The keys to the kingdom have officially been handed over to Ed Orgeron, who takes over as interim head coach of the USC Football program. Working in the midst of his 11th season for Troy, bouncing around to Tennessee and Ole Miss for short stints recently, the wiry leader took center stage during USC's changing of the guard press conference.
"We are here as a staff to answer the bell," Orgeron said to the gathered media today inside the John McKay Center on campus. "I want us to have some fun over these next eight games and let the chips fall where they may."
The atmosphere certainly will not be lacking any intensity or more importantly focus, when the Trojans first take the field Wednesday for their first official practice. After spending a good deal of Sunday morning speaking with his players and coaches, Haden firmly stated the program was fully behind playing under their interim head coach.
"We had a team meeting and came out of it with a positive vibe," Orgeron said building on Haden's sentiments regarding team meetings following a 21-point loss Saturday. "We made a commitment to give it all we've got. We have already spoken to our recruits about what is going on and we expect to have a great recruiting class."
Mulling over the future of the program since the befuddling start to the season against Hawaii, Athletic Director Pat Haden finally reached his boiling point during the third quarter of Saturday night's beat down, canning Lane Kiffin in favor of a fresh-yet-familiar face for at least the final eight games of the season.
What may seem like a minute point, given the importance of collegiate athletics and the winning tradition that comes from 125 years of USC Football (interestingly enough 1888 was the last time USC had two head coaches in the same season), playing for some fun may be just the kickstart these players need.
To build off that point, the contrast between Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron is most dramatic in this fact alone. While Kiffin was spirited and even rather animated at times on the practice field, the Trojans former head coach struggled to extract that same "gun-ho" excitement for games.
Take away victories over Oregon and UCLA ('11) along with a frantic run down the sideline chasing Marqise Lee against Boston College, and Kiffin suddenly dives back into persona of play-calling scientist with little emotion. That description will certainly not be the case with "Coach O" running the ship from the sideline, who can sometimes even be heard bursting commands in the upper hallows of the 90-thousand seater just before kickoff.
Following the Trojans first 0-2 start to conference play since 2001, a fortuitously placed bye week comes at a perfect time for some reflection and preparation before taking on the 3-1 Arizona Wildcats in primetime on Fox Sports 1.
So now the challenge for Orgeron, serving in his third year in a head-coaching capacity, rests in the schedule filled with at least two-more ranked contests (UCLA and Stanford) alongside difficult road tests against Oregon State and Notre Dame. Games that could sadly make or break the Trojans chances at making a bowl game this season.
First and foremost, credibility and excitement will immediately return back to the program from day one with the new leadership in place. Known for his prowess as a defensive line coach, sending the most defensive lineman to the NFL in the last 10 years, Orgeron is highly respected as one of the best for his craft around the coaching landscape.
"I want our guys to believe and have a little fun," Orgeron proposes, before adding, "one of the things we can do as a staff is get really close to our players, circle the wagons, have fun, and let the chips fall where they may."
Secondly and probably more importantly for the future, Orgeron is the leading recruiter on staff. Known for his stealth work with Ole Miss battling the likes of Alabama, LSU and Georgia for top-ranked talent, "Coach O" certainly can keep the ship afloat on this all-important end of the game for players in the current 2015 Recruiting Class.
During the press conference, Haden made no commitments to anyone about the future coaching search. He wants the focus to remain on this team, that being said some of the biggest names in college football are rumored for the position. And to be frank, the conversations around NFL coaches like Jack Del Rio, Herm Edwards, Jeff Fischer seem rather unlikely hires at this point given the nature of the interview process and its ever-changing demands.
"We're going to try to find the best coach we can possibly find for USC," said Haden, who joked that everyone is a candidate, including the assembled media. "[The coaching search] is in the future though." Building off Haden's point, the Trojans need a fresh face who can relate to 16-to-17 year old kids. Granted Jim Mora broke the mold by taking and embracing the challenge at UCLA, but he is amongst the minority in this NFL to NCAA department.
That is what separates "Coach O" from anyone on this current coaching staff or in the NFL market, especially given the trying times that have come around campus. Known for his loud antics, in your face interactions and fun-loving comments from the sideline, Orgeron engages much better with players and fans than the former H.C.
Now at a time when USC is not only searching for its identity on the offensive side of the ball but also in terms of national perception, the Trojans could not have asked for a bigger presence to press the rest button. Know for certain that when the ball is kicked off against Arizona, players will be flying around the football and that the line of scrimmage will certainly be won from the opening snap with Orgeron leading the charge from the tunnel.