Lane Kiffin could not have been blindsided by his eventual ouster as the USC football coach.
Yet all the while, waiting for another chance, was Ed Orgeron.
Mr. Blind Side himself.
When you do a head coaching search at USC, someone’s IMBD.com resume isn’t the first thing checked for red flags after their Facebook and Twitter profiles. In this case, athletic director Pat Haden didn’t have to go real far to find an understudy willing to jump into the lead role for the last eight games of the season.
The humble and engaging but ever lovin’ ragin’ Louisiana native Orgeron, whether you can understand what he’s actually saying with a voice that sounds like someone gargling a mouthful of lugnuts, already has captured this Trojan team’s attention.
After all, he mostly likely sold them on coming here in the first place.
As the head of recruiting, a job he was recruited for by USC former AD Mike Garrett when they brought him back (along with Kiffin) in 2010, also asking him to coach up the defensive line as he once did for Paul Hackett and Pete Carroll a decade earlier.
And then, don’t you remember: After all the wooing that Sandra Bullock could handle from Lou Holtz, Nick Saban, Houston Nutt, Phillip Fullmer and Tommy Tubberville, it was Orgeron who finally got his man, Michael Oher, in the 2009 movie, “The Blind Side.”
Maybe some of it had to do with the fact that Orgeron, the new head coach at Ole Miss at the time in 2005, had a key recruiting advantage: Oher’s adoptive parents were Ole Miss grads. The offensive lineman happily followed, especially after Orgeron made good on a key promise to Oher’s little brother, S.J. Tuohy, than – spoiler alert — he could lead the team onto the field for their first game.
The movie received an Academy Award nomination; Orgeron was somehow snubbed for a best supporting actor.
Right on script Sunday, at a press conference in the McKay Center on campus announcing the change, Orgeron pulled out his notes and thanked Kiffin for working “his tail off” before “coach got let go under these set of circumstances.”
Orgeron promised it was time for this staff “to answer the bell” because “we’re all accountable to what happened.”
This group already has “a positive vibe” and has decided to “recommit and to give it all we got for the Trojan family.”
USC can’t possibly lose as many recruits under Orgeron’s watch than as they already were as Kiffin’s tenure continued to move on shaky turf, so again promoting Orgeron makes perfect sense.
In promoting Clay Helton as the man who’ll call offensive plays now, it wasn’t a tough choice. Helton is actually USC’s offensive coordinator, a job that Kiffin rarely let him fully experience.
Orgeron will open practices to the media again – right there, he’s already scored a huge victory without making a huge concession, depending on how USC’s compliance department sorts the details.
When he said it was time to “circle the wagons and have fun and let the chips fall where they may,” he resorted to every Hollywood cliché you imagine from a coach after a night’s worth of no sleep.
Haden isn’t getting a know-little newby here after he so-called “gut feeling” said he was time to finally cut Kiffin.
“He knows USC and he’s beloved by the USC family,” Haden said of Orgeron. “He brings the incredible passion and energy that we need.”
Has Orgeron ever been in trouble before with the NCAA. Not at USC, but there was the time …
When it came to the recruitment of Oher, the NCAA thought it was interesting that Oher’s high school coach, Hugh Freeze, was hired by Orgeron 20 days after Oher signed a letter of intent. No violations were cited.
Then there was a time when the NCAA was looking into an illegal workout Orgeron was accused of having with a recruit back when he was at Tennessee. Nothing came of it.
Clear that up for you?
Taking a team to South Bend or the Rose Bowl for an annual rivalry game shouldn’t shock Orgeron’s system. From his days at Ole Miss, he already learned all about the trouble you can get in taking a team into LSU’s Death Valley, or the “hostile environment” of Alabama.
Not that Orgeron’s 10-25 record at Mississippi was highlighted by a 3-21 mark against the Southeastern Conference opponents. But in 2006, his team lost in overtime both at Alabama (26-23) and at No. 9 LSU (23-20).
With Orgeron, you get what you hear – not someone hiding behind a play-calling sheet. Much more animation on the sidelines. More hand-slapping. More butt-patting. Not someone making excuses about scholarship deficiencies, but using that instead as motivation tools.
“I’m going to have some energy, some excitement, high-fiving guys,” he promised. “That’s what I like to do.”
If this is just an audition for a possible permanent job, Haden won’t have to do any more casting calls. USC might be one of the nation’s most coveted jobs, but, for the moment, it belongs to Orgeron, who not only won’t pull any punches, but will deliver a couple himself when practice begins again on Wednesday, heading into a bye week.
Who knows. You might even see Sandra Bullock gravitate toward leading the team out of the tunnel for their next home game.
Age: 52 (born July 27, 1961, in Larose, Louisiana
College: Four-year starting defensive lineman at Northwestern State in Natochitoches, La., from 1981-84, and senior captain.
USC ties: Hired by Paul Hackett to coach the Trojans’ defensive line in 1998. Retained by Pete Carroll upon Hackett’s firing in 2000 and given the job as recruiting coordinator in 2001. Named assistant head coach in ’03. Named national recruiter of the year in 2004. Returned to USC in 2010 as defensive line coach when Lane Kiffin was hired as head coach.
Head coaching experience: University of Mississippi (2005-07). Record was 10-25 after seasons of 3-8, 4-8 and 3-9. Fired after losing to Mississippi State in final game of ’07 season, when team had an 0-8 record in the SEC.
NFL experience: New Orleans Saints defensive line coach (2008)
Other college experience: Hired by Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin as defensive line coach, recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach in 2009. Started coaching career as grad assistant at alma mater Northwestern State (1984), then to McNeese State (’85), assistant strength coach at Arkansas (’86-’87), defensive line coach at University of Miami (’88-’92), linebacker coach at Nicholls State (’94) and defensive line coach at Syracuse (’95-’97).