When USC flipped longtime Alabama commit Viane Talamaivao earlier this week, the Trojans football program reestablished its foothold as a top destination in college football. Additionally, interim head coach Ed Orgeron incidentally made it that much more difficult for USC athletic director Pat Haden to look outside the program for his new head football coach.
It's no secret that Orgeron has dramatically turned the sinking USC ship around in his seven weeks at the helm, and high school recruits are starting to take notice.
Under Lane Kiffin, USC was still USC, but a lot of its allure and appeal were gone. Some of that had to do with NCAA sanctions, but Kiffin's style of coaching didn't do much for anyone. Last season, we saw half of USC's highly-coveted recruiting class abandon ship as the Trojans dramatically underwhelmed in 2012, and the residuals of that even carried over into this season.
At the beginning of the year, El Cerrito High (El Cerrito, Calif.) star linebacker D.J. Calhoun de-committed from USC in favor of Arizona State, and the Trojans looked to be taking big hits once again.
And then Orgeron happened.
The interim head coach and his staff made a big statement when they lured Talamaivao, just two weeks out from his official visit to Alabama, to Troy: not only can USC pluck top talent out of mighty SEC country, but also that it is back in the thick of the recruiting race. With top talent like Damien Mama (St. John Bosco, Bellflower, Calif.)—who recently Instagrammed a photo listing USC in his top four of options—and John "JuJu" Smith (Long Beach Poly, Long Beach, Calif.), USC is now in a good position to land one, or both of them. Talamaivao is good friends with both of these highly-touted athletes, and we have seen before that as goes one top recruit, so do others.
This would not be even close to the case were it not for the changes Orgeron has made.
Furthermore, ESPN.com's Jeremy Crabtree (subscription required) reported on Tuesday that one top recruit in particular thinks so much of Orgeron, that he alone is motivation to consider going to USC:
The victory [against Stanford] generated a lot of positive comments from recruits, and now it's cool to have USC on your list again. It will be interesting to see how seriously USC looks at Ed Orgeron as a candidate for the Trojans' coaching position, because recruits certainly are warming up to the idea. "If Coach O isn't there, then I'm not looking at USC anymore," one top prospect said. "I would follow that guy anywhere."
With that in mind, has Haden's decision been made for him?
If players are considering USC again because they want to play for Orgeron, Haden can't exactly go hire someone else in his place. That could negatively impact recruiting, even if USC nabbed a sexy hire like Kevin Sumlin.
Haden has to consider things like that if he is still going to look into finding a new head coach in Troy, which he will likely do, as that is his job as the athletic director.
With basketball, we saw interim head coach Bob Cantu finish the season strong only to be replaced by Andy Enfield once the season was over. Things are obviously different and more impactful on the football field for USC. Haden can't afford to make an emotional decision based on what is happening now, as the next head coach will be expected to stick around and win for a while.
This very well could be Orgeron, and if USC wins out the season, it is very probable that it would be. But if it is not, the hits USC's recruiting class could sustain again in the final stretches of the recruiting trail could be huge.
If USC can land some more 5-star recruits in the coming weeks—and if the Trojans keep winning like they are, they should be able to—Haden's decision will be all but made for him by the time the Trojans suit up for their impending bowl game.