Fresh off USC’s 20-17 upset of No. 5 Stanford on Saturday night, calls are coming from media, fans and some Trojan players for interim head coach Ed Orgeron to be hired as USC’s permanent head man going forward.
Besides the fact that some of these sentiments are self-serving (media people love talking to Orgeron and having him as a head coach again would make for good copy), they are also filled with the same type of fuzzy-headed thinking that got USC into this mess in the first place.
Let’s go over the reasons why Orgeron should not be hired:
1. Ole Miss
Orgeron was 10-26 in his three seasons as head coach at Mississippi. You can’t just blame his record on the average program that he inherited. David Cutcliffe went 43-29 in the six seasons before Orgeron arrived and Houston Nutt went 24-26 in the four seasons after he was fired. Orgeron was uniquely bad, even by Ole Miss standards.
The counter argument to this is that Orgeron has learned and changed from his time in Oxford. But is a 5-1 record as an interim coach evidence of that? Being an interim coach is a unique situation. USC has benefited as much by Orgeron being not-Lane Kiffin than anything else. The Trojan roster is immensely talented and the fact that Kiffin isn’t around to screw it up anymore is a huge factor in the team’s recent success. That Orgeron has been competent enough to manage that talent and smartly surf the wave of good will that has emerged out of the sudden coaching change is without question. But what about three years from now when the circumstances have changed, when three recruiting cycles have passed and the shtick has worn off a bit? Will Orgeron have a quality staff in place? Will he run an innovative offense? Based on his past, the answer to those questions is probably no. At best, there is zero evidence that Orgeron has the long-term vision to guide an elite program like USC and keep it elite.
2. Better coaches are available
USC is bad at hiring head coaches. Historically bad. The last time it found a marquee national name for its head job was back in 1925 when it hired Howard Jones away from Iowa. It has hired 12 coaches since Jones and every one save two have had some sort of connection to USC, an indication that the path of least resistance is generally preferred by Trojan administrators. USC lucked out with John McKay and Pete Carroll, but otherwise its batting average is under the Mendoza line.
Recent reports indicate that USC athletic director Pat Haden is taking a different approach this time. Proven college coaches like Kevin Sumlin and Chris Petersen are reported to be in the running for the position. Either of these two coaches would be fantastic hires by USC and would likely have the Trojans competing for national titles for years to come. But with Orgeron’s recent success, the danger is that Haden will get swept up in the tyranny of the crowd and be forced to make a short-sighted decision. Haden should resist the urge to take the easy route — isn’t that how Kiffin got hired in the first place? — and continue to do his due diligence with a clear head and a healthy dose of critical thinking.
The issue here isn’t whether Orgeron can be successful as USC’s head coach. With the talent and resources available to him, he might win 45 games over the next five years. Almost any competent coach would do the same. The issue is whether Orgeron is the best coach available to make USC as successful as it can be. Would Ohio State have won 22 in a row (and counting) with Luke Fickell as its head man? No. Ohio State didn’t settle. Neither should USC.
3. Players, fans and alumni shouldn’t decide on the coach
“He deserves it,” the player said. “A great man. A great coach. All the players respect him and all the players love him. You couldn’t ask for a better man to lead us to victory today.”
One player called the coach the ”glue” that kept the team together during a rocky month.
”We’re a family,” the player said. ”That’s why we prevailed.”
“He’s just such a good person and the kids love him,” said the former coach. “His hire is such a good fit with the program.”
“I’m a little more settled in. I’m a little more laid back and I’m a little more wise,” said the coach. “It’s called maturity. I’ll be as demanding, but I found out there’s other ways to get the results.”
Are these recent quotes from USC players and former associates? They might as well be. No, these are quotes taken in 2008 after West Virginia took the interim tag off of Bill Stewart and named him its permanent head coach. Stewart was also a beloved figure who understood the program and who was lauded for guiding the team through a difficult period. But there was no evidence that Stewart knew how to be a successful head coach and it showed. Three years later he was fired.
Just because Orgeron is beloved by his players does not mean those players know what’s best for the long-term at USC. Being a head coach is about more than firing up the team, singing the fight song and cavorting with the fans. That Orgeron has played up this factor during his interim tenure is a testament to his wiliness and understanding of the environment at USC. He’s done a fantastic job of building all kinds of good will — after all, he knows his best shot at getting the job is to gain as many allies as possible. But at the end of the day, the Trojans don’t need to pay $6 million for a cheerleader.
To reiterate, Orgeron has done a fine job as USC’s interim coach. But he hasn’t ‘earned’ the job anymore than Gerald Ford ‘earned’ the Presidency after taking over for Richard Nixon. With millions of dollars at stake over the next five to 10 seasons, and the four-team playoff about to debut, the Trojans need to keep their eyes on the prize. If the superior coaching alternatives out there end up turning USC down, perhaps Orgeron should be considered. But, until then, his tenure as Trojans head coach should have an expiration date.