Lincoln Riley needs to ask tough questions about keeping Donte Williams on staff

This is getting very interesting for USC football, and not in a good way. Donte Williams coaches USC’s defensive backs and is also the defensive passing game coordinator for the Trojans under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and head coach Lincoln Riley.

One of the big jobs of a head coach is to surround himself with the right assistants. Riley and Grinch need to improve this defense in time for UCLA — that’s the main focus here — but they also need to plan ahead for 2023 and ask themselves if it’s worth it to keep Donte Williams on staff.

Let’s explore this complicated and fascinating topic:

LOYALTY

USC fans appreciate what Donte Williams did to keep the program afloat in the latter years of Clay Helton’s tenure. His recruiting prevented a bad situation from being much worse. Now Lincoln Riley needs to consider whether loyalty to Williams is merited heading into 2023.

THE OBVIOUS POINT

Williams was the one main holdover on USC’s primary (on-field) assistant coaching staff. Riley and Alex Grinch need to ask themselves if Williams has done enough to merit retention for next year.

THE OTHER OBVIOUS POINT

USC’s secondary has been atrocious the past three weeks. We need to see something better from Alex Grinch, but we also need to see something better from Donte Williams.

COMPLICATIONS

Though Williams is watching his secondary get smoked, Alex Grinch has not coached well. To an extent, Grinch bears some of the blame for what Williams is going through, and that can’t be denied or ignored.

LINEBACKERS

The injuries to USC’s linebackers, chiefly Eric Gentry, have obviously placed more of a burden on the secondary. That point can’t be ignored, either.

HELTON HOLDOVERS

Ceyair Wright had a rough game against Cal. He is a Clay Helton holdover. Just how much importance should we assign to the struggles of Helton holdovers, measured against the reality that in 2023, more of Lincoln Riley’s recruits will be in the program?

10 SPOTS

The 10 on-field assistant coaching spots are precious and valuable. Any top program has to insist on getting maximum return on investment for these 10 coaches. It’s clear that Donte Williams is not giving USC maximum value. That should at least mean he ought to be coaching for his job against UCLA and Notre Dame.

ROY MANNING

As we noted on The Riley Files, Roy Manning was less than spectacular in coaching Oklahoma’s defensive backs. He got shifted to linebackers at USC.

Riley and Grinch are not selecting the very best staffers, and that has to be noted.

RECRUITING ONLY GOES SO FAR

Coaches have to be able to develop players and coach technique. Their recruiting value can’t be the only reason they are retained.

KOREY FOREMAN

Foreman’s lack of development is a very intriguing topic to attach to Williams, since Williams helped bring Foreman to USC. Alex Grinch and Todd Orlando also bear responsibility for this problem, but Donte Williams isn’t 100-percent in the clear.

TODD ORLANDO

Orlando’s terrible coaching of the 2021 USC defense certainly had a role in limiting the developmental ceilings of USC players. That can’t be ignored.

THE ARGUMENT FOR DONTE WILLIAMS

The argument for Donte Williams is not a complicated one. It revolves around the central idea which also applies to Alex Grinch: USC was never going to have a good defense in Year 1 after the Clay Helton mess. If Grinch deserves 2023 (and he does), so does Williams.

COUNTERPOINT

While Grinch does deserve a 2023 season, Williams and other lower-tier members of a coaching staff should be viewed as more expendable. It’s a natural part of life as a coach: Those higher up the food chain should be harder to fire. They buy one extra year on the job (or more broadly, they buy extra time) by firing the guys below them in the chain of command. Grinch and Williams shouldn’t necessarily be held to the same standard. What if Grinch can find someone better to coach the secondary?

BIG PICTURE

It was always true (and still is) that USC and Lincoln Riley needed a full recruiting cycle and another transfer portal cycle to restock the roster. Judging Donte Williams based on 2022 performance could certainly be seen as premature, given the comparative lack of resources.

DOMANI JACKSON

This is another point to make in favor of Donte Williams: Domani Jackson has not been healthy this season. Next year, when he has another offseason under his belt, he could be really special in this secondary. More than that, he could help other players fit more snugly in their respective roles. The secondary could snap into place in ways this year didn’t allow for.

ONE MORE YEAR

The caliber of talent in the 2023 USC secondary should be better than this year. If we assume that incoming recruits and transfers beyond those already committed to USC will flow into next year’s secondary, it’s reasonable to let Donte Williams stay on and see if he can hit a home run in his current position on staff.

THE NEXT 3 WEEKS

There are plenty of reasonable arguments to make in favor of keeping Donte Williams, but the obvious counterpoint is if USC gets torched by UCLA and Notre Dame, Alex Grinch and Lincoln Riley will have to ask themselves — and Donte Williams — some hard questions.

FINAL THOUGHT

Is one year enough to merit a firing of Donte Williams or any assistant coach? Given the limitations of the defensive roster this year, it’s hard to render a full verdict. It’s important to raise questions about Williams, but raising questions and actually firing him are not the same thing.

Right now, USC can probably keep Williams for 2023 … but that shouldn’t be viewed as a guarantee or a lock.

If the results are awful against UCLA and Notre Dame, this is probably the most natural place to consider a change to the 10-man coaching staff heading into 2023.

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire