Commentary

USC coaching hire gets complicated

Originally Published: November 19, 2013
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

The BMOC never has a bye week …

PREGAME SPEECH

Ed Orgeron did his signature fist pump. He doesn't just wear his emotions on his sleeve, he wears them everywhere -- on his face, in his voice, with his gestures.

"We're going to compete from the time we get up in the morning until the time we go to bed," Orgeron gushed.

His former boss at USC, Pete Carroll, sounded like a proud father when discussing Orgeron.

"It's a fantastic accomplishment for Ed," said Carroll. "He won them over with his passion and his preparation for this opportunity."

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillThe Trojans are 5-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron's watch.

Yes, everybody is thrilled with the job Orgeron has done as interim coach at USC, especially after Saturday night's nationally televised upset of Nerd Nation in front of a rare packed house at the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was like the old days, when Carroll and USC ruled the college football world.

Except that the first four paragraphs of this column have nothing to do with USC's win against late, great Stanford. Instead, the quotes and descriptions are from nearly nine years ago, when the then-43-year-old Orgeron was introduced as the new coach at Ole Miss.

He pumped his fist that Dec. 16, 2004, day in Oxford. He growled about the need to compete. He talked about his plan to win national championships. And back in LA, Carroll gave his enthusiastic blessings.

So much has changed for Orgeron since then. And in some ways, so much has stayed the same.

Back then, Orgeron tried to convince USC's passing game coordinator to leave LA and become Ole Miss' new offensive coordinator. The USC assistant coach's name was Lane Kiffin. He turned down the offer.

Back then, Orgeron never knew when or how to park his intensity in the garage. He wore out some of his players and eventually, wore out his welcome at Ole Miss. He lasted three seasons and won a grand total of 10 games before then-university president Robert Khayat and then-athletic director Pete Boone gave him his walking papers.

When Orgeron was dismissed after a 3-9 season in 2007 (winless in the SEC), it was assumed that he would never be a head coach again. In short, he had botched his chance.

Fast forward to the wee hours of Sept. 29, 2013. That's when Kiffin, whose Trojans had been beaten badly at Arizona State, was fired by USC athletic director Pat Haden and Orgeron was elevated from assistant to interim head coach.

Haden wasn't conceding the season, but it was clear that he was in "look forward" mode. Kiffin had lost the team and lost the confidence of Haden and the USC heavy hitters.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesEd Orgeron went 10-25 in three seasons at Ole Miss.

Orgeron was considered a loyal soldier, a convenient and reliable fill-in. And at season's end, Haden would ease him aside and bring in a big-name coach who could return USC to relevancy.

That was five wins ago. That was an upset of Stanford ago. That was before students stormed the Coliseum field this past Saturday night, chanted Orgeron's name and made "O" gestures with their arms. That was before he climbed the conductor's ladder, Tommy Trojan sword in hand, and led the USC marching band in song.

So much has changed. So much has stayed the same.

Orgeron says he is a different coach than the guy Ole Miss hired in 2004. He's smarter, gentler, more aware. The proof, of course, is in the way this USC team has responded to the change from Kiffin to Orgeron.

"He's got them playing some serious football," said Dr. Khayat, when I spoke with him by phone Sunday evening. "It could be what he learned at Ole Miss prepared him for where he is now. He had to -- I hate to say, 'failed,' because in so many ways he succeeded here -- but it's almost as if those three years here got him in position to do what he's doing now."

PREGAME SPEECH -- PART II

In late September, I questioned Haden's decision, timing and cold methods of firing Kiffin. But it's impossible to argue the results.

The question now isn't, "Was Haden right or wrong?" He clearly was right. The larger question becomes, "What does Haden do next?"

Given Orgeron's record since the coaching move, given the quality of opponents he's beaten at home and on the road, and given the team, student and fan support, isn't it a no-brainer that Haden should remove the "interim" tag?

Uh, no.

[+] EnlargePat Haden
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsWhere Pat Haden will look to find USC's next coach?

Orgeron is winning games with an injury-depleted, NCAA-sanctioned roster. He's winning games with a laughably low number of scholarship players. He's making it very difficult for Haden, who could be seen on the field celebrating the victory against Stanford, to give the job to anyone else.

So why hasn't he done so yet? Because maybe it isn't such a no-brainer decision, after all. Maybe the last thing Haden expected was for Orgeron to channel his inner John McKay, John Robinson and Pete Carroll.

It could be as pragmatic as this: Haden is incredibly appreciative of what his interim coach has done, but doesn't want to be on the hook for another rehire and rebuild if Orgeron fails to recapture the magic of 2013 for next season and beyond. And perhaps he knows Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin can be had for the right price.

If so -- and you're Haden -- do you want Orgeron or Sumlin? Orgeron or another college guy with more than the 15 career wins Coach O has? Orgeron or a big-name NFL guy? Orgeron or a medium-name NFL guy with USC ties (Jack Del Rio?)

You know what the Trojan players would say: they want Orgeron. They want his passion. His USC past and present. His trust of them, and them with him.

And Khayat, who played for Ole Miss and also in the NFL, knows what he would do.

"If Mr. Haden asked me that question, given the performance, the 180-degree turnaround -- if I'm the president or chancellor, I would recommend that we give him a shot at it," said Khayat. "[Orgeron] knows what it's like to be hired, fired, to win and lose. I've probably said more than I should -- I should answer this as a hypothetical. But I would want to see him have the opportunity to be a head coach."

But this isn't going to be the players' call. Or Khayat's call. This is going to be Haden's call. The school president's call. And you can be sure it will involve the input and/or blessings of the school's most prominent boosters.

There are no givens in college football. I thought Stanford would beat USC and I wasn't alone. But the Trojans are favored to win at Colorado this Saturday and they'll play UCLA at the Coliseum. Win those games and the pro-Orgeron lobby increases exponentially.

Orgeron has done a remarkable job. If nothing else, he has positioned himself for a head coaching gig at another program. But he wants USC. What we don't know is if USC wants him.

FIRST QUARTER

IN:

• Week 12 bizarreness. Last year, Week 12 gave us Baylor ruining No. 1 Kansas State's BCS National Championship hopes and Stanford doing the same to No. 2 Oregon's January plans. This time Week 12 was the Saturday when No. 4 Stanford's BCS dream went to die, and when Georgia, ranked a preseason No. 5, was subjected to more football misery, thanks to the War Eagle Miracle.

[+] EnlargeMyles Jack
Harry How/Getty ImagesTwo-way star Myles Jack has rushed for five TDs and recorded 67 tackles so far in 2013.

• UCLA true freshman linebacker/running back Myles Jack. There's not many players I'd pay to watch. Jack is one of the few.

• Rushing games. Wisconsin gained 554 yards on the ground in the blowout of Indiana. That's just 16 fewer yards than Washington State has gained through 10 games this season. And did I mention the 465 yards that Division III running back Cartel Brooks gained in Heidelberg University's win against Baldwin Wallace?

• More rushing games. Wisconsin ran big and won. Ohio State (441 rushing yards), Duke (358), Baylor (340), Auburn (323), UCF (253), Northern Illinois (224), UCLA (222), Alabama (196), and Oklahoma State (183) all ran big and won.

• Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. Congrats on breaking the ACC record for touchdowns.

• Ed Orgeron job momentum.

• Baylor BCS momentum.

• Art Briles job security: Ten years and counting at Baylor. You know, just in case Texas called.

• Michigan State scoring: For the third time in the last five games, the Spartans scored 40 or more points.

• The SEC East race: Missouri advances to the SEC Championship if it wins at Ole Miss this Saturday and at home against Texas A&M on Nov. 30. South Carolina goes if Mizzou loses either of those games.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesEnding KU's 27-game Big 12 losing streak gave Charlie Weis and the Jayhawks reason to celebrate.

• Ice water soakings and photo ops: Kansas coach Charlie Weis received a rare water cooler bath and posed for pictures with KU students after the Jayhawks ended a 27-game Big 12 losing streak by beating West Virginia.

• NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch.

• Win streaks: Ohio State has won 22 games in a row. Northern Illinois has won 23 MAC games in a row.

• Sideline squabbles: Illinois coach Tim Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit had to be separated during the third quarter of the loss to Ohio State. The Illini haven't won a Big Ten game since early October of 2011.

• Sanity: The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association had no choice but to drop-kick Virginia State out of the D-II playoffs after multiple players were accused of attacking opposing Winston-Salem State quarterback Rudy Johnson in a bathroom during a championship game luncheon.

• Predictions: I don't get many things right, but weeks ago I said that Auburn, not LSU, would be Alabama's toughest game during the second half of the season.

