LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury was named Clay Helton’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Southern California on Wednesday.
Kingsbury is considered one of the top offensive minds in football despite being fired by Texas Tech on Nov. 25. He went 35-40 in six seasons in charge of his alma mater, but the Red Raiders consistently had one of the nation’s most dynamic offenses.
Kingsbury reportedly was pursued by NFL teams after his dismissal, but he chose to join the embattled Helton at talent-loaded USC, which just completed its first losing season since 2000.
“He is a brilliant offensive mind and is on the cutting edge of the game today,” Helton said. “His offenses have consistently been at the top of the college football statistical rankings. With the talent on our team, along with his leadership and coaching, I truly believe that we can take our offense to new heights.”
Kingsbury replaces offensive coordinator Tee Martin, who was dismissed along with several assistant coaches after the Trojans (5-7) lost five of their final six games, including consecutive losses to rivals UCLA and Notre Dame. USC’s quarterbacks coach last season was Bryan Ellis, who left to become Western Kentucky’s offensive coordinator.
Kingsbury’s arrival should placate a large segment of the unsatisfied USC fan base that called for Helton’s firing throughout the second half of the season. USC athletic director Lynn Swann realized he was going against public sentiment when last month he elected to retain Helton, who got a contract extension through 2023 earlier this year.
Kingsbury was spotted on USC’s campus last week, and the Air Raid architect’s interest in the job immediately excited fans who were skeptical that Swann and Helton were committed to change in the sputtering program. The school also is eager to avoid a downturn in football interest next season at the Coliseum, which is undergoing a $315 million renovation.
Few coaches have better reputations for developing exciting offenses and star quarterbacks than Kingsbury, who set several NCAA records as a quarterback under current Washington State coach Mike Leach while at Texas Tech.
After a five-year pro career, Kingsbury has coached Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Case Keenum, Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb and others to major statistical success. Kingsbury’s vaunted version of Leach’s Air Raid offense has produced the nation’s leading passer three times in his 11 years as a college coach.
After his firing at Tech, Kingsbury drew interest from collegiate and NFL teams seeking his quarterback expertise and offensive vision. He chose to stay in the college game at powerhouse USC, which is coming off just its fourth losing season since 1961.
USC ranked 11th in the Pac-12 last season with 382.6 yards per game. Helton, the Trojans’ former offensive coordinator, took over play-calling duties from Martin for the final four games of the just-completed season, but the Trojans finished 83rd in the FBS in total offense, 91st in scoring and 108th in rushing.
The Trojans scored fewer than 20 points in four of their seven losses, and USC has scored fewer than 20 points in eight games of Helton’s 3½-year tenure. Texas Tech scored fewer than 20 points only nine times in Kingsbury’s six seasons in charge.
Kingsbury has no previous ties to USC, and his hiring represents a break with tradition at a school that had strived for nearly a decade to recapture the glory of its dominant era under Pete Carroll.
The school already had a decades-long history of hiring and promoting from within its vaunted football program, and it unsuccessfully replaced Carroll with two of his former assistants: Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.
Kingsbury seems certain to create a new-look offense for the Trojans, who won the Rose Bowl and the Pac-12 in Helton’s first two full seasons in charge.
After quarterback Sam Darnold left for the New York Jets last spring, the Trojans struggled with freshman J.T. Daniels behind center.
Daniels was considered the nation’s top quarterback prospect when he arrived at USC, but he showed only flashes of that talent while throwing for 2,672 yards with 14 TD passes and 10 interceptions as a freshman. His 128.6 quarterback rating was 10th in the Pac-12.
Daniels’ partnership with Kingsbury is tantalizing, particularly with talented receivers Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Velus Jones Jr. all expected to return along with running backs Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai.
Kingsbury will join Helton and returning defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, whose group largely performed admirably during the Trojans’ miserable season despite injuries. USC must hire a new offensive line coach after Neil Callaway was fired with four games left.