The University of Southern California Trojans have broken out of their thick, Lane Kiffin-induced eggshell and are, all of a sudden, a damn good college football team. And it’s all because interim head coach Ed Orgeron has made a few simple changes that actually make players want to play football at U.S.C.
A novel idea, right? College players want to have fun playing football, wouldn’t you say? Well, it’s a novel idea that former U.S.C. head coach Lane Kiffin simply could not figure out, and that’s why every team he’s ever coached in his life has been bad.
Going into this illustrious college football season, coach Kiffin and his Trojans had a lot of pressure on them to succeed. It’s unlike the Trojans to be a bad team, and this had better be the year that Kiffin brings the team back up to U.S.C. standards. Unfortunately for Kiffin, who has a shady coaching style, to say the least, he couldn’t bring what we all know is a talented group of guys together to win some ball games.
Under Kiffin, the Trojans lost to Washington State in their second week this season, and were embarrassed by Arizona State in late September. The athletic department at U.S.C. got smart and fired Kiffin on the tarmac at Los Angeles Airport, following that loss. It was a firing that will definitely go down in college football lore for years to come. No tears were shed over Kiffin’s departure; he needed to go. (By the way, he may be one of the only coaches in history to be fired mid-season as as both a college and a N.F.L. head coach).
Firing a head coach before the first half of the season is complete leaves your team in shambles. It can’t get any better, so get an interim head coach in there and start the process of finding a new, big-name head coach. That’s exactly what happened after U.C.S. sent Kiffin packing; U.S.C. made Kiffin’s assistant coach (and former Ole Miss head coach) Ed Orgeron its interim head coach and launched the search for a new head coach for the next season. What the U.S.C. athletic department didn’t expect is that Coach O, who has the craziest grizzled voice you have ever heard, would turn the team around and lead them into a positive direction, in a relatively short period of time. Since Coach O took the helm, the Trojans have gone 6-1, with that only loss coming from a 14-10 heartbreaker against the Golden Domers of Notre Dame.
The biggest win for U.S.C. came last week, with the Trojans returning to national prominence with a surprise 20-17 upset win over Stanford. (The previous week, Stanford had a surprise upset win over Oregon.) You could see that, for players and fans, Trojan pride was back in Southern California, with a truly signature win for interim Coach O.
So why the big turnaround at U.S.C.? What did Coach O change? We are now finding that he made a lot of simple changes that had a big impact on the team. Football-wise, according to former Trojan running back and host of the Petros and Money Show, Petros Papadakis, Coach O simplified and cut what was a complex playbook. He simplified the terminology of the play calls, and he gave the defensive play calling power to the defensive coordinator. Offensive play calls, which Kiffin had a hold of, would come from the offensive coordinator. Seems simple, right? Not exactly groundbreaking coaching decisions here.
Besides the changes in X’s and O’s, Orgeron made some simple changes in the atmosphere surrounding the team, as well opening team practices back up to the media, bringing back team movie nights and allowing former U.S.C alumni give pregame speeches to his team (with Dr. Dre inspiring the team last week).
Coach O is also bringing snack food back into the team’s facilities. Did I just say snack food? Apparently that’s right, according to a story reported in the New York Times last week.
He has restored sweets to the team’s training table, on the theory that if you give a lineman a cookie, he’ll want to block for you. That, in a nutshell, is what Orgeron is doing for the entire team. He has given his team a reason to want to play – and play well – at U.S.C., proving that a toxic mix of punishment, anger and overall shadiness is detrimental to an otherwise good football team.
With the Trojans winning and Southern California fans excited about their football team, things are going well for Orgeron and his players. It’s once again a team worth watching. His success does, however, pose a problem for the school’s athletic department. As interim coach, Orgeron is technically temporary. But now that he’s turned the team around in such a dramatic way, surely he’s in the running for a permanent head coach position. U.S.C. has some tough decisions ahead. Is Ogeron the big name they want in one of the most prestigious coaching positions in all of college football?
According to The Times, U.S.C. is looking at Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin, and maybe former N.F.L. coaches Lovie Smith and Jon Gruden – and, as we all know, has already interviewed Broncos interim head coach/defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio for the U.S.C. coaching position as well.
Orgeron might not be that big-name coaching hire the Trojans are used to, but he’s made a big name for himself already. Both players and fans alike want Ogeron as their coach, and I suspect the heads at U.S.C. will listen.
“We want Coach O next year,” freshman safety Su’a Cravens told The Times. “Forget the hiring, forget all that. If we’ve got Coach O, that’s all we need.”
I agree with Cravens. Keep Coach O doing what he is doing. The snacks are working. And keep U.S.C.’s hands off Jack Del Rio. We still like him here in Broncocountry, and that’s reason enough to cheer for Coach O right now.