Yahoo sources: USC fires defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, special teams coach John Baxter

Clancy Pendergast, Southern California defensive coordinator, watches against Notre Dame in the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Clancy Pendergast, Southern California defensive coordinator, watches against Notre Dame in the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Clay Helton will have at least three new coaches on his staff in 2020.

USC has fired both defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and special teams coordinator John Baxter, sources told Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel. The Trojans gave up 49 points to Iowa in a 25-point loss in the Holiday Bowl on Friday night. Included in that 49 points was a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown by Iowa’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

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USC, which finished 8-5, gave up over 29 points a game and was ranked No. 77 nationally in total defense (408.5 yards per game) in 2019. The Trojans surrendered 56 points in a 32-point loss to Oregon to start November and gave up 35 points to UCLA in the season finale. Opposing teams averaged 5.7 yards per play against USC this season and completed over 60 percent of their passes.

Pendergast, a former NFL assistant coach, was in his second stint at USC. He came back to the school in 2016 to be the defensive coordinator again and was also the school’s assistant head coach in 2019. His first stint at USC was in 2013 after he was at Cal for three seasons. He was with the Trojans for just one year before spending the 2014 season out of coaching and the 2015 season as the linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers.

Baxter was also coaching at USC for a second time. Baxter served as associate head coach and special teams coordinator from 2010-2013. After one year at Michigan, he returned to Los Angeles to coach under Helton. He also held the title of tight ends coach in addition to his duties coaching special teams.

Outside linebackers coach Joe DeForest will also not return. He was announced as a member of NC State’s staff on Saturday.

Helton has now replaced coordinators after each of the past two seasons. USC hired ex-Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury to be the team’s offensive coordinator after the 2018 season and then replaced him with Graham Harrell when Kingsbury got his gig as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Harrell agreed to a contract extension to stay at USC earlier this month.

Helton entered the 2019 season as a potential midseason firing candidate. But USC was good enough in 2019 — and had turnover above him at the top of the university and athletic department — that he’s set to come back in 2020 under a new university president (Carol Folt) and athletic director (Mike Bohn).

But Helton’s long-term job status is far from secure. And that could make it hard for USC to find a suitable replacement for Pendergast.

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