Why USC should not hire Ed Orgeron as its head coach

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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.

Ohio State starting RB still dealing with hamstring injury but expects to play in opener

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Ohio State’s newish looking offense is expected to lean on the ground game early in 2017 but a key cog in that machinery might not be 100 percent healthy heading into the Buckeyes’ opener against Indiana.

Starting tailback Mike Weber has dealt with a lingering hamstring injury he suffered over the summer and hasn’t participated at all in the team’s preseason camp. Despite that bit of concerning news, it seems both the running back and the coaching staff is expecting him to be good to go in less than two weeks when the team kicks off the 2017 campaign.

“I’m getting close,” Weber said Friday, according to Cleveland.com. “They’ve been holding me back all camp to make sure I don’t have problems with it during the season. … I talk to the trainer a lot and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not at full speed yet, but I’m going to get there and I should be ready for the first game.”

Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman and will see an increased load carrying the ball with Curtis Samuel off to the NFL. True freshman J.K. Dobbins has apparently slid into the backup role but running backs coach Tony Alford told reporters that the starting job is Weber’s when it comes time to go against the Hoosiers.

We’ll see if that eventually holds up given how finicky hamstring injuries are for tailbacks but at least the prognosis is good enough that Buckeyes fans can breathe a little easier as camp winds down in Columbus.

VIDEO: Indiana hands scholarship to walk-on WR after singing school fight song

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Some training camp traditions are better than others but one universal truth every fall is that coaches will bring up players to sing the school fight song in front of the team. As you can expect, often times hilarity ensues because players either don’t know the words or are so off-key with the notes that you can barely recognize what they’re singing.

Indiana coach Tom Allen joined in on the act this week by putting a few players through the same paces by having them belt out the lyrics to ‘Indiana Fight’ in front of both the team and cameras. The school naturally released video of the event on Friday, including a very special message at the end for one of the players signing:

That would be now-former walk-on Luke Timian, a projected starter this season who received a brand new scholarship from the Hoosiers and was mobbed by his teammates after the message flashed on the screens. The junior was involved in every game last year for Indiana and caught 19 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

As cool as the unveil was for Timian though, it’s a good thing he’s now a scholarship player at IU because it seems pretty clear that American Idol is not in the kid’s future. We’re all still suckers for videos of coaches handing out scholarships to walk-ons though and this is certainly one of the more unique ways to let a player know the school is picking up the check this semester.

Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.