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Thursday, October 10, 2013
Curtain rising on new era for USC

By Greg Katz

Like a Broadway show that closed prematurely into its fourth season, the USC football program, after nearly a two-week layoff, will reopen Thursday night with a new lead actor and several subplots in its gridiron theater known as the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Entertaining the University of Arizona in a Pac-12 South Division performance, the Trojans will debut interim head coach Ed Orgeron, showcase a “new season” theme, and unveil changes in cast and characters.

When asked after Tuesday’s practice what to expect from him, Orgeron said, “I coach toughness, style, and energy.”

And while this will be his second go-round as a head coach -- the first being an unsuccessful tenure at Mississippi -- there’s nothing quite like getting another opportunity, especially with the nationally recognized Trojans.

"Come Thursday, I'm gonna be a little fired up," Orgeron said. "I don't know about nervous, but I'm gonna be fired up."

And what did Orgeron learn from his unsuccessful performance as the head coach at Ole Miss?

“Make good sound decisions and not emotional decisions,” Orgeron said.

Ed Orgeron
Ed Orgeron has made plenty of changes in his brief time as the Trojans' interim coach.
“You know the last time I was a head coach I made a couple of emotional decisions and it really cost me. I went for it on fourth and two and I shouldn’t have. If I wasn’t very emotional, I would have made a better decision. I learned from that.”

So, Orgeron has been given his dream chance of head coaching the Trojans, and he has eight performances to prove he’s the one who should be given the lead part in the big picture. Make no mistake about it, Orgeron wants to be the Trojans head coach and doesn’t hide it.

Despite the disastrous results at Arizona State and the ensuing firing of Lane Kiffin, Orgeron has remarkably changed the culture and attitude of the Trojans cast by injecting his attitude, intensity, and some changes that might appear small but have already had major effects on the program.

Orgeron has affectively reduced the sometimes irritating loud practice music to sound bites, saying that he wants to be able hear his coaches coach and not be drowned over by the latest tunes. He admits this is a change of policy from his processor.

Next, the Trojans quarterbacks are not longer wearing the yellow pullovers, which designated them as non-targets. The reception to this idea by the Trojans signal-callers has been positive. In fact, everything from the return of desserts at the training table and practice schedules has been overwhelming accepted.

Then, of course, is Orgeron’s 180 with the media. Upon his first press briefing in his new position, Orgeron began with, “Where have all you guys been?” This, a reference to Lane Kiffin’s policy of not allowing the media into practice.

Orgeron even reversed Kiffin’s policy on addressing injuries. As late as Tuesday, Orgeron said that he didn’t expect All-America wide receiver Marqise Lee or All-Pac-12 defender Morgan Breslin to play. In the Kiffin era, the answer probably would have been “we hope they can play.”
However, the biggest visible change on Thursday night will be Orgeron’s mandate of a “new” offensive philosophy, handing over the play calling to offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who was a mere messenger of information from the press box during the Kiffin era.

Orgeron has indicated to Helton that he wants to pound the ball and spread the pigskin around in the air, and Helton has indicated he wants to get the Trojans tight ends more involved. All offensive philosophies that have been begged for by the Trojans Monday morning quarterbacks.And for good measure, there is the rumor that the Trojans have returned to their original circle huddle formation and have abandoned the “choir” huddle. This will be worth watching when the Trojans enter the field for the first time on offense.

Defensively, the Trojans need to shore up some areas that were badly exposed by Arizona State. How much change Orgeron makes may be just as intriguing. It’s possible that he won’t change anything and leave his trust in first-year coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Orgeron has acknowledged there are fixable issues, but as a new head coach, especially a defensive one, he has his own ideas.

And to show that he is still making changes as he embarks on his eight-game audition for Trojans athletic director Pat Haden, Orgeron acknowledged that he would be relinquishing some of his defensive line coach duties to 71-year-old Pete Jenkins, a former SEC D-line coach and mentor.

With the impending hire of Jenkins, Orgeron is assuming the command of the leading role so he can monitor the progress of all phases of the Trojans football program now under his watch.

So the Ed Orgeron audition and revisions of the Trojans are here and like any Broadway play, the man with the legendary, deep Louisiana drawl and his team will await the scoreboard reviews that should come marching in sometime before midnight.