A Rise Back to Dominance? Lincoln Riley Bullish on USC Defensive Coaching Staff Hires

    "They're second to none," Lincoln Riley gave incredible praise to his new staff on the defensive side of the ball, issuing a warning to the Big Ten in the process.

    The USC Trojans are set to replace a ton of talent across the board in 2024. With exhausted eligibility, early NFL Draft enrollees, and the transfer portal wrecking rosters nationwide, USC is also set to have a ton of turnover on their sidelines all the same.

    Yet, head coach Lincoln Riley remains incredibly high on his defense this fall, especially the new staff he’s hired.

    Lincoln Riley Says Defensive Staff Is Second to None

    “I also don’t hide from the fact that the defensive staff that we just brought in here, I think, is second to none, anywhere,” Riley said on the Pat McAfee Show.

    In order to understand that this may not just be hyperbole from Riley, you have to go back to the beginning of his tenure at USC. The Trojans’ defense was the Achilles’ Heel of USC’s season the past two years under Riley.

    For all the good that Heisman Trophy QB Caleb Williams presented, the Trojans couldn’t pull off a Pac-12 Championship or even sniff an appearance in the College Football Playoffs. Williams earned multiple individual awards, but a defense that routinely allowed 30 or more points thwarted any sustained success for USC over the past two seasons.

    When asked if the criticisms of his defenses have been fair, Riley was brutally honest.

    “I do think it’s fair,” Riley said. “At the end of the day, the two schools I’ve been a head coach at, you’re defined by championships. I love coaching at places like that and the reality is that there’s not going to be much in between when you’re at those schools.”

    “If championships are the expectations, then you’ve got to play great on all sides of the ball. Certainly, you’ve got to play elite-level defense to get it done. And so, we haven’t done that in the first two years here, I don’t hide from that.”

    It’s clear Riley started to begin to understand his defensive lapses midway through the season last year when he fired former defensive coordinator Alex Grinch after allowing more than 28 points in eight appearances by mid-November in 2023. Now, his overhauled staff brings much promise.

    USC Defensive Staff Additions

    So, just who are the new members of the staff that have Riley so excited? It all starts up top.

    Riley brought in former UCLA defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn to serve in the same role on the Trojans’ defense. He then brought in North Dakota State head coach Mike Entz as the team’s linebackers coach.

    Then Riley brought in Doug Belk as the team’s defensive backs coach. Belk was Houston’s defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the past three seasons under Dana Holgorsen.

    Lastly, Eric Henderson, former Los Angeles Rams defensive line coach, joined the staff as co-defensive coordinator and defensive line/run game coordinator.

    “We started with a bunch of names on the board that we thought were the best coaches and best developers in football, and for some of these guys to leave the situations that they did to come coach for us here at USC speaks a lot to the trajectory that they see this program on and what it can become,” Riley continued about the new hires.

    After looking at the group as a whole, it’s hard not to believe in Riley. At the very least, this is a much more competent-looking group than the one that trotted out with Grinch the past two seasons.

    “I think this staff is phenomenal and I can’t wait to get started with this group.

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