On Tuesday, the USC football head coach announced the return of John Baxter as special teams coordinator amidst numerous media reports that Clancy Pendergast would also return as defensive coordinator.
Pendergast served as USC’s defensive coordinator in 2013, when he helped construct a defense that ranked first in the Pac-12. Not retained when Steve Sarkisian was hired, Pendergast took a year off before serving as an inside linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers in 2015.
After reportedly meeting with Oregon earlier on Tuesday, Pendergast will accept the offer to come back to USC, taking over for a much maligned Justin Wilcox, who was fired by Helton after a poor showing in the Pac-12 championship game against Stanford.
Baxter’s hiring came as a welcome surprise. The 52-year-old spent four seasons (2010-2013) as the special teams coordinator for USC and most recently served at the same position for Michigan in 2015.
Highly popular among players, Baxter was named Special Teams Coordinator of the Year in 2011 by FootballScoop.com. Under Baxter, USC was ranked in the top 10 in special teams efficiency by ESPN in each season from 2010-2012. At Michigan, Baxter improved the Wolverines’ special teams unit from 96th the previous year to 12th nationally in ESPN’s special teams efficiency ranking.
“We are very excited to welcome back John Baxter to our Trojan Family,” Helton said. “He is one of the most respected coaches in our profession at any position. His units have been near the top of the collegiate special team efficiency rankings almost every year. Having worked alongside him in the past, I know Coach Baxter as one of the best teachers and skill developers in football today. We look forward to our special teams rising to greater heights under him.”
The hire comes three days after Helton brought in his younger brother Tyson Helton and Neil Callaway from Kentucky to serve as offensive assistants. Helton promoted wide receivers coach Tee Martin to offensive coordinator prior to the Holiday Bowl.