In a little over a month, USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron has taken over the wheel of a sinking ship and transformed it into a state-of-the-art cruise liner.
If he can add victories over No. 4 Stanford (Nov. 16) and No. 13 UCLA (Nov. 30), the 52-year-old will undergo a full transformation himself—one that will see him lose the interim tag and become the next head coach for the Trojans football program.
It isn’t entirely unfathomable.
What Orgeron has done in such a short span has been truly remarkable.
Since he took over, USC is 4-1, the defense is playing hard-nosed football once again and the offense has shown signs of life for the first time all season. Furthermore, the players seem to buy into Orgeron’s system:
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) October 11, 2013
Just look at the impact Orgeron has had on the play of quarterback Cody Kessler as compared to that under former head coach Lane Kiffin:
|Cody Kessler's Play at QB|
|Under Kiffin||Under Orgeron|
Under Kiffin, the sophomore threw for 170 yards or more just twice. With Orgeron’s guidance, he has accomplished the feat in all five contests.
Furthermore, Kessler has seemed to be hitting his stride over the last two games, throwing for 417 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 31-of-38 passing.
On the whole, Orgeron has taken a Trojan offense that had averaged 26.0 points and 380.4 yards per game and increased those marks to 32.0 and 424.8 respectively over the last five games. Not to mention, he has helped the team’s third-down conversion rate rise from 27.3 percent to 40.0.
However, USC’s biggest tests under Orgeron’s tenure will come against the Cardinal and the Bruins, two of the opponents that made up the team’s six losses from a year ago.
Against Stanford, the Trojans have lost four straight. As for UCLA, the team has lost five of six when the Bruins have come in at least four games over .500—UCLA is currently 7-2.
Forget what Orgeron has accomplished in the last month. This is his job interview right here, right now.
In USC’s glory days under Pete Carroll, the team gained a reputation for winning the big games. That all resulted in a stretch where the Trojans won 55 of 58 games in the mid-2000s, including two BCS title appearances and a share of the national title in 2003.
That reputation was quickly tarnished during Kiffin’s tenure.
If Orgeron can successfully restore that big-win mentality back to the program, how does he not deserve the permanent position of head coach at USC?
This is a guy who goes the extra mile to make sure his players are getting it. The same guy who recognizes that everyone in the community, right down to each and every member of the school’s marching band, plays an important role in the success of the Trojans.
But most importantly, this is the guy who has brought back pride and dignity to a once-proud program that has been crushed under the weight of the boot of the NCAA in recent years.
It would be a mistake for athletic director Pat Haden to hand the job to anybody else but Orgeron.
Wins against the Cardinal and Bruins will only drive that point home.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com.