• Florida State's football focus: What Jameis Winston controversy? FSU 59, Syracuse 3.

• Last-second comebacks: Auburn over Georgia. UCF over Temple.

OUT:

• Predictions. Me saying last week that Stanford was the third-best team in the country … Me saying that Stanford wouldn't suffer a post-Oregon letdown.

• Mack Brown job momentum. Texas' 25-point loss to Oklahoma State was the worst home margin of defeat in Brown's Longhorn tenure. It was also Texas' eighth consecutive home loss against a ranked team.

[+] EnlargeNorthwestern Wildcats
Tasos Katopodis/Getty ImagesNorthwestern's uniforms caught the BMOC's eye.

• Those hideous Northwestern flag uniforms and helmets. Please, never again.

• Northwestern's luck. The Wildcats have none. They lost their sixth in a row (this time in triple overtime at home against Michigan) and are in danger of staying home for the holidays after a 4-0 start.

• Logic. I've quit trying to figure out Virginia Tech. The Hokies crush Miami on the road and then lose at home on Senior Day to Maryland in OT.

• Temple, UConn, NC State, Virginia, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, Iowa State, Southern Miss, Miami (Ohio), Air Force, Hawaii, California, Kentucky, Arkansas and Georgia State. What do they have in common? Zero conference victories this season.

• UConn, Southern Miss, Miami (Ohio), Hawaii and Georgia State. What do they have in common. Zero victories this season.

SECOND QUARTER

Somebody is going to get squeezed out of a place in a BCS bowl, and right now that somebody might be Wisconsin.

If it happens -- and it could, even if the Badgers win their last two regular season games to finish 10-2 -- then the Pac-12 officiating crew that screwed up the Arizona State-Wiscy ending in mid-September should have to personally apologize to the Wisconsin team.

Instead of having a chance to kick a game-winning field goal against the Sun Devils, the Badgers watched in disbelief as the officials failed to spot the ball in time for a final play.

It was an officiating travesty. It was also preventable (just watch the urgency of the crew in the final 12 seconds of regulation of Saturday's Michigan-Northwestern game). And that loss could cost the Badgers a spot in one of the four BCS bowls.

[+] EnlargeChris Borland
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesChris Borland (44) and the Badgers have run off five straight wins and deserve BCS bowl consideration.

If Wisconsin wins this week at 8-2 Minnesota and then at home against 6-4 Penn State, it deserves every at-large BCS bowl consideration. Here's why:

• Any reasonable person can agree that the Badgers' chances of making what would have been a 30-yard field goal against Arizona State were fairly high. The field goal would have given Wisconsin a 33-32 win and as it turned out, a 9-1 record entering this week's Battle for the Axe.

• The Colley Matrix is one of the computer programs used to help determine the BCS standings. If you replace the loss against Arizona State with a win, Wisconsin moves from last week's 26th place to an unofficial and hypothetical No. 10 in the Colley rankings.

• Wisconsin has the best tag team of running backs in the country (James White and Melvin Gordon), one of the best linebackers in the country (Chris Borland) and one of the best overall players in the conference (Jared Abbrederis).

• The Badgers are seventh in scoring margin (trailing only Baylor, Florida State, Oregon, Alabama, Ohio State and Louisville) and fifth in the country in total yardage differential (trailing only Baylor, Florida State, Louisville and Oregon).

• Since the Sept. 28 seven-point loss on the road at Ohio State, Wisconsin has won five consecutive games (four Big Ten games, one against BYU) by an average of 26.0 points.

• And remember in October when Indiana scored 28 points and gained 351 yards against Michigan State's big, bad defense? Well, Wisconsin just held Indiana to 3 points and 224 yards.

HALFTIME SPEECH

Week 13 is going to have a hard time living up to Week 12.

This Saturday could be a yawn-fest unless …

Click on this link to find out.

THIRD QUARTER

Attention AJ McCarron Heisman supporters: you can stand down now.

McCarron might win a third consecutive national championship for Alabama, but after Saturday night's so-so game against Mississippi State (18 of 32 for 187 yards, 2 TDs and 2 interceptions) he isn't likely to win a Heisman.

I understand the argument about intangibles and leading your team to win after win after win. But you've got to do better than 187 yards and matching pairs of INTs and TDs.

Is there time for a Heisman vote recovery? Possibly. McCarron faces Chattanooga this Saturday, then gets the national spotlight against Auburn in the Iron Bowl and, if Bama wins the SEC West, another national spotlight for the SEC Championship Game.

