When the University of Southern California fired head coach Lane Kiffin earlier this season after the team’s sluggish start to the season, they turned to associate coach Ed Orgeron to direct the program for the rest of the season on an interim basis.
At the time, USC was 3-2 and had just suffered an embarrassing 62-41 loss at the hands of PAC-12 rival Arizona State. Because of sanctions handed down by the NCAA, USC has been playing behind the 8-ball in terms of a depleted roster and fewer scholarship players. But USC was still ranked in the top 25 in preseason polls, and the loss to Arizona State was seen as a sign that Kiffin had lost control of his team.
Orgeron came to USC along with Kiffin from the University of Tennessee in 2010, and had previously been the head coach at the University of Mississippi for three seasons. He was fired in 2007 after winning only 10 games from 2005-07.
It was thought at the time that Orgeron’s failure to win at Mississippi was his last shot at running a major program. However, his success over the past six weeks at USC just could give him another opportunity.
USC pulled off a major upset on Saturday night, defeating No. 4 ranked Stanford 20-17. Following the dramatic win, thousands of fans stormed the Coliseum field, chanting Orgeron’s name. He clearly enjoyed the adulation, climbing the conductor’s ladder to lead the USC marching band in song with Tommy the Trojan’s sword in hand.
Supporters of the USC program seem to be in favor of Orgeron continuing to lead the Trojans program as well. He received congratulatory messages following the win over Stanford from former head coach Pete Carroll and former USC stars Marcus Allen and Anthony Munoz.
The win over Stanford was the fifth consecutive win in the PAC-12 for USC, and Orgeron has them in a position to fight for the PAC-12 championship, just one game behind Arizona State in the South Division with a 5-2 record.
At 8-3, USC is now back in the top 25, and the players have clearly responded to Orgeron’s leadership. And now, Orgeron just wants the chance to be considered for the full-time head coaching gig.
In an appearance on ESPNU’s CFB Daily on Monday, Orgeron shared his thoughts.
"I want to be the head coach at USC," Orgeron said." "I love being a head coach. I think that it's something I'm able to do, and do well. And I want to be the head coach at USC when I get the chance. I think I can perform on a very high basis to do what the Trojan family wants me to do."
Thus far, Trojans athletic director Pat Haden has yet to tip his hand in terms of a search for a coach. It was revealed earlier this week that current Denver Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio interviewed for the USC head coaching job during Denver’s bye week. Del Rio was an All-American linebacker for the Trojans in the 1980s.
But several USC players have rallied behind Orgeron.
"We absolutely love him," USC quarterback Cody Kessler said after the 20-17 win over Stanford. "We'd run through a brick wall for him. He has that look in his eye that you can tell that when he talks to you he really does care. I gave him a hug after the game, and I don't know if he'd want me saying this, but I saw his eyes water up. It's awesome when you play with someone who has that same passion."
The next full-time head coach won’t be tasked with rebuilding a storied program. It will be their job to fully develop the talents of the players in the system. Following the 2014 season, USC will no longer have sanctions and will have their full complement of scholarships available for recruiting. The next head coach won’t have to worry about a lack of talent, it will simply be his job to maximize that talent.
Orgeron has earned that opportunity. He’s taken a program that was in obvious disarray and motivated them to the point that they completely buy into what he’s trying to achieve.
The search for the next head coach at USC should end, they already have their man in Orgeron.