BILL DWYRE

USC hit reset button with Ed Orgeron, and it feels good

Unlike Lane Kiffin, interim Coach Ed Orgeron is a good fit with Trojans football. But real success will be measured in the win column.

  • Pin It

It was just a few ticks of the clock before midnight Thursday when Ed Orgeron blended his own feelings into those of USC football fans.

"Today, I woke up happy," he said, "and I'm not a happy guy."

Friday morning, most USC fans, who had been like Orgeron, woke up the same.

Orgeron called USC's 38-31 victory over Arizona "an A-plus." In most ways, he was right.

The Trojans needed to win. Period. Be it a fluke, or by a bad call. Even the lights going out and changing the momentum. It didn't matter. Any port in a storm.

The Lane Kiffin run had ended in the wee hours of the morning at LAX 12 days ago. Trojans fans had been in an uproar. Arizona State hadn't just beaten USC; it had slapped it down with a 62-41 embarrassment. A proud Trojans world, its image and psyche always riding grandly on that white horse, head held high and sword thrust forward, can suffer occasional defeats to UCLA and Notre Dame. Those are rivals, blood brothers in scope and hope.

But never 62-41 embarrassments to somebody else.

It had gotten so bad that fan anger became irrational. Athletic Director Pat Haden had done what had to be done, what the fans wanted. But they were still angry. Why did he wait so long? Why had he hired Kiffin in the first place? (He hadn't. Mike Garrett had.)

Into this forest fire of emotion was thrust Orgeron, a 52-year-old with a classic coach's gravelly voice; three years' experience, with mixed results, as a head coach at Mississippi; a background as a key assistant under Pete Carroll in the pre-Reggie Bush magic kingdom days; and even a bit role in the hit movie "The Blind Side."

The choice, an emergency stopgap for Haden, was as perfect as it was logical. To many USC fans, Orgeron was, and is, a modern-day Marv Goux, the late and beloved USC assistant who symbolized and practiced tough football and tough love.

Fair or not, Kiffin's symbol had become a blank look and a laminated play sheet. Internally, he was not disliked. Externally, he was never understood.

Or, perhaps more accurately, he never understood.

He was a Silicon Valley guy in a world not quite ready to live and die with Google. USC fans embrace, but expect to be embraced back. They wanted anger, emotion, fire and brimstone along the sidelines. Or, in Carroll's case, little kid's enthusiasm.

Kiffin gave them composure, Xs and O's. Carroll had made daily practice a trip to Disneyland for fans and the media. Kiffin closed it.

Kiffin frequently missed the point. When he'd go to speak at a Trojans function, he often would show up minutes before and leave fairly quickly afterward. His speeches would be good, enlightening, motivating. But there was no real embrace back.

This is still, and always will be, the football program of John McKay. It demands quips, smiles, tears, anger, classic one-liners, unabashed joy in winning and total disgust at losing.

John Robinson followed McKay in 1976, went to the Rams, came back and produced an overall record of 104-35-4. He got it. Still does, and analyzes it perfectly.

"Pete Carroll started running for mayor the first day he arrived," Robinson says.

He also says, with his ever-jovial chuckle, "I go out to events and people are still hugging me. They're all 80 years old, of course."

Orgeron earned a collective hug Thursday night.

  • Pin It