Though I have only been an avid follower of USC football since the Pete Carroll era, I am well-versed enough in Trojan lore to know that our lineage of tremendous running backs extends beyond Reggie Bush and LenDale White to Marcus Allen, Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell and Charles White. Before quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer, there were Pat Haden and Paul McDonald, and predating wide receivers Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett were Lynn Swann and J.K. McKay.
But the great Trojan teams of the past have always been identified by who the head coach was at the time. The correlation between a great team and an equally great leader seems implicit, and the last time USC hired a head coach whose ability was not up to par, the team suffered.
USC doesn’t need a certain scheme or certain personnel. Recently, too much emphasis has been placed on altering the team’s offensive approach to resemble a spread. It would be great to utilize the hurry-up offense, but running the no-huddle is not a requirement for success. Alabama and Stanford seem to do just fine playing smash-mouth football. At the end of the day, winning only has one direct cause — the coach.
That’s why the search for a new head football coach is so crucial. It will define the trajectory of Trojan football for the next decade.
I don’t know enough about the intricacies of different offensive and defensive sets to recognize from a pure Xs and Os standpoint which candidate is ideal for the position. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon, however, to recognize emotion, intensity and a coach who motivates his players. That’s what interim head coach Ed Orgeron does for the USC team, and that is why he should be made the permanent head coach for USC.
Sure, he might not be the flashy pick. He isn’t a quarterback guru like Jon Gruden, and his team doesn’t consistently light up the scoreboard like Kevin Sumlin’s Texas A&M squad does. He might not have played football at USC like Jack Del Rio or Jeff Fisher, two NFL coaches rumored to be on USC’s shortlist of candidates.
Granted, there are valid criticisms of Orgeron that should be taken into consideration. He failed to win at Ole Miss from 2005 to 2007, and the pressures of meeting expectations at a program of USC’s stature far exceed those in Oxford, Miss.
But Orgeron has that intangible “it” factor that USC needs.
I recall another coach who had a bevy of question marks accompany his arrival when he was hired — Pete Carroll. He wasn’t the boosters’ first choice either, and the biggest knock on him was that he was too much of a rah-rah players’ coach who failed to win in his previous stints. But Carroll had more success at USC than anybody could have predicted. He might have left the cupboard empty with his departure after the 2009 season, with NCAA sanctions looming, but he sure built a powerhouse at the pinnacle of his tenure.
It would be virtually impossible, of course, to bring Carroll back to Troy, but USC has a very realistic candidate who is a near-carbon copy of Carroll — Orgeron.
Like Carroll, Orgeron is a tremendous recruiter. His passion and love for the game seems to leave an indelible impression on every prospect he visits. This isn’t a differentiating factor, though — with the resources and history USC has, any decent coach should be able to recruit five-star talent.
What Orgeron really excels at is crafting a relationship with his players once they arrive on campus. Orgeron possesses an innate ability to motivate and energize his players. For the first time all season against Arizona, there was a palpable level of excitement flowing from the field into the stands. It wasn’t because of a change in personnel, though more players did get in on the action. It was because of Coach O.
Orgeron might not be an offensive mastermind, but neither was Carroll. A top-tier offensive coordinator can handle the offense himself, taking the pressure off Orgeron to manage both the offense and the team as a whole. Orgeron won’t command the type of salary that a big-name coach like Sumlin or Fisher would. That money can be used to hire the best associate coaches to aid in player development. It is no secret that USC floundered near the end of the Carroll era because of a major dropoff in coaching talent. If Orgeron surrounded himself with a dynamic playcaller and elite assistants, USC would soon find itself ascending to glory once again.
In this day and age, the head coach of a marquee program like USC should act more like a CEO than a micromanager. Former head coach Lane Kiffin never really grasped that, and his aloof demeanor overshadowed his impressive football IQ. Orgeron has the charisma and the social skills to be that CEO. He excites the fan base, motivates the players and has made USC football fun again. At the end of the day, a good coach cures all that ails a program. That coach is right under Haden’s nose, and he should remove the interim tag in Orgeron’s title come season’s end.
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