In no way am I trying to discredit head coach Pete Carroll and his accomplishments while at Southern Cal, but by all my estimates, it seems as if the Trojans program has been on an incremental decline since the departure of Ed Orgeron in 2004.
Ed Orgeron arrived on campus in Los Angeles in 1998 after a brief stint as the defensive line coach at Syracuse University. In 2001, Pete Carroll was hired as the USC head coach. Immediately, Carroll promoted Orgeron to assistant head coach but more importantly, recruiting coordinator.
As recruiting coordinator, Orgeron was given the duties of finding prospects for Pete Carroll to reel into the almighty USC program. No single recruiting coordinator in college football history has ever had the kind of an impact on one school like Orgeron had on the Trojans.
Before we go there, we must remind you that Orgeron was an assistant coach for the Miami Hurricanes from 1988-1992 where he helped recruit Warren Sapp, Cortez Kennedy, and Russell Maryland.
In 1998, the USC football program was looking for redemption. Their last appearance in the Rose Bowl was in 1989. Their last consensus national championship was in 1972. This program was stuck in a rut in 1998 as in the previous two seasons, the Trojans had a combined 12-11 record.
In 1998, the USC Trojans won eight games but faltered the next two seasons and missed out on bowl appearances. 2001 came and the Santa Ana winds blew in Pete Carroll. While USC only went 6-6 that season, things began to look up as the athletes Orgeron had recruited began to have an immediate impact the following season.
In 2002, the USC Trojans were a hit nationally, as their offense was led by Heisman Trophy-winner Carson Palmer.
From that point on, USC built up its program and won national championships in 2003 & 2004. In 2005, they lost in the BCS National Championship to Vince Young & the Texas Longhorns.
Still, without Orgeron, where would have Pete Carroll been? Orgeron was the man behind the curtain in recruiting. As recruiting coordinator & assistant head coach, he helped bring in and coach 14 Trojans that ended up being first day picks in the NFL Draft. Those fourteen Trojans were:
Kenechi Udeze (Defensive End, 2004 First Round Pick)
Jacob Rogers (Offensive Tackle, 2004 Second Round Pick)
Keary Colbert (Wide Receiver, 2004 Second Round Pick)
Mike Williams (Wide Receiver, 2005 First Round Pick)
Mike Patterson (Defensive Tackle, 2005 First Round Pick)
Shaun Cody (Defensive End, 2005 Second Round Pick)
Lofa Tatupu (Linebacker, 2005 Second Round Pick)
Reggie Bush (Running Back, 2006 First Round Pick)
Matt Leinart (Quarterback, 2006 First Round Pick)
Winston Justice (Offensive Tackle, 2006 Second Round Pick)
Deuce Lutui (Offensive Guard, 2006 Second Round Pick)
LenDale White (Running Back, 2006 Second Round Pick)
Frostee Rucker (Defensive End, 2006 Third Round Pick)
Dominique Byrd (Tight End, 2006 Third Round Pick)
As you can see, Orgeron’s accomplishments at USC helped elevate the Trojans into a national powerhouse for the first time since the seventies.
We can also mention the other ten first day draft selections that have come from USC in which Ed Orgeron helped recruit before departing to become the head coach of Ole Miss in 2005.
Dwayne Jarrett (Wide Receiver, 2007 Second Round Pick)
Steve Smith (Wide Receiver, 2007 Second Round Pick)
Ryan Kalil (Center, 2007 Second Round Pick)
Sedrick Ellis (Defensive Tackle, 2008 First Round Pick)
Keith Rivers (Linebacker, 2008 First Round Pick)
Sam Baker (Offensive Tackle, 2008 First Round Pick)
Lawrence Jackson (Defensive End, 2008 First Round Pick)
Chilo Rachal (Offensive Guard, 2008 Second Round Pick)
Fred Davis (Tight End, 2008 Second Round Pick)
Terrell Thomas (Cornerback, 2008 Second Round Pick)
It is no secret that Ed Orgeron was the recruiting mastermind behind the surge of talent that put the USC program back on its feet since 2001. Pete Carroll has also expressed plenty of gratitude towards Orgeron for this feat.
The question remains though, without Ed Orgeron, would USC have ever returned to the forefront of college football powerhouses? Was the man behind the curtain all that and a bag of chips?
Perhaps he was. Since he has left, the USC Trojans continue to pull in “Blue Chip” recruits but the talent level seems to have decreased as other schools in the Pac-10 Conference have seemingly caught up to USC in the last two seasons, including Oregon, California, Arizona State, and UCLA.
The Pac-10 Conference is no longer a one-horse race. It hasn’t been since Ed Orgeron’s recruits have progressively left the program to make millions in the NFL. 2008 will be the first year where basically the entire roster for the Trojans is made up of players not recruited by Orgeron.
From 2002-2004, the years of the great recruit surge at USC, the Trojans won two national titles and lost just three games during that span. Since Orgeron headed for Rebel country in 2005, the Trojans have made three consecutive trips to the Rose Bowl, lost one national title game, and lost a combined five games through those three seasons.
Things appear to be worsening for the Trojans as well. In 2008, they will no longer be expected to cruise through their schedule with a dominating defense and explosive offense. Instead, they will have a tough non-conference schedule featuring Virginia & Ohio State. Add in the fact that they have to face Oregon, Arizona State, California, and UCLA.
Things could get worse for Pete Carroll and the Trojans.
To conclude, USC is still the team to beat in the Pac-10. They are still a national powerhouse that should be feared on Saturdays. I just want to acknowledge Ed Orgeron and all the things he accomplished while with the USC Trojans since they have seemingly gone unseen in the public eye.
Ed Orgeron was removed as head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels in 2008. He is now the defensive line coach for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints where he will likely excel with his new defensive tackle, Sedrick Ellis. Ellis is the same guy Orgeron helped to recruit several years earlier for the USC Trojans. Good luck to him.