New USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has six weeks until national signing day, but he's already working to land his first major recruit: Ed Orgeron.
The importance of Sarkisian bringing Orgeron back to USC was scrawled out in the block letters on fullback Soma Vainuku's arm during USC's 45-20 Las Vegas Bowl win. They spelled out "COACH O.," in an homage to the former Trojans defensive line and interim head coach.
Orgeron ingratiated himself to current Trojans and was a leading force in recruiting new prospects to the program. Both are qualities crucial to Sarkisian's transition into his new, high-pressure position.
Circumstances have unfolded for Orgeron's return to USC in a way that seems downright serendipitous. Sarkisian's willingness to retain the Trojans staff is evident in Saturday's hire of bowl game interim head coach Clay Helton. Sarkisian also needs a defensive line coach and recruiting guru with the coach who held both posts at Washington, Tosh Lupoi, under NCAA investigation.
However, the process of bringing Orgeron back may be much more difficult in practice than in theory.
The particulars of his departure threw up an immediate roadblock to Orgeron's return. To wit, Los Angeles-area media stalwart T.J. Simers took Orgeron's departure to task in The Orange County Register for abandoning the "all about the kids'' philosophy that guided USC through its strong finish under Orgeron.
Helton, on the other hand, embraced the opportunity to coach the bowl game despite his uncertain future and immediately landed back with the Trojans. Orgeron's now been on the market three weeks and the buzz is quiet.
There's validity to the flip side of the departure, too.
Orgeron quit immediately after USC publicized Sarkisian's hire, leaving the Trojans to play the bowl game for their third head coach in just over two months. He was 6-2 in his time as interim head coach, and 6-1 in Pac-12 play—Sarkisian went 5-4 in the conference.
Orgeron was also a product of the same USC coaching lineage that produced Sarkisian, working alongside the new head coach for three seasons in the early 2000s. Orgeron also has the plainly evident connection with the current Trojans, as laid out on Vainuku's arm.
There is middle ground to be found, and Sarkisian seems to recognize that. He made it clear in an interview with ESPN 710 in Los Angeles (h/t Yahoo!) Sunday that Orgeron is welcome back to Heritage Hall, even empathizing with Orgeron's decision.
When the emotions settle down, Ed’s a great Trojan and he’s meant a lot to the Trojan family, and if we can have that opportunity for him to be part of this football program and be here with us, we’d love to have him.
Returning players like safety Su'a Cravens and quarterback Cody Kessler want Orgeron back on staff. Sarkisian wants Orgeron on staff. The ball is now in Orgeron's court. Getting him to take it is the first big recruiting challenge Sarkisian can clear in his new role.