After moving on from DC Alex Grinch after yet another poor performance, this time against the Washington Huskies, Lincoln Riley, and the USC Trojans find themselves in a coaching search. It will be paramount for Coach Riley to get this hire right, as the program needs stability on the defensive side of the ball as USC embarks on the move to the Big10 next season.
The USC Trojans still have one final game, the Victory Bell game against cross-town rival UCLA, but will need to move swiftly in making this hire as National Letter of Intent Day is just around the corner in December.
We will update this throughout the process, and rank candidates as time goes on, but here is an initial list one week into the search process.
Top USC Trojans Defensive Coordinator Candidates
Jim Leonhard – Senior Football Analyst – Illinois
This is the ultimate dream scenario. It is quite shocking after what Leonhard has accomplished in such a short time that he is just a Senior Analyst for the Illinois program. There are some rumors that it was simply a year for him to take a step back and then take a head coaching gig at the end of this season.
I would not be shocked if he got some head coaching looks, but you gotta believe that Lincoln Riley and USC will at least pick up the phone and gauge his interest. If there is mutual interest, the only concern would be how long SC would be able to keep him.
D’Anton Lynn – UCLA DC
It is impressive what D’Anton Lynn has done with the UCLA defense in such a short time. They rank Top 10 in just about every statistical category after being ranked 88th in total team defense last season. He has never been involved with recruiting, but he has an NFL pedigree, which could be a recruiting tool in itself.
There is plenty of uncertainty with UCLA’s head coach Chip Kelly, but regardless of whatever happens there, USC can offer him a blank check and all of SoCal’s defensive talent. The only drawback for SC is it most likely will not be a long-term option. Similarly to Leonhard, if he turns the SC defense around quickly, he will start getting head coaching calls quickly.
*After what we saw transpire at the Coliseum on Saturday, Lincoln Riley and Jen Cohen should not allow Lynn to leave the premises without a signed contract.
Manny Diaz – Penn State DC
Manny Diaz is the current defensive coordinator of the Penn State Nittany Lions, and before that, the DC turned to Head Coach at Miami. Currently, the Penn State defense ranks 2nd in the country in total defense.
Diaz would bring tremendous experience, a sound scheme, and the ability to recruit.
His previous experience includes DC stops at Texas, Louisiana Tech, and Mississippi State.
Scott Symones – SMU DC
Scott Symones is the current defensive coordinator for the SMU Mustangs, a position that he has held since 2021. SMU has plenty of money, but not exactly the college football pedigree that some of the premier programs have. And yet, Symones has his unit ranked 11th in the country playing really good football.
Symones spent 3 years at Liberty before getting hired on at SMU. In his final season as DC at Liberty, his unit also ranked 11th in the country. He is a program builder and would be a tremendous get for the Trojans.
Zach Arnett – Former Mississippi State HC
This is a name that is picking up a lot of steam since he was just recently fired as the head coach at Mississippi State. Arnett played Linebacker for the University of New Mexico and joined the coaching world shortly after his collegiate career.
He worked his way up from a GA position at San Diego State and became the DC in 2018. He aided in the unit moving up over 30 spots in defensive ranking and finishing as the 32nd-ranked total unit.
In 2020, he was hired by Mike Leach as the DC at Mississippi State, and after Leach’s tragic passing, took over as Head Coach. With a new Athletic Director hired in 2023, there was sentiment that Zac Selmon would want to make his own hire, and Arnett was fired on November 13th.
Arnett built a name for himself in SoCal and with the ties to Mike Leach, he is definitely a name to watch for. It also helps that he could start tomorrow.
*Update: Tom Allen – Former Indiana HC
It was just announced on Sunday (11/26) that the University of Indiana has fired its Head Coach, Tom Allen.
Allen spent 8 seasons as the Indiana head coach, and before being promoted, was the Defensive Coordinator. He was also the DC at South Florida, and the LB/ST coach at Ole Miss. Allen worked his way up from the high school ranks and small programs such as Drake and Arkansas State.
This wouldn’t be the splash hire that USC fans are hoping for, but if Lincoln Riley wants experience, Tom Allen has that in spades.
Other Intriguing USC Trojans Defensive Coordinator Options
Ron English – Louisville DC
Andy Avalos – Former Boise State DC
Joe Harasymiak – Rutgers DC
Joe Rossi – Minnesota DC
Trent Bray – Oregon State DC
Jimmy Lake – Current Assistant Head Coach Los Angeles Rams (Very Unlikely)
Dave Aranda – Current Baylor Head Coach (If Fired)