Dennis Simmons had just pulled into the parking lot at Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium to begin work on Sunday morning, Nov. 28, after Oklahoma lost to Oklahoma State 37-33, when he got a call from his boss, Lincoln Riley. The head coach informed his receivers coach of the past seven seasons that he was taking the USC job. “The decision of whether I was coming with him, that was instant,” said Simmons. “It was like — all right. I need to inform my family. So I just turned back around (to tell them).”
By 5 a.m. the following morning, Simmons, Riley, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, head strength coach Bennie Wylie and director of football operations Clarke Stroud were on a private plane bound for Burbank, California. They checked into USC Hotel on campus around 7:30 a.m. PT, changed into USC-branded clothes and went to a conference room at USC’s athletics building, Heritage Hall, to start watching film on the Trojans’ recruits.
Simmons’ family had just bought a new home in Norman that had barely begun construction. Now, he was in a meeting room discussing how best to construct the Trojans’ 2022 roster.
“There was so much going on,” said Simmons, “you didn’t really have time to agonize or think about, Oh man, I’m moving.”
But weeks before the school even knew who its next coach would be, dozens of employees had begun preparations for what became Riley’s Nov. 29 arrival. And his hiring set into motion a frantic chain of events that would eventually alter every aspect of USC football, from the 30-plus new faces now occupying most of the offices at John McKay Center to the nearly 70 different players to have either left or entered the program to the new signage that now wraps around the Trojans’ practice field to even the password for the program’s Twitter account.
“There’s just a million different things you don’t think about that have to be learned and communicated,” said USC executive senior associate athletic director/chief of staff Brandon Sosna.
USC athletic director Mike Bohn fired long-embattled head coach Clay Helton on Sept. 13, just two weeks into the season. Amid relentless media and message board speculation as to who the next coach might be — James Franklin? Mel Tucker? Dave Aranda? — Bohn and Sosna went about narrowing their pool. They enlisted SportSourceAnalytics to crunch data on 30 or so potential candidates. They held conversations with agents. Once they narrowed their list to seven targets, former Washington AD Todd Turner’s firm Collegiate Sports Associates quietly vetted them.
“It was like, we’re not going to miss on all of them. We’re going get one of these seven,” said Sosna.
Parallel to that process, beginning on Nov. 2, Sosna convened two committees within the athletic department to begin preparations for everything after the hire. The Football Coach Rollout team, which included marketing, media relations, social media, ticket sales and other departments, focused on the external publicity push. The Football Coach Transition Team, involving compliance, human resources, operations and finance, dealt with the internal nitty gritty that comes with hiring a new coach.