In the meantime, he's off my short list.

So, if I had to vote now …

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. The margin of difference between my top three picks is as thin as a Jesse Palmer necktie.

Johnny Football stays at No. 1. If he puts up big numbers and a win at LSU this Saturday, that margin might not be so thin anymore. And just imagine if he backs it up with another big game against Missouri?

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesJameis Winston has thrown for 2,938 yards and 28 TDs.

2. Florida State's Jameis Winston.  The results of an investigation by the state attorney's office could change the entire complexion of this Heisman race and BCS race. Much more important, it could change Winston's life.

But until all the facts are assembled and a decision is made relative to that investigation, the BMOC will treat Winston as the near-Heisman frontrunner.

Winston has the advantage of playing for an undefeated and BCS-contending FSU team. Manziel has the advantage of playing against teams that actually reside in the top 25. But according to ESPN Stas, Winston is the only player since 2000 with two games where he completed at least 90 percent of his passes with a minimum of 20 attempts in the game (versus Pittsburgh in the season opener and Syracuse this past Saturday).

3. Bryce Petty, Baylor. Yeah, just another five-touchdown performance for Petty in the win against Texas Tech. Like Manziel, his Heisman hopes could rest on what he does this Saturday. Petty faces Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

In consideration: Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch, Fresno State's Derek Carr, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Alabama's McCarron and because it's OK to think outside the Heisman box, UCLA's Myles Jack.

FOURTH QUARTER

Two-liners:

• This is Nick Saban's seventh season at Alabama and his sixth consecutive season with at least 10 wins. That's the longest double-digit streak in school history, and that includes Bear Bryant.

• Just as a reminder, do you know how hard it is to win a game in major college football? Ohio State has won 22 of them in a row.

• Northwestern's freefall after a 4-0 start is hard to top, but Texas Tech is trying. After a 7-0 start, the Red Raiders have lost four in a row and are giving up 50.5 points per game during the losing streak. (Thank you, ESPN Stats.)

• And Miami has lost three in a row after a 7-0 start. Oregon State has lost three in a row after winning its previous six games.

• If you had to vote right now for Coach of the Year, my finalists would be Bama's Nick Saban, Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Baylor's Art Briles. And then I'd check the box next to Malzahn's name.

• It's only fitting that if Oklahoma's Bob Stoops wants to become the winningest coach in Sooners football history this Saturday, he'll have to get win No. 158 at Kansas State and against the guy who hired him as the Wildcats' defensive backs coach in 1989: Bill Snyder. Stoops' respect for Snyder is well documented.

• Tommy Tuberville is doing a nice job at 8-2 Cincinnati this season, but he has to be wondering how his Bearcats aren't undefeated. Their two losses are to 3-7 Illinois and 2-7 South Florida.

POSTGAME

From the home office in Wheaton, Ill., comes this week's version of a four-team BCS playoff format.

No. 1 seed Alabama vs. No. 4 seed Ohio State.

The Crimson Tide didn't knock my socks off in the win against Mississippi State. In fact, I even considered dropping them to No. 2 in my rankings.

But because of a better strength of schedule, I kept Bama ahead of everyone else.

Ohio State scored 60 or more points for the third time this season, but it also gave up its most points of the season -- and against a dreadful Illinois team.

No. 2 seed Florida State vs. No. 3 seed Baylor.

I'm not so sure more people would rather see an FSU-Baylor matchup than a Bama-Buckeyes game. The Seminoles have employed a scorched conference policy in the ACC, while Baylor is 9-0 for the first time in school history. Ohio State has three 60-plus games? Baylor has six!

5. Clemson:  The Tigers' only loss is to FSU. They get the equivalent of a bye week this Saturday when they face the Citadel.

6. Auburn: But by the grace of Ricardo Louis -- and two Georgia defenders who didn't knock the ball down.

7. Oregon: De'Anthony Thomas should make a Mazda ad. Zoom, zoom.

8. Missouri: It isn't going to be easy, but the Tigers control their SEC East destiny.

9. Texas A&M: Aggie players are campaigning hard for a Heisman two-peat for Manziel. Maybe a better idea is to play some defense and beat LSU.

10. Oklahoma State: All of Stillwater and Columbus, Ohio, are rooting for the Cowboys this week against Baylor.

Close, but not quite there: Stanford, South Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State, Wisconsin.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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