Cornerbacks coach Williams sees a sleeping giant in USC

Cornerbacks coach Donte Williams is regarded as the top overall recruiter in the Pac-12 Conference. (Photo courtesy of USC Athletics)

USC cornerbacks coach Donte Williams is committed to reasserting USC as the king of college football on the West Coast. A Los Angeles native, Williams understands the positive impact a successful USC team can have on recruiting, locally and nationally. Under his guidance, Williams plans to help the Trojans take back control of the recruiting trail and return to national prominence. Williams spoke with Daily Trojan sports editor David Ramirez about his move from Oregon to Los Angeles, his expectations for the season and his goals as a coach. 

DT: Why did you want to come back to L.A.? Why USC specifically? What about this job attracted you and what do you hope to accomplish?

DW: I mean, there’s a lot of things that happened in my life. My dad’s been extremely sick right now, so that’s huge for me, someone that’s been there for me my entire life. At the same time, USC is one of those particular places where you can be in the national championship year in, year out. You can throw a rock in a 50-mile radius in any direction and you can get enough players to win a national championship. You can go anywhere in the country and pretty much pull the best of the best players. We’re still doing fairly well in recruiting and once everything opens up, we can do a lot better. 

Growing up out here in L.A. basically four or five miles away from campus, I know what ’SC is. I know what it can be — no, what it should be. Leaving Oregon wasn’t really a bad aspect. It was more of what you can do at ’SC and things going on particularly with my family.

DT: Literally speaking, we know what “Take Back the West” means. But what does that mean to you beyond just putting that hashtag on Twitter? What is the significance of the “Take Back the West” mantra?

DW: I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it’s about making sure USC is — we should be in the Rose Bowl every year. That’s how I look at it. We should be top-five recruiting every year. We’re in a conversation to be in the Playoff and the list goes on. When I think of “Take Back the West,” if you’re the best in the West Coast, that should be good enough to be in those conversations. 

DT: What are some little things you’ve learned to take advantage of trying to recruit over Zoom? 

DW: I mean, a lot of things I can’t talk about because, you know. But I really don’t need sleep. Sometimes you got to do long days but it’s by any means necessary and I’m always OK with that. When you can relate to both sides of the spectrum, it changes things up to where you don’t just have to recruit defensive backs. I recruit DBs, quarterbacks, receivers, linemen. Here we’ve done a great job of helping each other recruit. It’s one thing if I can say “I did this” but here it’s definitely “us” and we’re all helping each other and we’re doing a great job together.

DT: What do you see in USC and the potential of its defensive backs that you can turn them into the force that Oregon was the last few years?

DW: I mean it’s one thing for me to talk about it, it’s a whole different thing that we do it on the field Saturday. We’re getting into the habit, right now, I’m making sure we finish the play. The biggest thing is attention to detail. They all were decorated out of high school but high school doesn’t mean anything. I guess these guys are finding that out now because at the same time, some of them I knew, but I didn’t really recruit them. We’re getting a chance to get to know each other and Saturday will be our first real test. We’re going to make sure everybody in the world gets to see what we’re capable of.

DT: So what does proving it on Saturday look like to you? What is a successful performance from the back end of the defense in your opinion?

DW: Basically, no explosive plays. No big plays. Every now and then they’re going to catch the ball. I mean, they’re on scholarship too. They have great players also. Make sure we’re able to tackle, make plays and just make sure we’re out there having fun. Nobody’s having fun when they’re losing. Nobody’s having fun when they’re not making plays. So we’re out there having fun and we’re doing our jobs. 

DT: What would you see as a successful time at USC and what would you see as a successful career coaching in general?

DW: Successful time here: I see all the guys I coached get their degree. That’d be first. The second is to win a national championship, so that’s more of a team goal. The third thing is all these guys that play in these games for us and play at those spots, that they get drafted and make their dreams come true. 

For me, I’m more focused on making sure I’m the best DB coach in the nation. Just like everyone else when the time comes, hopefully I get the opportunity to be a head coach one day and a defensive coordinator and the list goes on. Right now I’m focused on what I can do for these guys to make [them] better and be the best DB coach I can possibly be on a daily basis.

DT: When you were a coach at Oregon, what are things you noticed about USC that you thought, “I would fix that?” What were the first things you thought needed to be taken care of?

DW: The culture. I mean, just making sure everybody is brought in. Coach Helton has done a great job making sure the players, coaches and everyone has bought in to the way he envisions what he would like USC to be. It’s one thing for the players but [there’s] a lot of new coaches here too. We have to also buy in and see the vision which he set for us all.

Editor’s note: This article was edited for length and clarity.