Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It never ceases to amaze how much winning can wash away the negative feelings surrounding a program.
Just over a month ago, the USC Trojans were being buried as a once-proud program crumbling in the wake of the Lane Kiffin era. Fans wanted answers while the men in charge, like athletic director Pat Haden, were in the throes of another major dilemma affecting their premier squad.
Fast forward to today and suddenly the Trojans' concerns have been alleviated, to a degree, and fans are beginning to think the next era at USC is beginning.
Since Kiffin was unceremoniously fired and left in an airport parking lot following a 62-41 loss to Arizona State in late September, the Trojans have pulled off wins in three of four contests, with the most recent a rather impressive, 31-14 triumph in Corvallis over the pass-happy Oregon State Beavers.
The recent string of success has some wondering if interim head coach Ed Orgeron is well on his way to stripping off the interim label and heading up the program for good.
The notion is not one that is as crazy as it sounds, or at least as crazy as it might have sounded a month ago.
The simple argument is that the Trojans have bought in to Orgeron in a way they did not with Kiffin and because of that, the wins have begun to pile up. There was always talent under Kiffin, but now that talent is beginning to shed off the stench of mediocrity which colored Kiffin's tenure and actually perform and, even more importantly, win. After all, winning football games is the top, if not only, qualification that schools look for when hiring head coaches.
However, just simply stating that Orgeron has gotten the team to win doesn't tell the whole story. One of the major weaknesses the Trojans had under Kiffin was on defense. This year, that has changed, especially in recent weeks. It's no wonder considering Orgeron was the defensive line coach before being promoted to the top job. USC currently leads the Pac-12 in total defense (323 yards per game) and sacks (28) while ranking second in scoring defense (18.7 points per game) and tackles for loss (64). Clearly, Orgeron has identified where his is strongest and gotten his unit to be the best in that area.
The win over Oregon State really hammered home how good Orgeron's defense is with the Trojans holding a team that is third the nation in passing to a pedestrian 277 yards through the air
Increased emphasis and success on the defensive side of the ball is not the only portion of Orgeron's audition that could have Haden seriously considering him as a long-term solution. Orgeron brings a deep connection to USC, as both a former player and a coach. He also is skilled recruiter, which is a vitally important aspect of the job, especially for a new coach trying to quickly turn around a program that is used to competing for national titles.
Haden also may be more open to the idea of hiring a guy like Orgeron, a solid coach but not one who will make for flashy headlines, as the last coach he hired (Kiffin) brought tons of attention, both negative and positive. That type of splashy hire, while fun at first, also produces expectations that immense improvement would occur immediately, and those expectations are often not met quickly enough. Haden saw that first-hand with Kiffin.
While there are certainly a list of reasons that lend themselves to giving Orgeron the gig, there is also a competing list that would push the Trojans in the other direction.
Making decisions based on fleeting success isn't exactly taking the long-term view for a solution. After all, the Trojans started the Kiffin era off with a four-game winning streak. Also bringing fuel to this argument is that Orgeron's resume is not exactly bursting with head coaching experience. Though he has been an assistant and coordinator at a number of collegiate and professional stops he has only served as a head coach for three seasons. Those three years were spent with Ole Miss, which never won more than four games in a season during his tenure.
That's not exactly the type of track record that would have an athletic director tripping over himself to give away the keys to a program.
Haden also need only take a look around his own conference to see just how important it is to bring in a head coach with plenty of experience and success. Jim Mora at UCLA and Jim Graham at Arizona State each have their squads nationally ranked in just their second years. Additionally, Mike Leach has made strides up north at Washington State and even though Mark Helfrich took over for Chip Kelly at Oregon after being an assistant, keeping the ship on the same path as the previous regime isn't exactly what USC is, or should, be looking for.
Plus there are plenty of other strong candidates who are still floating around. As mentioned in a previous Dorm Report, names like Jack Del Rio, Chris Petersen, Greg Roman and Pep Hamilton are still floating out there while reports have surfaced that USC has contacted former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith about the opening. Plus defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who probably has more to do with the Trojans' defensive dominance than Orgeron, is still waiting in the wings. Clearly, the search is still ongoing for Haden and Co., which is the right move.
Getting too excited about a handful of wins won't lead to a good hire. Weighing the options, while seeing if Orgeron can keep the success going over the final weeks against No. 6 Stanford and No. 16 UCLA, will be a bigger factor.