The clock is ticking for USC coach Lane Kiffin in terms of hiring a new defensive coordinator, as several top defensive recruits will be on campus in one week for official visits.
It's been more than a month since Kiffin's father, Monte, announced that he would resign after the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Lane Kiffin made it clear at the time that he would wait until after the bowl game to begin the search for his father's replacement, and that seemed to give him plenty of time to get that coach in place before the big recruiting weekend.
The Trojans will host nine recruits on Jan. 17, including six on the defensive side of the ball. To say those defensive recruits are critical to the class would be an understatement. The group includes the recently decommitted Eddie Vanderdoes (Auburn, Calif./Placer) as well as committed players such as Jalen Ramsey (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy) and Jason Hatcher (Louisville, Ky./Trinity), who are still being wooed by other schools.
There will also be a trio of linebacker recruits on the trip with Michael Hutchings (Concord, Calif./De La Salle) having recently declared that he is 100 percent committed to USC and will not be taking other visits. The other two linebackers are from Florida with Quinton Powell (Daytona Beach, Fla./Mainland) and Matthew Thomas (Miami, Fla./Booker T. Washington) being recruits who could dramatically impact that position.
You can be sure the first question the recruits will want answered will have to do with the new defensive coordinator. What kind of system does he run? What are his defensive philosophies?
Ramsey has been very open about the fact that the uncertainty surrounding the defensive coordinator spot has played a role in him considering other options.
"One big holdback is that I don't know who the defensive coordinator is," Ramsey said in an interview at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. "I really need to know that because that is who I will be playing for. I know they will have them by my official visit and I will be able to talk with him multiple times. That's huge, I'm not going to lie."
There hasn't been much in the way of confirmed information coming out about the search, which is in keeping with the way Kiffin traditionally conducts his coaching searches. Kiffin has said he wants a coach who has a history of success against the spread -- something that is critical in the Pac-12 these days -- and most speculation has revolved around a group of candidates that includes Mark Banker from Oregon State, Clancy Pendergast (formerly at Cal), Nick Aliotti from Oregon and Joe Barry of the San Diego Chargers.
Banker has a good reputation from his work with the Beavers, the last 10 years in the defensive coordinator spot. He spent one year on the USC staff in 1996, where he first worked with Mike Riley and he has been with Riley for 15 of the past 16 years.
Pendergast was the defensive coordinator at Cal under Jeff Tedford but was not retained by new coach Sonny Dykes. One of the interesting elements of Pendergast being considered is the fact that he has a lot of history running a 3-4 defense, while the Trojans have run a 4-3 defense in recent years. Kiffin said he wants to evaluate every part of the USC program this offseason, and we've been told that includes the possibility of incorporating the 3-4 as part of the defensive plan.
The talk of Aliotti as an option was centered primarily around Chip Kelly going to the NFL and Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich being promoted to head coach. Since it appears now that Kelly will be staying at Oregon, that option is likely off the table.
Barry has a long history at USC, both as a player coach before moving on to the San Diego Chargers last year. Barry has a lot of support in Heritage Hall and multiple players pointed to his absence as being a big emotional loss last year.
It stands to reason that all the speculation will be answered soon as time is running out for Kiffin to make his choice before the big recruiting weekend.