January 17, 2009

Seto talks about challenges in '09

Rocky Seto is a spiritual guy. He's confident there's a plan for his life, and that plan will be revealed at an appropriate time.

A great opportunity ended up on Seto's doorstep when former USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian offered him a chance to be the Washington Huskies' new defensive coordinator.

For Seto, the USC secondary coach and Pete Carroll's longest tenured assistant, it seemed like the chance was going to be too good to pass up.

"We were really excited about that opportunity. We were really close to going," Seto said. "I told Coach Sarkisian and Coach Carroll earlier that night that we were leaning toward going to Washington.

"We were very close."

But then the next morning, something had changed. Seto didn't feel like he was being called to move his family, move his life, to Washington.

Seto decided to stay, getting promoted to assistant head coach of defense.

Then in a surprising twist, Nick Holt announced he was leaving USC to become Sarkisian's defensive coordinator.

Carroll named Seto, the same guy who picked Carroll up at the airport when he was hired as the Trojans' new head coach in 2000, his new defensive coordinator days later.

"Coach and I have been together since the very beginning here," Seto said. "What I've done as his understudy is really try to learn every little nuance when it comes to our philosophy, to our schemes, to our techniques, to our teaching methods.

"I'm really comfortable. We're really like-minded."

Seto said he wasn't sure if he would be calling plays or not, but he will be the point man for a defense in transition, with eight starters lost to graduation.

The biggest area of concern, Seto said, was going to be at linebacker. With Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava all headed to the NFL, the Trojans will need to groom an entire new batch.

USC will count heavily on Chris Galippo, Michael Morgan, Malcolm Smith and a slew of other youngsters to fill some really big cleats.

"Those guys haven't had as much experience," Seto said. "We're going to have to focus in and get the linebacking corps settled. We've been really spoiled the past three years. We have to continue to develop those guys.

"That's definitely a challenge and definitely a focal point."

Things will also be different up front, with Fili Moala and Clay Matthews gone. In addition to that, USC will also be breaking in a new defensive line coach in Jethro Franklin.

"We're really fired up about the guys we have coming back," Seto said. "We had an excellent recruiting class with the defensive line group, but we know we're losing a lot of experience."

Seto coached with Franklin at USC in 2005 and is confident in his abilities.

"He's very energetic and very personable. He's animated," Seto said. "He's also really a technician. That's probably his strength. He can teach, too.

"We lose a lot with Coach Holt, but I think Jethro will be a great replacement."

The strength of the defense should be the secondary, though. Kevin Thomas, Josh Pinkard and Shareece Wright will all be back. And Taylor Mays spurned the NFL to return for his senior season.

"I've been talking to him throughout this process. I know how much he enjoys USC and how much growth he's had at USC," Seto said. "I know he thinks he can grow even more. It just shows how much the time here means to the guys."

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