With Lane Kiffin left standing in the LAX parking lot, USC has turned to Ed Orgeron—a cajun, comedian, movie star, car salesman and player's coach—to lead the young Trojans, at least for the remainder of the 2013 season.
As Orgeron approaches the beginning of his fourth decade as a college coach, he brings a gumbo pot full of experience, indiscretion and enthusiasm to a reeling USC squad.
On the surface, the switch over to Orgeron looks to be exactly the shot in the arm the Trojans need. Since his Sept. 29 promotion, the Larose, La. native has produced an entirely different feeling around the program.
He reopened practices to the media after Kiffin closed them at the start of the year. Through his thick cajun accent, Orgeron also discussed injuries with the media, which Kiffin did not.
Orgeron joined Kiffin during his short tenure at Tennessee in 2009, then followed him to Los Angeles the following year. From 2005-2007, he had his only prior position as a head coach—a short-lived stay at Mississippi.
As the Rebels head coach, Orgeron went 10-25 and was fired after a 3-9 season, during which he finished winless in SEC play.
That stay at Ole Miss did, however, help him land a role in The Blind Side. Orgeron played himself in the film about former Ole Miss and current Baltimore Ravens lineman Michael Oher. During his time with the Rebels, Orgeron won the recruiting battle for the services of Oher.
He also gained a bit more acting experience during his time as the head coach in Oxford, Miss. He appeared in a local Hummer advertisement for Rogers-Dabbs, a car dealership in Brandon, Miss.
That amusing ad shows the side of Orgeron that players have responded to so far during his time in charge of the USC program. Orgeron's first practice as the head coach was as rousing of a practice the there has been in years. With the new coach bouncing around the field and firing up his players, his attitude was well received, particularly by quarterback Cody Kessler.
"You've got to love it," Kessler told Gary Klein of The Los Angeles Times. "You've got be excited to have that in your head coach."
Running back Silas Redd echoed his quarterback's comments, telling AP writer Greg Beacham that he was shocked by the firing of Kiffin but will certainly enjoy the game under Orgeron (h/t The Atlanta-Jounal Constitution):
I had no clue that (a coaching change) was coming after that game. We're going to have fun, though. This is a fun team, and today was exactly that. They're just two different types of people. Coach Kiffin is more strict. Coach O is more loose.
The response from his players is a great start for Orgeron's second tenure as a head coach. He is also in his second stint at USC, as he was a part of Paul Hackett and Pete Carroll's staffs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, respectively.
He tried to duplicate Carroll's formula for success while at Ole Miss, but he failed. Now, he is eager to have the second chance that he was unsure he would ever see, as he told the media after his first practice:
"It's my shot—it's our shot. It's our shot as a team. I didn't know if I'd ever become a head coach again," he said. "I have to coach my style. One of the things, after my previous head coaching stint, I said, you know what, if I get my chance again, I have to do it the way I want to do it."
Ed Orgeron on the difference in his second first day as a head coach: “I didn’t take my shirt off today.”— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) October 3, 2013
So far, Orgeron has done exactly that, a process which has included bringing desserts back. As expected, that move has been a home run with the players.
"You give a lineman a cookie, he's happy," Orgeron quipped after practice No. 1.
He revealed that the desserts are less about the sugar, and more about a point of change that the players can feel firsthand. Hopefully, that will translate to change in the way USC is playing on the field.
"It's a change," Orgeron said about USC's desserts. "I wanted to have a change. I think if we would have went the same direction, and we kept on doing the same thing, nothing changes."
How will USC finish 2013 under Ed Orgeron?
Of course, making an on-field change is easier said than done and will likely require more than baked goods. USC is still under NCAA roster and scholarship limitations, which handicaps the team's depth—a factor that could become more weighty as the season wears on.
However, when asked about those limitations, Orgeron just stuck to his guns. He said he wouldn't use that as an excuse for lack of success, saying that the Trojans will fight on no matter what, even joking that they'll fight a reporter if they have to.
"We are not gonna use any of that as an excuse. We have our team, it's what it is, it's what we are. We're Trojans: We put 11 out on the field and fight—and we might fight you, too."
Ed Orgeron: I really think we've got to play w some energy, circle the wagons these next eight weeks & have some fun. #USC— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) September 29, 2013
That joke was one of the many punchlines Orgeron delivered during his first practice. After all, they say laughter is the best medicine.
After a painful 3-2 start—including a pair of Pac-12 Conference losses and an ugly midseason coach dismissal—Orgeron seems spot-on in injecting a heavy dose of humor to the Trojan program.