After finishing a disappointing 5-7 (4-5 in the Pac-12), USC head coach Clay Helton kept his job but everyone knew changes were coming. While some Trojans assistants have already been dismissed or left for other opportunities, Helton has already demonstrated that things will be different for the Men of Troy in 2019 by hiring former Texas Tech head coach Kilff Kingsbury as offensive coordinator.
Kingsbury was fired last Monday after Texas Tech finished 5-7 this season, including a 3-6 record in Big 12 play. In six seasons at his alma mater, Kingsbury went 35-40 with three bowl appearances, but his teams struggled against conference opponents (19-35) and never finished better than a tie for fifth in the Big 12 standings.
The consensus was that Kingsbury would not be unemployed for long with the NFL being mentioned as a possible destination, but it was Helton who convinced him to come to the West Coast to oversee USC's offense. An offensive coordinator at Houston (2010-11) and Texas A&M (2012) before becoming a head coach, that side of the ball was never an issue for Kingsbury's Texas Tech teams.
In six seasons, the Red Raiders ranked no lower than ninth in passing offense, including leading the category in 2016. Additionally Texas Tech finished in the top five in scoring offense in both 2015 and '16 and ranked 16th this season at 37.3 points per game. Compare that to USC, who averaged just 26.1 points per game this season to tie for 90th in the FBS.
Kingsbury, a prolific quarterback at Texas Tech who spent three seasons in the NFL, had guys like Davis Webb, Patrick Mahomes, Nic Shimonek, and this season freshman Alan Bowman, thrive in his system and under his tutelage. His new pupil is highly regarded freshman JT Daniels, who has a lot of room for improvement after a freshman season that featured plenty of growing pains.
But is Kingsbury the cure for what ails the Trojans' offense or is he just another guy whose reputation won't follow him to Los Angeles? Athlon Sports editor Steven Lassan and AthlonSports.com contributor Josh Webb, who has many years' of experience covering USC for various outlets, offer their take on Helton's decision to hire Kingsbury.
Is Kliff Kingsbury the Right Choice as USC Offensive Coordinator?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Considering how the 2018 season ended with losses to UCLA and Notre Dame, the questions surrounding his job status and an overall disappointing 5-7 mark, USC coach Clay Helton needed something positive (and in a big way) to get this program going in the right direction. Helton accomplished that and then some by landing Kliff Kingsbury as his new offensive coordinator. In a conference that has its share of high-powered offenses, the Trojans now have one of the brightest minds in college football calling the plays.
Sure, hiring Kingsbury doesn’t solve all of the issues surrounding Helton’s program, but he brings immediate credibility to an offense that finished ninth in the Pac-12 in scoring at just 26.1 points a game. With quarterback JT Daniels and receivers Michael Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns set to return next fall, Kingsbury has the personnel to run his pass-first attack. He should certainly help Daniels or Jack Sears take the next step in their development as well. Kingsbury will have to find ways to get USC’s ground game going and mitigate some of the concerns up front but getting the ball in space to the playmakers on the roster is going to do a lot to help this unit in 2019.
Attracting talent to USC hasn’t been an issue for Helton. The Trojans have inked the No. 4 class in back-to-back years and own the No. 1 roster in the Pac-12 (according to recruiting rankings) with an average finish of 5.6 nationally since 2014. Assembling talent isn’t good enough to win in the Pac-12 or compete for finishes in the top 25. The Trojans need coaches who can push this roster, develop the talent in place and put the players in a better position to succeed. Kingsbury is a big step in the right direction, and I expect USC’s offense to show progress in 2019.
Josh Webb (@FightOnTwist)
USC’s hire of Kliff Kingsbury is a bold move by any measure of the word. His preferred offensive philosophy eschews what the Trojans have been known for throughout the years. There’s no denying that the hire will help USC with quarterback development and recruiting in Texas, but it’s hard to look at this decision and think that it bolsters the play on the offensive line or in the backfield, which were certainly issues during Kingsbury's time as Texas Tech's head coach. While bold doesn’t necessarily mean the wrong fit, there are certainly issues USC media will be watching as his tenure unfolds in Los Angeles.
How USC utilizes a running game that was missing for much of this season is the primary question for me. Kingsbury only had one year at Texas Tech where the Red Raiders really excelled at running the ball. That year was 2015, when the Red Raiders averaged 191.3 rushing yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry. For comparison, that same season the Trojans were lower in the national rankings (70th vs. 40th) at 168.2 yards per contest and 4.5 yards per carry. This season, USC ranks near the bottom of the entire FBS (133.5 ypg, 107th) so if Kingsbury can help the Trojans produce more along the lines of his 2015 Texas Tech team (or even get back to being in the middle of the FBS) it will help produce a balanced attack that should make USC more of an offensive threat. But achieving that balance will be critical to the Trojans’ chances of success.
Maybe this is exactly what USC needs. Maybe not going against the grain is what has been plaguing the Trojans all along. Bringing Kingsbury on board is USC's first outside-the-box hire since one Peter Clay Carroll. Everyone knows how that turned out for the Men of Troy. If anything, Kingsbury should help JT Daniels improve given his track record with quarterbacks. And if Kingsbury can apply his magic touch to areas other than the quarterback position then the Trojans could well be on their way back to contention in the Pac-12 and possibly return to relevancy in the national landscape as well.