Wednesday marked many firsts for the Trojans: the first day of practice after a deflating loss to Arizona State, the first practice without Lane Kiffin and the first practice with Ed Orgeron as the interim head coach.
Players learned via text message early Sunday morning that Lane Kiffin had been dismissed as the head coach of the Trojans, making way for a new era.
Clay Helton will assume Kiffin’s former position as the new offensive coordinator with the responsibility of playcalling. With eight games left to turn things around, the Trojans are still confident that they can have a successful season. This week is a bye week, so the players will enjoy a “well-deserved rest,” Orgeron said.
Practice was filled with high intensity, competition and … fun? Fun is a word that the Trojans have not used in a while to describe practice. But Orgeron stressed injecting some excitement back into the squad during his introductory press conference, and today’s practice started with some lively one-on-one competition between linemen followed by plenty more offense versus defense action.
NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN
Orgeron has his plate full as the man in charge of getting the Trojans back on track. He says that he has gone through similar adverse circumstances before and is ready for what’s to come.
Orgeron served as the head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels for three seasons from 2005-07. He also has had extensive experience as a defensive line coach both in college football and the NFL.
“This is my shot, it’s our shot as a team,” Orgeron said. “I didn’t know if I’d ever become a head coach again and I’m going to give it my best.”
Though this will be the first time in six years that he assumes the role, Orgeron says that he has learned from some of the best head coaches of all time. Orgeron served as a defensive coordinator under Pete Carroll, former USC head coach, from 1998 to 2004.
Orgeron is already integrating some of Carroll’s style back into the program. His first order of business: opening practice back up to media. He greeted every member of the media on the sidelines at the start of practice with an endearing handshake.
“I missed y’all,” Orgeron said. “This is part of what Coach Carroll built with us — the energy, excitement, good and the bad. Hey, we are what we are and we want you to come see us.”
Orgeron as the head coach is a new beginning for the Trojans in more ways than one. His style of coaching and personality are both different from what the players have been accustomed to under the Kiffin regime. His voice is something you cannot tune out.
“It fires me up,” said redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler. “I’d rather someone yell at me and get on me for little mistakes than let it go.”
Kessler will not have to worry about that, since Orgeron was quite comfortable getting on the offense during practice.
“I love it,” Orgeron said, laughing. “I love being able to get in the offense and get in the offensive lines’ butt and scream at the quarterback.”
Farewell to Kiffin
Kiffin was released from the Trojans after a tumultuous three-plus years as head coach. In that time, the Trojans went 28-15 in the last 11 games he coached and ended with four wins and seven losses.
Though Kiffin caught heat for his playcalling and questionable behavior both on the sidelines and off the field, players and coaches alike had nothing but positive things to say about him.
Kessler said he will never forget the comfort he felt from Kiffin and his family after the dreadful Washington State loss earlier this season.
“I was sitting in the locker room extremely upset that we lost, and Layla [Kiffin’s wife] came in there and started cheering me up,” Kessler said. “She let me know that they support me regardless.”
Kessler and his teammates said they were in shock that he was dismissed just five games into the season, but the team is not looking back as they prepare for the rest of the season.
“He busted his tail for USC everyday,” Orgeron said. “I have the utmost respect for him, but we have to move on and I know he’d want us to do the same.”
Injuries and depth, two major interrelated problems, have affected the Trojans this season.
The receiving corps is down to the last two healthy wideouts, sophomore Nelson Agholor and redshirt sophomore Victor Blackwell. In the Trojans’ last game against the Sun Devils, junior receiver Marqise Lee left the game with what looked like a serious knee injury. It was confirmed on Wednesday that he has a severe knee sprain.
“Marqise makes some miraculous recoveries, but we’re going to work hard to get him ready for next week,” said Orgeron.
With the possibility of Lee being out for next Thursday’s game against the Wildcats, the Trojans’ offense will have their work cut out for them.
Some good news for the offense is that senior tailback Silas Redd is confident that he will play against Arizona.
“Yes, yes I am healthy,” Redd said when asked if he felt 100 percent recovered from his nagging knee injury.
Redd’s presence might be needed more after freshman running back Justin Davis left practice limping off the field with his left shoe off. Later, it was confirmed that he suffered an ankle sprain, but it has not been disclosed how serious it is.
Freshman safety Su’a Cravens took most of the first team reps over redshirt junior Dion Bailey. Bailey is still recovering from a bruised rib.
“It’s a bye week, so I’m getting healthy,” Bailey said.
Turning over a new leaf in the post-Kiffin era creates a unique opportunity for the entire program. Due to depth and injuries, players who have not received much playing time are now able to showcase their talent.
The team as a whole seems to have a positive outlook on the future as players left Howard Jones Field dancing, joking and cheering each other on after sophomore walk-on receiver Christian Tober hauled in a long touchdown pass to end the first practice of the Orgeron era.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @LJonesSports