Why Lincoln Riley and USC need to pay very close attention to the Green Bay Packers

First things first: When we say that Lincoln Riley needs to pay close attention to the Green Bay Packers, we’re not referring to this week. Riley has a 13th game to coach this season, the Pac-12 Championship Game against Utah.

Once that Utah game ends, however, USC will need to focus on recruiting, its bowl preparations, the transfer portal, and the composition of its 2023 coaching staff.

How do the Green Bay Packers fit into this larger picture? If you follow the football coaching industry, and if you know why the Packers are a central figure in a new coaching drama created by breaking news over the weekend, you will immediately understand.

Let’s explain why Lincoln Riley needs to pay attention to the Packers — and be ready to potentially make a move — after the Utah game ends:

START WITH THE BIG NEWS FROM BADGERS WIRE

LUKE FICKELL TO WISCONSIN OBVIOUSLY MEANS ONE THING

Fickell being hired, as Badgers Wire noted, means that presumed coach-in-waiting Jim Leonhard will not be Wisconsin’s head coach in 2023. Leonhard’s inner circle is reportedly “blindsided” by this move. He fully expected to be Wisconsin’s permanent coach after Paul Chryst got fired.

THE LESSON OF WISCONSIN'S MOVE

Wisconsin didn’t treat Jim Leonhard fairly, but frankly, there’s no “good” or fair way to treat a coach if you’re trying to hire someone else. I suppose Wisconsin could have told Leonhard it wasn’t going to retain him before it hired Fickell, but that would not have gone over well. The Badgers wanted to be quiet about how they handled their negotiations with Fickell. They wanted to have him secured as their new coach without giving Leonhard a chance to air any grievances or give competitors a chance to make a move at Leonhard. Get Fickell on board, and let Leonhard then sort things out from his end. It makes sense as a strategy, but it’s definitely hardball, and it obviously left Leonhard feeling hurt.

Sometimes, hurting someone’s feelings can’t be avoided in this business. It’s not ideal, but it’s reality.

PARALLEL WITH MIKE BOHN AND USC

No one thought USC would or could land a coach as great as Lincoln Riley one year ago at this time, but Bohn pushed for an opening and didn’t assume Riley was unattainable. He courted him and went after him and got him.

Wisconsin getting Fickell has that same feel for the Badgers.

PARALLEL WITH LINCOLN RILEY AND USC

Much as it didn’t make sense for Riley to leave Oklahoma — at least in terms of historical precedent; successful Oklahoma coaches don’t leave OU for other jobs — it did not make sense for Fickell to go to Wisconsin.

Fickell did not go to USC, in fact, because he said he and his family loved living in the state of Ohio. Yet, one year later, Fickell is off to Wisconsin.

The only two jobs Fickell was reportedly interested in were Notre Dame and Ohio State. Notre Dame went for Marcus Freeman last year. Ohio State’s job is not open, but it could come open in one or two years. Fickell to Wisconsin shows an unwillingness to wait one or two years for the Ohio State job, which is hugely surprising.

It’s an unconventional move which cut against industry expectations.

JIM LEONHARD

So, Jim Leonhard won’t be employed by Wisconsin. He is a free agent as a result of Fickell taking over in Madison. This is the heart of our story.

LEONHARD TO THE PACKERS

The industry speculation about Jim Leonhard is that the Wisconsin native, who played for the Badgers and then went to the NFL before returning to Wisconsin as defensive coordinator, wanted one of two jobs: Wisconsin head coach or Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator.

PACKERS ALMOST CERTAIN TO FIRE THEIR DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR

Green Bay defensive coordinator Joe Barry is on the hot seat with the Packers at 4-8 and having just given up 40 points to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football. Assuming the Packers fire Barry, Leonhard is the clear favorite for that job.

AARON RODGERS

Rodgers got injured against the Eagles. He doesn’t have an endless amount of time left in his career. Does Leonhard really want to join what could be a sinking ship under coach Matt LaFleur in Green Bay?

Any other football team — NFL or college — which is interested in hiring Jim Leonhard could ask him that question.

PACKERS' PLANS

The Packers won’t make the playoffs this year. If they wanted to, they could move right now to pounce on Jim Leonhard and say they will bring him aboard to replace Joe Barry as defensive coordinator once the 2022 season ends. They could fire Barry now, have an interim coordinator for the rest of the season, and construct a deal to secure Leonhard.

This is what USC should pay attention to.

LINCOLN RILEY AND MIKE BOHN

Lincoln Riley and Mike Bohn should have a brief chat this week about Jim Leonhard. Can USC reach out to Leonhard’s agent and have an exploratory conversation or at least gauge Leonhard’s interest?

ALEX GRINCH

We were clear when we talked about the topic earlier in November: Alex Grinch shouldn’t be fired. He has not had a full amount of resources to work with this season. It is not problematic to have him coach the USC defense in 2023. He just needs better (and more) players.

THE ONE BIG REMINDER ABOUT GRINCH

Though we think Alex Grinch should be retained, we did allow for this caveat: If USC has a chance to grab an elite defensive coordinator due to a plot twist in the coaching carousel, it should go for it. That’s not the same as recommending Grinch be fired. It simply means that if an upgrade unexpectedly becomes possible, USC should pursue it.

It’s hardball, and it would leave Grinch feeling stunned and stung, but it would make USC a lot better if the Trojans could land Jim Leonhard.

IF THE PACKERS DON'T MOVE QUICKLY, USC CAN POUNCE

If the Packers don’t move swiftly to get Jim Leonhard for 2023, USC should definitely be in on pursuing Leonhard, who would universally be regarded as a better defensive coordinator than Alex Grinch.

REMINDER

No one would expect USC to grab Leonhard. Of course it seems unlikely.

Just remember that USC getting Lincoln Riley seems unlikely.

Remember how I dismissed that possibility and got that story completely wrong? I don’t feel foolish for having done so, because there was no real precedent for that move … but we are seeing coaches make unconventional decisions, and that’s part of the new reality in the football coaching business.

CONCLUSION: NOTHING IS UNREALISTIC ANYMORE

Coaching moves which seemed severely improbable and logically absurd are now happening with regularity.

Jim Leonhard to USC? It makes no sense … but in this day and age, things which make no sense on the surface are now happening all the time.

Pay attention to the Green Bay Packers and Jim Leonhard. If they don’t move on Jim Leonhard, USC should.

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire