Ed Orgeron is 5-1 since taking over for Lane Kiffin as interim head coach. His players are well fed. The Coliseum is full and not booing. He’s fresh off a huge Stanford upset. Orgeron wants the head coaching job. Today, he’d be a popular choice with players, fans and marching band members. But should Pat Haden listen?
Hiring the interim coach can be risky. There’s the obvious risk of a fleeting infatuation with the rebound guy. There’s a small sample size. One game, a handful of games or even an entire season can come down to luck. If Michigan does not come back from a 17-0 deficit to beat Virginia in 1995, Lloyd Carr is not hired. If Luke Fickell has better fortune in one-score games (1-5) in 2011 the way Urban Meyer did in 2012 (6-0), he may be Ohio State’s head coach.
Bill Stewart at West Virginia is the example of what not to do with an interim head coach. But, a more appropriate parallel may be Dabo Swinney. He’s a popular, enthusiastic guy and a great recruiter. He has no experience as a coordinator. Dabo closed the 2008 season with four wins in his last five, beat South Carolina and got the permanent job. He had some initial growing pains. It’s still debatable how good he has been. But it was not a bad hire.
Hiring a position coach can be risky. A specialist can instill his vision on one side of the ball (a la Saban or Chip Kelly). A position coach has a different command dynamic. He must rely on two expereinced coordinators. That can make it harder to jump in and force changes.
That sort of CEO-style head coach can work. It just raises the level of difficulty. A Dabo or a Brady Hoke can have a clear vision, sell the program and with great hires on both sides of the ball can succeed. That style coach can also see problems snowball and be overwhelmed. That happened to Derek Dooley. That happened to Ed Orgeron during his head coaching stint at Ole Miss.
Orgeron inherited a not so great situation in Oxford. He made it worse. He did recruit – Houston Nutt won two Cotton Bowls with his players – but he never assembled the right staff or presented a route to progress. He went 3-21 in the SEC, which is abominable, even by Ole Miss standards. Would the second try be different?
Maybe. USC is a different job than Ole Miss. Orgeron would not be forging an identity at a non-traditional power. He would be restoring and refurbishing an extant one (which he is well familiar with). Also, crucially, his presumed staff is already in place. The continuity would be helpful recruiting this year and heading into next season. The cost is minimal, a raise for Ed Orgeron. But what happens three years down the road?
The question for Pat Haden is not whether Orgeron has done enough to earn the job. It’s what he can do in the future. Evaluation of that depends on the evaluation of what is happening now with this collective staff. Is this a quality group scheming well and getting the most out of its talent? Or, is it really, ridiculously talented players trying a lot harder for the more affable substitute teacher?
Haden is doing the right things: waiting and not saying a word. If USC beats UCLA and sneaks into the Pac 12 title game, dumping Orgeron is a difficult, unpopular decision. If USC gets dumped by three touchdowns, it’s a much easier one.
Orgeron’s chances may depend on where USC is with its coaching search. If Kevin Sumlin, Chris Petersen or another A-list candidate has genuine interest, that’s the clear route to go. But, USC may find it hard to pry a coach from a second-tier program. With new TV revenues, schools such as Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Baylor are paying big money (in salary and facilities) to keep good coaches. If Haden is faced with blowing up the program for a candidate on his B or C-list, staying the course with Coach O may be a far more appealing option.
[Photo via USA Today Sports]