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As the search for a defensive coordinator extends into a fourth week, USC is finally closing on a replacement for Clancy Pendergast.
Todd Orlando, the defensive coordinator at Texas for the last three seasons, is expected to take the same position at USC, according to a person familiar with the decision but not authorized to speak publicly.
A deal still was being finalized Monday, but an announcement is expected this week.
Orlando, 48, joined the Longhorns in 2017 and was paid $1.7 million per year.
But after a substandard third season marred by injury and inconsistency, Orlando was fired in early December, four weeks before the Trojans fired Pendergast. Orlando since had joined the staff at Texas Tech as an assistant head coach and linebackers coach.
His exit at Texas came as the Longhorns opted to overhaul their staff in the wake of a 7-5 season. The defense gave up 30 points or more to each of the team’s first six Power 5 opponents and by the end of the season it had fallen near the bottom of the Big 12 Conference in points and yards given up.
Orlando appeared to have the Longhorns defense on the right track in his first season as defensive coordinator. Texas improved from 87th to 39th in total defense and 80th to 24th in scoring defense. Texas took a slight step back the next season, but still ranked in the top four in the Big 12 in both categories.
Orlando spent less than two weeks at Texas Tech before the Trojans came calling.
Consistency eluded the Trojans during Pendergast’s tenure, as his defenses declined precipitously over the course of four seasons. The Trojans gave up more yards and points per game every season under his tutelage, and completely came apart in a 49-24 loss to Iowa in the Holiday Bowl in December.
Pendergast was fired the next day along with special-teams coach John Baxter.
USC began its search for Pendergast’s replacement in the NFL. Rams linebackers coach Joe Barry, a USC alum who had been considered one of the leading candidates, removed himself from consideration last week after discussing the parameters of a potential contract.
Orlando has a wealth of experience crafting college defenses. Before joining Texas in 2017, he spent two seasons at Houston, where his defenses ranked 30th and 20th, respectively, in points given up.
In 2013 and 2014, Orlando presided over one of the nation’s top defenses at Utah State. Before that, he was defensive coordinator at Connecticut (2005-10) and Florida International (2011-12).
At USC, Orlando inherits a defense that should have plenty of talent. The Trojans lose two defensive captains in linebacker John Houston and end Christian Rector, but should reload at both positions provided Orlando can get the recruits to produce.
Coach Clay Helton took a leap in hiring an up-and-coming, young coordinator to rebuild the offense a season ago. That decision likely saved his job, as Graham Harrell guided USC’s offense to a record-setting season.
Harrell’s success with the “Air Raid” offense put the Trojans in danger of losing their rising star coordinator. One month before USC pursued Orlando, the Longhorns tried to lure the Trojans offensive coordinator to his home state with an offer to make him one of the nation’s highest-paid coordinators.
Harrell ultimately signed a multi-year extension that pays him more than $1 million per year to stay at USC. The Philadelphia Eagles interviewed him Friday for their offensive coordinator job, although the Athletic reported Monday that Harrell is planning to stay at USC. .
In December, Harrell offered several reasons why he and his family chose to stay in L.A., as opposed to returning to Texas.
“My wife thinks she lives in paradise, and my son lives with Mickey Mouse and the beach, so what’s there not to like?” Harrell had said. “They’re happy, and if they’re happy, that helps the cause. If you’re at some places where the family’s not as happy, getting home would have weighed a lot more into it.”
USC continues to look for Baxter’s replacement as special-teams coordinator.
Tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe has rejoined USC’s football team. Imatorbhebhe, who last played with the Trojans in December 2017, is expected to be with the team for spring practice.
Imatorbhebhe likely will require a waiver from the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility to play in the 2020 season, injuries having derailed a promising start to his USC career. Until that decision is finalized, he is permitted to practice with the team.
In 2016, as USC made its run to the Rose Bowl, Imatorbhebhe emerged as a favorite target of quarterback Sam Darnold. The Georgia native and Florida transfer caught four touchdown passes in the final eight games of his redshirt freshman season. Nagging injuries to his hip and groin, however, robbed Imatorbhebhe of most of the next two seasons.