Former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury will be USC’s next offensive coordinator, according to multiple reports published Tuesday.
It is to be a high-profile hire by Trojans coach Clay Helton, who has been tasked this offseason with overseeing a rebuild of one of the nation’s lowest-scoring offenses.
Kingsbury replaces Tee Martin, who was among three assistants dismissed by Helton last week.
The Trojans, who finished with their first losing season since 2000, generated only 26.1 points per game in 2018, ranking 91st among the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, as well as 382.6 yards per game, leaving them 84th in the nation.
Kingsbury, 39, was the head coach at Texas Tech for six seasons before he was fired last month after a third consecutive losing season. He was the primary play-caller for the Red Raiders and had three previous seasons of experience as an offensive coordinator at Texas A&M and Houston, building a reputation for his offensive acumen.
With the Aggies in 2012, he tutored Johnny Manziel, the controversial quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman that fall.
While Kingsbury was 35-40 as Texas Tech’s coach, his teams rarely faced trouble putting up points. In his six seasons at the helm, they finished with a top-25 scoring offense five times, including two top-five finishes.
Because of his offensive smarts, Kingsbury was linked to a variety of potential openings in the college and professional ranks in recent weeks. Rams coach Sean McVay told reporters Monday he had reached out to Kingsbury about a possible role on their staff.
When asked about Kingsbury’s reported deal to become the offensive coordinator at USC, a school spokesman said, “We haven’t announced any hirings yet.”
Kingsbury’s arrival will mark USC’s continued departure from traditional run-dominant offenses of past decades, a smash-mouth style that once endured behind its fame student-body right sweeps.
Kingsbury is regarded for his “Air Raid” offense, a pass-happy scheme that he first learned as a record-setting quarterback at Texas Tech under then-coach Mike Leach from 1998-2002.
After finishing ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting as a senior, Kingsbury was a backup quarterback in the NFL, followed by stints in NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League.
He began his coaching career with Houston as its quality control coach in 2008 and was elevated to co-offensive coordinator in 2010, soon making his mark with young quarterbacks.
He has coached three NFL starting passers – Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns and Case Keenum of the Denver Broncos. Mahomes, in his second season, has become a breakout star because of his strong arm and was developed by Kingsbury at Texas Tech, where he arrived as an overlooked three-star recruit.
Kingsbury will oversee an offense at USC that has promising talent, starting with quarterback JT Daniels, who completed his freshman season, followed by wide receivers Michael Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns.
Daniels was the Gatorade national player of the year for Mater Dei, but had an up-and-down debut season, completing 59.5 percent of his passes for 2,672 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His passer rating was ninth among Pac-12 quarterbacks.
It is widely assumed Kingsbury will become the Trojans’ primary play-caller.
Helton held play-calling duties for the final month of the season, taking over for Martin as the Trojans were off to a 4-4 start.
There was little improvement in the final month, as the Trojans averaged 24 points per game, slightly below their season average, and faced sizable trouble in the second half, shut out after halftime in a 16-14 loss to Cal on Nov. 10 and held to only a field goal in the final 30 minutes in a 34-27 loss to crosstown rival UCLA on Nov. 17.
The Trojans had been 13th in the nation in 2017 with Sam Darnold behind center.
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