After a tumultuous 2013 football season, the Trojans finally have some calm and stability in the offseason, just in time to prepare for recruiting season and spring practices. There have been many positive signs since Steve Sarkisian was announced as the Trojans’ new head coach both from a recruiting and from a coaching staff standpoint. On Tuesday, Sarkisian introduced his almost-complete coaching staff for the 2014 season.
From last year’s staff, Sarkisian retained wide receivers coach Tee Martin and offensive coordinator Clay Helton — who led the Trojans to a 45-20 romp over Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl after recruiting coordinator and former interim head coach Ed Orgeron resigned.
In addition to these two tenured Trojan coaches, Sarkisian added six former assistant coaches from University of Washington to the coaching staff: associate offensive head coach and tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, running backs coach and special teams coordinator Johnny Nansen, linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Peter Sirmon, defensive backs coach Keith Heyward, and strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis.
Sarkisian also inked a deal with former San Francisco 49ers offensive line coach Tim Drevno to become the Trojans’ offensive line coach and running game coordinator.
“I wanted to make a staff that’s cohesive and that works well together,” Sarkisian said.
Heyward agreed with Sarkisian.
“I think we have good chemistry amongst our staff,” Heyward said. “We’re all really close in age and we all get along.”
The coaching staff is going to have to hit the ground running as recruiting season begins.
“The focus starts in Southern California, but we will reach across the country,” Sarkisian said of his recruiting strategy. “We’ve got a brand that can reach from the West Coast to the East Coast and everything in between.”
So far, five Trojans have already bought into the USC brand. Sarkisian says four players have already joined the Trojan family for the spring semester and are taking classes.
Sarkisian also mentioned that the Trojans are waiting for junior college transfer Claude Pelon to round out the spring additions to the Trojans’ roster.
Despite these mid-year additions, the entire coaching staff could not reiterate enough who the number one recruit for the 2014 class was: Hayes Pullard, who announced his return along with cornerback Josh Shaw.
“It’s huge,” Sirmon said of Hayes’ return. “Anytime you have transition you need somebody in the locker room who understands what’s best for the program and to help with the transition process, and on defense he’s going to be that guy.”
Sirmon knows he has big shoes to fill in replacing the beloved Orgeron, who served as the Trojans’ interim head coach following the dismissal of Lane Kiffin. Sirmon seems to have a grasp of what it will take to recruit the most elite players to the program.
“What I talk about is recruiting with humility,” Sirmon said. “Right now it’s a relationship business and we have to do a great job to foster it and to build it because there are guys out there that are tireless.”
Former NFL quarterback Tuiasosopo joins the Trojans’ coaching staff as the associate offensive head coach and tight ends coach. Tuiasosopo left the University of Washington after leading the team to win the Fight Hunger Bowl over BYU as the interim head coach.
Tuiasosopo brings his expertise as both a successful player and coach. In 2000, he was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and Rose Bowl MVP in his senior season at Washington. He then went on to play quarterback in the NFL. Tuiasosopo passed on an offer by Washington’s new head coach, Chris Petersen, to remain the tight ends coach at Washington to rejoin Sarkisian at USC.
Drevno, the current San Francisco 49ers assistant coach, will also be joining Sarkisian after succeeding at both the collegiate and professional levels. Drevno has been a part of head coach Jim Harbaugh’s coaching staff from the University of San Diego to Stanford and now the 49ers.
“Tim Drevno is the one common factor in all three of those stops,” Sarkisian said. “He’s been the architect behind that offensive line and their physicality — their ability to run the football — and that’s something that this program will be built upon has well.”
Sarkisian added that he wanted to make sure Drevno’s professional experience was an impact hire for both current players and recruits to be coached by an NFL offensive coach.
Once the 49ers’ season concludes, Drevno will assume the role of offensive line and running game coordinator. With veteran offensive linemen in junior Max Tuerk and redshirt sophomore Chad Wheeler along with talented running backs such as redshirt junior Buck Allen returning, Drevno should have a seamless transition in his new position.
Offensive coordinator Clay Helton and wide receivers coach Tee Martin are the only two coaches who remain from the old coaching staff. Helton will retain his title as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after coaching the Trojans to the Las Vegas Bowl victory as the second interim head coach this past season.
As for Martin, he says he’s convinced the Trojans will be in good shape at the wide receiver position despite star wideout Marqise Lee entering the draft much to the dismay of fans and coaches alike.
“You can’t replace a Marqise Lee, that just doesn’t happen,” Martin said. “But I will say I’m excited about Nelson Agholor, his leadership skills and how much better he’s gotten.”
Lee’s injury also allowed freshman Darreus Rogers to get his feet wet. The Trojans are also expecting redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell and senior wide receiver George Farmer, who were both sidelined by ACL injuries, to see some action come spring practice.
With players set to leave home, one new coach is returning home. Nansen, a native of Long Beach, Calif., jumped at the opportunity to return home. He will coach the running backs and special teams.
On the other side of the field, the defensive coordinator will be Wilcox, who plans to adjust the defensive scheme a bit while leaving a great amount of what is already in place untouched.
“Our job is to kind of find out what we’re best at and also to find out what we need from a schematic standpoint to play and be successful,” Wilcox said.
The only position to be determined is the defensive line coach.
“We’re going to do our best to hire another great defensive line coach for this football team,” Sarkisian said.
Bo Davis was originally set to assume the role and after beginning to settle in, he had a change of heart leading to his departure for Alabama under head coach Nick Saban.
“We all agreed it was probably the best thing for Bo to head back closer to home to be near his family,” Sarkisian said.
The Trojans look ahead with a roller coaster ride of a season behind them. The current focus is for the players to be a “fresh, healthy, and well-conditioned football team by the start of spring practice,” Sarkisian said. “Every guy in this program’s getting a clean slate.” The coaching staff and players alike have the opportunity to make something special of this upcoming season.