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USC Football: 5 Possible Targets to Replace Fired Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch

Who will the Trojans turn to next?
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After getting an up-close view of what's been a historically bad season for the USC Trojans on the defensive side of the ball, head coach Lincoln Riley finally decided to make a change. 

According to multiple reports, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has been relieved of his duties. In response, inside linebackers coach/AHC Brian Odom and DL coach Shaun Nua will jointly take over Grinch's role for the remainder of the regular season. 

As USC fans all over the globe can attest to, this decision by Riley was bound to happen at some point. The final straw breaking the proverbial camel's back came this past weekend. Hosting No. 5 Washington at home, the Trojans game up 52 points and 572 yards of total offense. 

On the year, USC is allowing 34.5 PPG -- which is on pace for what would be an infamous school record. Another dubious note, this year is the first time in school history where the Trojans have given up 35+ points in six straight games. As Noah Camras of SI detailed, Grinch's inability to fix things truly did destroy USC's chances at playing in the College Football Playoff. 

With the Trojans sitting at 7-3 and virtually out of contention for a major bowl game or the Pac-12 Conference title, all attention will turn to the offseason. There's a strong likelihood Caleb Williams will enter the 2024 NFL Draft. 

However, the other major storyline clearly revolves around who USC will look to in order to replace Grinch. The defense as a whole has looked quite unorganized for the vast majority of the season. While talent may be an issue at some spots, there's enough athleticism and depth present where in no world should the Trojans rank towards the very bottom in D1 in total defense. 

The unit needs to tackle better, be more connected on the field, and thus play with an elevated level of sophistication. Grinch relied far too heavily on 'the big play', and thus it left USC exposed far too often where the opposition would take advantage. Creating turnovers is clearly important. However, playing sound, fundamental football will go a long way toward being competitive versus elevated opponents. 

As such, let's look at five potential names we could see USC target as defensive coordinator replacements: 

UCLA DC D'Anton Lynn

It's absolutely astounding as to what Lynn has done in his short tenure with the Bruins UCLA ranks among the best in the country in sacks, sacks per game, rush defense, and total defense. 

It has been the best defense in the Pac-12 this year -- and it hasn't been particularly close. Lynn heavily relies upon a 4-2-5 scheme which has been influenced by his time as a defensive backs coach with the Baltimore Ravens. In order to stress opposing signal-callers, Lynn operates with a number of exotic blitz packages. In third-down situations, Lynn loves having his entire defense standing up in an amoeba look -- where the offensive line becomes confused as to who's really rushing and who will drop in coverage. 

At only 34 years of age, Lynn is a rising star in the profession. After playing collegiately at Penn State, he spent a decade coaching for multiple NFL teams. Based on his pedigree and age, USC should absolutely contact Lynn to gauge his interest. With Chip Kelly's future at UCLA in major question at this point, Lynn could be available. And if USC were to land Lynn, that would be a major win. 

Michigan DC Jesse Minter

Similar to UCLA, Michigan has one of the best defenses in the country. The Wolverines rank No. 1 nationally in total defense -- allowing 231.4 yards per game. 

The 40-year-old Minter has long been prepped for this stage. His dad Rick has been a longtime fixture in the game of football. He was the head coach for Cincinnati for nearly a decade and also had various stops around the country as a DC (South Carolina, Notre Dame, Kentucky). 

As such, the younger Minter is a total gym rat. He's been around the game his entire life. He's risen up the ranks -- first starting as a defensive coordinator at lower levels before landing an assistant coach job with the Baltimore Ravens. After one year with Vanderbilt as its DC, Jim Harbaugh brought Minter over. He served as the interim head coach while Harbaugh served his suspension.

Speaking of which, if Michigan ends up getting slammed by the NCAA a la USC during Pete Carroll's departure, we could see Harbaugh leaving for an NFL gig. If this happens, Minter would in theory be available (if not immediately hired to take over for Harbaugh). At the very least, it's a call worth making. 

Illinois Senior Analyst Jim Leonhard

Leonhard has long been a favorite of those who support the cardinal and gold. The former NFL safety was a true up-and-comer as a defensive coach for Wisconsin (his alma mater). 

However, when it was announced that Wisconsin was bypassing Leonhard in favor of Luke Fickell for the head coach position, Leonhard left Wisconsin. He ended up with his old friend Bret Bielema at Illinois. 

However, at only 41 years of age, one can assume that Leonhard wants to make the jump back to being a coordinator sooner rather than later. USC might even be able to get him at a relative discount compared to other targets.  He also knows the Big Ten inside-out. 

Georgia Co-DC Will Muschamp

Muschamp would appeal to a lot of folks. 

A born-and-bred SEC disciple, recruiting would not be an issue with Muschamp. Throughout his coaching career, he'd been lauded in that category for his dogged effort and upbeat personality. 

Speaking of which, he would somewhat be dissimilar from Lincoln Riley as a fiery, in-your-face personality. He's not afraid to tell you how he feels, and Muschamp certainly won't stand for mediocrity. At this point in his coaching career, it's unlikely he'll get another chance as a head coach for a major program. 

Though it would be tough to leave his alma mater, he would be the true defensive coordinator at USC, whereas he's sharing DC responsibilities with Glenn Schulmann and is ultimately under Kirby Smart. Additionally, Muschamp has the track record and resume that the three listed above do not have. 

Minnesota DC Joe Rossi

Rossi, 44,  is a bit of a wildcard choice. He's not a sexy name, but he might be one of the better options available. 

He's been a coach at Minnesota since 2017. A Pittsburgh native, it's no surprise that the Golden Gophers' defensive identity is rooted in toughness and physicality. 

Consistently, Minnesota has fielded better-than-average defenses in the Big Ten since Rossi took over the gig in 2019. He knows the conference quite well, and this could be the hire USC should make. It might be prudent to go for a rock-solid, workmanlike guy rather than being quick to pursue the biggest, flashiest name. 

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