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October 6, 2013

Ed Orgeron: Candidate Profile

Miami National Titles '89, '91 USC National Title '04 Rivals Recruiter of the Year in 2004

Ed Orgeron is currently the head coach for the USC Trojans. While USC continues its search for a permanent solution to its head coaching vacancy, it's important to note that Athletic Director Pat Haden does not have to search for, or persuade Orgeron as a candidate, which makes his profile as such unique.

But Orgeron is unique in almost every way. Born in Larose (La.), he is of Cajun decent. His booming Cajun ascent echoes off the walls around Howard Jones Field each practice, motivating his players and captivating observers of his coaching style.

Orgeron is an adored oddity for Angelenos and his success at USC as a defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator is undeniable. Orgeron was originally hired at USC by Paul Hackett, but was a carryover to Pete Carroll's staff in 2001. It was with Carroll that Orgeron's recruiting prowess was tested.

In a turning point for the Trojan football program, Orgeron helped land defensive end Shaun Cody, then the No. 1 player in California. Orgeron recruited Cody relentlessly, even when Cody was assumed by many to be a lost cause and headed for Notre Dame.

Orgeron's ability to recruit was only enhanced by Carroll's ability to win games at USC. Orgeron was named National Recruiter of the Year by Rivals.com in 2004 and has been named among the top 25 recruiters nationally almost every year since.

After winning Recruiter of the Year and a national championship at USC in 2004, Orgeron headed to Ole Miss to become the Rebels head coach. As at USC, Orgeron continued to recruit well. While at Ole Miss, Orgeron coached or recruited 19 players who would go on to the NFL.

That number, however, almost doubled the amount of wins he had as head coach. Going 10-25 in three seasons in Oxford, Orgeron was relieved of his duties in 2007.

After stints with the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Volunteers as a defensive line coach, Orgeron returned to USC with Lane Kiffin. True to form, Orgeron pulled in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class his first month back in Los Angeles. While that class eventually lost its ranking as No. 1 due to academic casualties, Orgeron proved his ability to close as a recruiter in a limited amount of time.

With Lane Kiffin going 3-2 to start the 2013 season, Orgeron has once against been put in a position where he must hold down recruiting on an interim basis at USC. But Orgeron is not looking at his position as interim.

"This is my shot, so I've got to take it," said Orgeron. "I think I learned a lot from my experience at Ole Miss, so I have to use that now in this situation."

The Advantage for Orgeron at USC is his familiarity with USC. Unlike any coaching candidate available, Orgeron has seen USC down and helped USC return to greatness. CBS Sports senior college football columnist Bruce Feldman knows Orgeron as well as anyone in the media.

Feldman spent the entire 2007 season with Orgeron at Ole Miss, documenting how the fiery coach recruited and managed his team. Feldman contrasts the situation Orgeron found himself in at Ole Miss compared to today's head coaching vacancy at USC.

"At Ole Miss, he had horrible leadership above him," said Feldman. "They had a really bad athletic director, and they clashed.

"The AD was always kind of squeezing everybody. No coach, whether it was Orgeron or [Houston] Nutt or [David] Cutcliff got along with that AD. He doesn't have those issues at USC, and you can see Pat Haden is supporting him through this.

"With that support above him, he has that comfort zone he never had at Ole Miss. The other two big things are, one, he has the Ole Miss experience behind him.

"He knows now, 'I tried to do things that way then because Pete [Carroll] did it that way.' It didn't work, and he knows he has to refine his message because it didn't get across. He was fighting some little battles that he didn't need to fight. So I think his perspective is a lot better.

"The third thing is, he had some good talent at Ole Miss in places, but not across the board like at USC. No matter how shaky the quarterback play is at USC, it's still light years better than him playing a walk-on like he was at the end at Ole Miss.

"Almost every game he went into at Ole Miss in the SEC, he played with less talent than his opponent. At USC, he'll be coming into almost every game this season with more talent than his opponent. Maybe Stanford has more talent, maybe, maybe Notre Dame has more talent.

"But in this case, his talent is better, his perspective is better and the support around him is dramatically better."

As Feldman points out, many of the mistakes Lane Kiffin made in team management at USC, Orgeron made at Ole Miss.

"When Orgeron was at Ole Miss, he was the micro manager guy," said Feldman. "He wanted the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach to do things that weren't in their comfort zone. He wanted the defensive coordinator, John Thompson, to run the defense Pete Carroll was running.

"I think he now knows that he's good at motivating people, and he can control that. His teams played really hard at Ole Miss. He can get people to buy in. I don't know if he'd admit this, but the lack of passion, or whatever was going on with the team, he'll bring more than just energy to the team. He'll bring enthusiasm to USC."

The Disadvantage for Orgeron may be the natural inclination for the fans and administration to start fresh next season with a different coaching staff. New is always easy to market, and at the end of the day, USC football is about business as much as it is about pride.

This job is also much bigger than the Ole Miss head coaching position. Oxford (Miss.) is a small town and the football program does not hold the prestige or tradition of USC. Make a misstep in Los Angeles, and coaches don't get thrown under just one bus, but every bus on the 405 freeway during rush hour.

Although, Feldman sees the nation's second largest media market as also being less personal and less vindictive than Oxford. The fact is, Orgeron has very low expectations to deal with as interim head coach at USC.

"In a way, this is like found money for him," said Feldman. "He has a chance to rewrite his legacy as a coach. People know he's a great recruiter and that he's a great defensive line coach because he has the results.

"His record at Ole Miss is dreadful, and it had to bother him that he probably left the program better off then he found it. Houston Nutt went in there and had two great seasons with Orgeron's players, and once Orgeron's players were gone, they were awful. I think he sees this as a chance to reshape how people see him as a head coach."

However, in order to do that, Orgeron has to prove he did learn from the mistakes he made at Ole Miss as a head coach. That is easier said than done.

"I think it's a long shot for him to get the job [next season]," said Feldman. "The main challenge for him is to make good, smart game day decisions.

"I have no doubt that they'll play with a great deal of intensity and energy, which is something you can say is lacking [at USC]. But he has to get consistency out of the offense - particularly the offensive line.

"Look, as a play caller, Lane could be his own worst enemy at times. I think he is going to let the offensive guys do their thing, but he still has to make good game decisions.

"If he can go 7-1, that will obviously impress people. And this I totally believe. He buys into everything USC is about as much as any person who has probably coached there.

"He is totally consumed by the USC Trojans and what that place has been because it's totally changed his life. USC fans will like hearing that and Pat Haden will like hearing that because it's not an act. He totally worships USC.

"It comes down to game day decisions. Playing hard, but playing smart."



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