Athletic Director Pat Haden terminated former coach Lane Kiffin early Sunday morning, and introduced former defensive line coach Ed Orgeron as USC’s interim football coach in a press conference in the team auditorium Sunday afternoon. Haden fired Kiffin in a small room at Los Angeles International Airport after the team returned from a 62-41 embarrassment at the hands of Arizona State.
“I thought this was the right time,” Haden said. “At the end of the day it became a gut feeling that we weren’t making the progress we needed to make.”
Orgeron, 52, is in his 11th season at USC. He served as the Trojans’ defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator from 1998-2004 before leaving to become the head coach at Ole Miss. Orgeron went just 10-25 in three years at Ole Miss before being let go after the 2007 season.
He spent 2008 as the defensive line coach of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints before Kiffin hired him at Tennessee prior to the 2009 season. When Kiffin left Tennessee to return to Troy, Orgeron returned with him, and has served as the defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator since.
“I want to thank Pat Haden, USC President Max Nikias and the Trojan family for trusting me to be the head coach at USC,” Orgeron said. “It’s an unfortunate day today. We are here as a staff to answer the bell.”
Haden and Orgeron, as well as senior defensive lineman Devon Kennard and junior center Marcus Martin, who are both team captains, all thanked Kiffin for his work and dedication to the program, but acknowledged it was time to move forward.
“We’re excited about a new opportunity,” Kennard said. “It’s a new beginning.”
Kiffin went 28-15 in three-plus seasons at USC, including losses in seven of the last 11 games. Cries for Kiffin’s firing started after the disastrous 2012 season, when USC started the season ranked No 1 in the country but finished just 7-6. But Haden said he did not fire Kiffin then because the Trojans had won 10 games in 2011, and Haden believed last season to be an anomaly.
According to Haden, Kiffin was “clearly disappointed” when informed of the decision close to 4 a.m. Sunday morning.
“He’s a great recruiter, he battled me,” Haden said of Kiffin. “He really, really tried to keep his job. And I respect him for that. But at the end of the day, I think it was the right decision.”
Haden and Orgeron talked numerous times about bringing “fun” back to USC football, something the Trojans had seemingly been lacking. Orgeron, known by players and media alike as “Coach O,” is recognized for his strong, raspy voice and fiery sideline personality.
“Ed Orgeron brings an incredible passion and energy that we need on this team,” Haden said.
Neither Haden nor Orgeron would speak to anything beyond the Trojans’ eight remaining games. Orgeron said as a coach it is his job to focus on the current season, and Haden said it would “not be fair to our team” to start talking about the search for a permanent head coach right now.