Entering the week, only two practices separated USC football from the spring game on Saturday. Although spring football is coming to a close, it is never too late to shake things up.
In the case of the Trojans, that shake up came in the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury as a senior offensive analyst. Kingsbury, who spent the previous four years as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, will return to the college game for the first time since the 2018 season.
“We connected a month or so ago, just to check in as friends,” head coach Lincoln Riley said. “He ended up coming into town and spending a little bit of time … I hadn’t quite landed on the right person, so I asked Kliff in passing if it’s something he’d be interested in and described it to him. He thought about it for a little bit, and it ended up being a great fit for both sides.”
Kingsbury brings with him a wealth of experience coaching the offensive side of the football on both the collegiate and professional levels. Before coaching the Cardinals, he was an offensive coordinator and head coach for the Texas Tech Red Raiders. At Texas Tech, he is most well known for coaching Patrick Mahomes in college, who just won his second Super Bowl in February.
“The added benefit with a guy like Kliff is a guy who’s been a head coach both at this level and the professional level,” Riley said. “Somebody who’s had to sit in that chair and make those decisions, whether it’s something on gameday or it’s something just through the course of a normal week, it’s always great to have another opinion and an outside perspective that is not tied to one position.”
Over the years, there have been plenty of connections between Riley, Kingsbury and the Trojans. In fact, Kingsbury briefly held the title of USC offensive coordinator before the 2019 season, but quickly left the position to take the Arizona job. He and Riley also both played college football at Texas Tech under head coach Mike Leach. Additionally, Kingsbury drafted Kyler Murray with the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, whom Riley had coached at Oklahoma for two seasons.
“We didn’t cross over much at Texas Tech; we’ve never really worked together. He was on the way out as I was on my way in,” Riley said. “Obviously when he went to the NFL and they drafted Kyler right away, that immediately opened up a really good line of communication. We’ve probably been closer in the last few years than we had been in the early years just because of that.”
Given Kingsbury’s vast experience working with high-profile quarterbacks, he is expected to be the right guy to coach junior quarterback Caleb Williams. Williams will be the second Heisman winner Kingsbury has coached, as he was the offensive coordinator for Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M in 2012.
While Riley had expected this move to happen for some time, some players were just as surprised as many fans were to hear the news.
“It was crazy. I was talking to my dad, and I was like, ‘I don’t think it’s real,’” said redshirt senior running back Austin Jones. “I thought it was just some random news story that just surfaced. It’s a great addition, obviously, you can’t go wrong with a head coach in the NFL. It’s going to be really interesting to see; I can’t wait to meet him. It definitely shocked me; I thought it was fake.”
While the Kingsbury hire will help improve a unit that was already dominant a year ago, practices on the defensive end are only getting more intense. With only one week to go in spring ball, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is making sure his players take advantage of every moment they have left.
On Tuesday, the Trojan defense continued to work on tackling, pass coverage and turnover creation. Both players and coaches alike were vocal and animated over the course of each drill.
Perhaps this intensity stems from the anticipation of USC’s return to the Coliseum, which will be the team’s first action in front of fans since a 38-27 win over Notre Dame last November. With the spring game now less than a week away, many players expressed their excitement to return to their home stadium.
“Other than last year, I’d say we’re gonna have more fans at the spring game,” Williams said. “It’s gonna be a little bit more fun having the fans going hard for us. Other than that, the Coliseum is always a fun place to be in. It’s a historic place, and it’s awesome to be in every Saturday when we get a chance. It’s gonna be awesome, I can’t wait.”
To get there, the Trojans will need to complete one more practice on Thursday afternoon, when they will finalize their preparation before giving their fans a preview of the 2023 season.