- Greg Katz, Columnist, WeAreSC.com
LOS ANGELES -- The legendary voice behind the energy and passion of USC Trojans football is now the main voice and interim head coach, providing a shaken team in dire need of enthusiasm, energy, and love.
Needing a replacement for the departed Lane Kiffin, athletic director Pat Haden turned to the heartbeat of the Cardinal and Gold, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron, who will guide the Trojans through their final eight games of what has turned out thus far a tumultuous 2013.
“I want to thank Pat Haden and the Trojans family for having trust in me,” said a very somber, humble Orgeron.
At Sunday’s quickly called press conference in the John McKay Center, Orgeron opened with a special appreciation of his former boss, Lane Kiffin, and said he never had a problem working with the previous head coach. It was heartfelt with an expression of sadness.
It would be hard to argue that Orgeron isn’t the right man at the right time. The Louisiana native has long been a passionate and beloved Trojans assistant, dating back to his days as a younger SC assistant in 1998 under Paul Hackett.
Orgeron, who was once the head coach at Mississippi (2005-07) but not as successful as he would have wanted, wasted little time in Sunday morning’s team meeting presenting his blueprint for the final eight games.
“We have made a recommitment that today is the start of our season and give it all we got for the Trojans family,” Orgeron said when addressing his team.
Whether Orgeron’s style of daily high intensity and old-school fire and brimstone works in the long run isn’t important. It’s the short term, and he is exactly the kind of coach that brings it every time he steps on a practice field or in a game.
Even Pat Haden made of point of admiring how Orgeron, after all these years, was still passionate in drills involving those “stupid” sleds.
If a team reflects its coach, Orgeron, who normally gives the Trojans their emotional pregame pep talk, will get the Men of Troy fired up each and every game. Orgeron brings it. His coaching personality stands in stark contrast to that of Kiffin.
For the 53-year-old assistant, there is no question that he is also auditioning for the permanent position as Trojans head coach. Those close to Coach O believe that he returned to the Trojans from Tennessee along with Kiffin because he wanted an eventual shot at being the Trojans leader.
Well, here is his big chance on the big stage in Los Angeles with a nation that will follow his progress intently. With nationally televised games against Notre Dame and Stanford, Orgeron couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to show his stuff.
Orgeron also made a point of saying that the media would again be welcomed back into practice after being banned by Kiffin. It would appear to be the first of some very doable public-relations gestures to bring the Trojans football program into a positive light.
As for recruiting, Orgeron said that he has contacted those valued blue-chippers and explained that USC is more than just football; it is a university where a degree is highly valued. Orgeron also made a point of saying that the coaching change would not affect the way Trojans recruit locally and around the country.
“Recruiting is one of our strengths here, and it will continue to be one of our strengths,” Orgeron said. “We expect to have a great recruiting class and get the best recruits from across the country.”
The Trojans interim head coach also didn’t wait long to announce that offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Clay Helton will remain in his current position but will take on play-calling responsibilities.
Orgeron was sure to mention he will stick to the defensive side of the football, because that is what he knows. As for Helton, he does have some play-calling experience, having been the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Memphis University.
Haden said that it is too early and “disrespectful” to start discussing head coaching prospects, but didn’t dismiss Orgeron from being in the mix.
So Orgeron is now center stage, and with major games still to come featuring Notre Dame, Stanford and UCLA, he’ll have plenty of opportunity to show he is the right man for the job.
But it all begins on a Thursday night, Oct. 10, in the Coliseum against Arizona. Until then and thanks to this week’s bye, Orgeron will now have an even bigger voice this week on Howard Jones/Brian Kennedy Field.
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