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A look at the staff Clay Helton will bring into a critical 2020 season

Clay Helton survived a stay of execution following a 5-7 in 2018, and in 2019 an 8-5 season was juuuuust enough to get him yet another year. The Trojans concluded their regular season on Nov. 23 and did not formally retain Helton until Dec. 4 -- a full 11 days where the administration let Helton dangle in the wind, only to buck expectation and bring him back.

Helton has been on the hot seat for the USC fan base ever since then-AD Pat Haden gave him the full-time job at the end of the 2015 season, and the 2020 campaign will be the second straight in which Helton publicly coaches with a pot of boiling water right below his keister.

Despite all that, Helton's 2020 team should be his best since the Sam Darnold days. Thanks to the play of rising sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis and a loaded receiving corps, USC will actually be favored to win or at least seriously contend for the Pac-12 title -- at which point Helton would then return again in 2021, but that's a conversation for another day.

Helton has to succeed in 2020, and to do so he changed over a number of key staff positions from last season to next.

As a recap, here was USC's 2019 staff:

- Clay Helton, Head coach
- Clancy Pendergast, Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator
- Graham Harrell, Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
- John Baxter, Special teams coordinator/tight ends
- Tim Drevno, Offensive line/Run game coordinator/Pass protection coordinator
- Johnny Nansen, Inside linebackers/defensive run game coordinator
- Joe DeForest, Outside linebackers
- Mike Jinks, Running backs
- Keary Colbert, Wide receivers
- Greg Burns, Defensive backs
- Chad Kauha'aha'a, Defensive line

Helton announced Dec. 28 that Pendergast and Baxter will not return and DeForest found work on NC State's staff the same day, creating three openings, two of them at the coordinator level.

On top of that, the biggest change was one Harrell didn't have to make as Harrell opted to return for a second season in Los Angeles after a well-publicized pursuit by Texas, head coaching interest at the college level and interest from at least one NFL team for a coordinator role.

John David Baker, a longtime right-hand man of Harrell's, was promoted to tight ends coach in mid-January, and Todd Orlando was announced as defensive coordinator on Jan. 24.

USC did not designate a positional assignment in the Orlando announcement (Pendergast did not coach a specific position), but it would seem he will coach linebackers in some coach linebackers in some capacity because A) it's the position he coached in each of his five previous coordinator jobs, and B) USC is about to run out of open spots. Orlando ran a 3-3-5 scheme at Texas, but one could see him transitioning to a 3-4 at USC.

On Thursday, Bruce Feldman reported that Craig Naivar will join the staff, most likely as safeties coach.

Adding Naivar would mean Greg Burns would shift to handling just cornerbacks after coaching the Trojans' entire defensive backfield in 2019 and for USC's 2003 and '04 championship teams.

USC does not presently have a designated special teams coordinator; Naivar coached special teams at Texas.

Update:After this piece originally published, it was reported Nansen, Burns and Kauha'aha'a will not return to the staff.

Given all that, here's what we know so far about USC's 2020 coaching staff. New hires/promotions are in italics.

- Clay Helton, Head coach
- Graham Harrell, Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
- Todd Orlando, Defensive coordinator/outside linebackers(?)
- Tim Drevno, Offensive line/Run game coordinator/Pass protection coordinator
- ???, Inside linebackers/defensive run game coordinator
- Mike Jinks, Running backs
- Keary Colbert, Wide receivers
- ???, Cornerbacks
- Craig Naivar, Safeties/special teams coordinator(?)
- ???, Defensive line
- John David Baker, Tight ends

The Naivar and Baker hires have yet to be announced and three spots are open, so we could see some shifting in responsibilities from what's been reported/educatedly guessed above and what gets formalized.

In the meantime, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.