits anywhere, that's exciting.
Q: Have you started watching film of what USC did on defense last season? What'd you think about what the defensive backs did?
A: We've been watching a little bit over the last week for me and Coach (Scottie) Hazelton to get caught up. The good thing is that what you see in these young men is that they understand they didn't perform up to the level that they can perform up to. There's no egos. They want to do whatever they can do to get better. There's a lot of little things when it comes to being a good defensive back. The difference in an 80-yard play or a five-yard play is maybe the right angle on a tackle. You may miss a ball on a fingertip. That's what we've got to improve on. But as long as the talent's there, you've got a chance, and the talent is definitely there.
Q: Can you make T.J. McDonald more NFL-ready? If he had decided to declare, he could have gone fairly high in this year's NFL draft, maybe the second or third round. Can you make him into a first-rounder?
A: I don't know about what I can make him into, but what I'm going to try to do and what I know he's going to try to do is maximize his potential. He can be a special player, without a doubt.