LOS ANGELES -- Having dispensed Colorado in the frozen tundra of Boulder’s Folsom Field, USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron has passed yet another “audition” in his now very open quest to impress Trojans athletic director Pat Haden.
As it should be, Haden will be the most interested observer of Orgeron on Saturday when the Trojans battle crosstown rival UCLA. If Orgeron is going to make his case to drop the “interim” tag, it probably comes down to beating the Bruins.
Or does it?
Haden has known and seen Orgeron up close and from a distance since Orgeron first arrived at USC as a defensive line coach under Paul Hackett in 1998. Haden is well aware of the defensive line successes of Orgeron, and his heavy contributions to the success of former USC coach Pete Carroll during his tenure. Haden is also well aware why late defensive line coach Marv Goux, a Trojans icon and once a mentor of Orgeron, was never seriously considered for the USC head coaching position when John McKay left for the NFL.
Although he spent time away from Troy as he pursued a broadcasting career in concert with his law responsibilities, it might also be said of Haden that nobody knows Orgeron like the Trojans' athletic director.
The Stanford victory is Orgeron's signature moment so far, and he's proven all that Haden needs to know about his qualifications.
Besides beating UCLA, what more can Orgeron to show he should be the Trojans' next permanent head coach?
Only Haden and perhaps his close associate J.K. McKay know, and it’s possible Haden will tell the nation the week following the UCLA game.
Recently, Haden gushed what an outstanding and “remarkable” job that Orgeron and his coaching staff have done in resurrecting the 2013 Trojans from its catatonic state. To be fair, Haden has gone out of his way to be overly complimentary, appreciative and respectful.
Because of Haden’s long USC association, the former Trojans star quarterback has a pretty good idea of Orgeron as a coach, leader and person. Obviously, Haden knows that Orgeron is a tremendously popular individual in all facets of USC life from the players, assistant coaches, parents, recruits, student body, general public and even Art Bartner’s band.
If this were an election of the collective people, Orgeron would win going away. But using our nation’s political voting system as an example, winning the popular vote isn’t the end-all. It’s all about the Electoral College.
Haden laid the groundwork for the culmination of this ongoing process by saying that his choice is not based on just an eight-game audition, but directing a storied program for many years to come. This was obviously a reference to the Orgeron situation.
What Haden is asking himself is does “O” have the leadership skills and, how does he really handle the responsibility if he actually gets the job?
Can he work with Orgeron and trust him once he names him the head coach?
Haden is probably pondering whether Orgeron is indeed the magic bullet for USC’s holster, or is he the failed former Ole Miss head coach?
Is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
The word used by most that meet and know Orgeron is that he is genuine, the real deal. A workingman’s man. He’s “one of us.”
Recently former Trojans head football coach Lane Kiffin said on local radio that Orgeron was the obvious next man for the Trojans coach, but added that how the “new” Orgeron is handling things as the interim head coach is not the natural Orgeron. Kiffin basically made it seem that Orgeron is simply a Carroll impressionist and that his former coach is doing things differently than who he really is because things weren’t working.
The amazing thing about Kiffin’s comment is that Orgeron has admitted publically that although he was Kiffin’s right-hand man and also took full responsibility for what had transpired during Kiffin’s tenure, he had to change things completely for the good of the team and the program.
And Orgeron’s change of direction and using Carroll blueprint has undeniably worked. Just ask the current Trojans players.
And that’s Haden’s dilemma.
Just who is the real Ed Orgeron?
Perhaps, Pat Haden already knows.