LOS ANGELES – So now it begins. USC athletic director Pat Haden must make not only the most important decision of his administrative tenure, but a decision that will be potentially define his own legacy far beyond his celebrated days as a national championship quarterback.
When it comes to hiring a head coach, its importance is so dramatic that it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the announcement was made Vatican-style, with white smoke billowing from the John McKay Center.
Coming into Saturday’s game against rival UCLA, there figured to be three general consensus outcomes as it pertained to Ed Orgeron’s future coaching the Trojans. The first couple of options were positive and the third was, well, the unthinkable.
The first scenario was a victory over the Bruins and would have been a no-brainer for Orgeron to be named the head coach as early as this week. Given that the Trojans were a home favorite and on a roll, it certainly seemed this would be the most likely outcome.
The second scenario was a close loss to the Bruins that would hurt Orgeron’s chances, but it’s reasonable that a narrow defeat wouldn’t entirely remove the beloved Coach O from contention.
The third and final scenario was not just a loss at the hands of the hated Bruins, but a humiliating and humbling defeat that would have serious repercussions as it pertained to the coaching search.
Unfortunately for Orgeron, and despite his team’s pregame support by forming the letter “O” at midfield, the third and final scenario, a jaw-dropping 35-14 defeat, has cast a rather large shadow on a happy ending for "Coach O."
Still holding a glimmer of hope, Orgeron said late Saturday night that it’s still all about his team’s body of work and improvement since he took over for Lane Kiffin. The Trojans were 6-2 under Orgeron after a 3-2 start under Lane Kiffin.
Things were looking up for Orgeron on Saturday morning when Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin -- thought to be a frontrunner for the USC job =- elected to stay in College Station, Texas, and collect at the bank.
But that all dramatically changed later, and Orgeron’s voice during Saturday night’s postgame news conference seemed to reflect that. He admitted afterward that a USC coach is expected to beat Notre Dame and UCLA, and he did neither.
Even at halftime and the Bruins up 14-7, rumors were flying in the Coliseum press box, and none of them alluded to Orgeron being named the next USC head coach. Names such as Boise State’s Chris Petersen, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, Jon Gruden, Jack Del Rio and even Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh were being whispered.
Obviously, the only person that really knows the direction of next head coach is Haden. If he felt stressed before the UCLA game, one can only imagine his stomach now churning like a washing machine.
The possibility exists, however, that Haden will look at Orgeron’s overall body of work as interim coach and come to the conclusion he is still the best man for the job. Certainly that is Orgeron’s best hope, and perhaps it comes down to making some adjustments to his current staff. There could be some real intrigue there.
One thing not in doubt, however, is that Haden has a window of opportunity. The Trojans AD no longer has to feel pressure that Orgeron is an overwhelming popular choice among the fan base. The loss, and the way the Trojans lost, are no doubt burning inside the analytical mind of Haden and Trojans fans.
USC is just a stone’s throw from Hollywood, which has made its living with happy endings. In this case, it could all depend on a person's definition of a happy cardinal and gold ending.