LOS ANGELES – Donnette Williams walked around the practice area on Tuesday, a printed plan in her hands behind her back. Few things remained the same, such as the cleat he wears to go through practice with his cornerback. But he didn’t spend as much time with the group as usual, instead wandering around and surveying other aspects of the USC football team.
It’s new life for the Trojans’ interim head coach, promoted from aide on Monday following news that Clay Helton was fired two games into the 2021 season.
“To be honest, it felt great,” Williams said in a press conference after practice, though he noted some oddities. “I was always rooting for my people – that’s what it should be, it’s competitive. Now coming out of here and cheering on offense when they play the big-time game, it’s a little different.”
Everything has been a little different for USC over the past two days, with Helton not in the field for the first time in more than a decade. Helton was the coach who recruited all the players to USC, who sold them on their vision for the program.
So players are still processing the sudden change in lead as they try to advance through the remaining 10 games on the schedule.
“We wanted him to be the next Pete Carroll. We wanted to raise him and be great,” captain Isaiah Pola-Mao said on Tuesday. “Of course, things don’t go our way, things do happen in this business But he is always with us. He is always a part of this family.”
Moving forward is where Williams will most likely need to guide the team this week.
Williams came to USC from Oregon ahead of the 2020 season, renowned for his recruiting skills and ability to develop a defensive back. After a year as a position coach, he added associate head coach to his title earlier this year.
But the 39-year-old from Los Angeles admitted that there is a learning curve when working an interim job.
“I’m going to lie to you saying I know everything,” Williams said. “I really want to know what the offense is doing from an actionable standpoint. It’s one thing to play against our offense, it’s another thing to really know their action.”
He spent a lot of time looking at that part of the ball during Tuesday’s scout team work. And he understands that he has to balance new decisions, such as when to use the timeout, when to move to fourth.
But his first move is to try to instill more discipline in the team that scored nine penalties for 111 yards in Saturday’s 42-28 loss to Stanford. In his first public remarks Monday on Trojans Live, Williams talked about ending “dumb mistakes,” a topic he tried to work through in practice.
Williams said, “Coaches, I see right now that a guy makes even the smallest mistakes, the coaches make sure they get on them.” “Whether it’s taking a man out for a play, whether it’s taking a man out for a quarter, whether it’s taking a man out for a game, we’re sure Going to clean up every little thing we see.”
Williams understands the scrutiny placed on him in light of this interim promotion. Responding to a question whether he would be interested in a full-time job, he said he is concerned about the present and trusts the USC administration to make the right choices for the team and players.
“It’s not the Donnet Williams show. It’s the USC show, so we’re doing this all together,” Williams said. “It’s not an ‘me’ or an ‘me.’ It is ‘us’ and ‘us’. That’s the whole message, it’s us and us – what are we going to do. Not what I’m going to do – what we’re going to do.”