LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ed Orgeron has no idea how much longer he’ll be the head coach at USC.
Could be years. Could be a few more days.
But the past two months have been among the most enjoyable times of his coaching life. No matter what athletic director Pat Haden decides next month, Orgeron is profoundly grateful for his interim opportunity to revive the spirit of a proud program while leading the No. 23 Trojans (9-3, 6-2 Pac-12) to six wins in seven games heading into the regular-season finale Saturday against No. 22 UCLA.
“It’s passed fast,” Orgeron said. “This is eight weeks where we’re having fun. I think you can come out here and see the guys having fun. You can come in our staff room, see us laughing and joking. The days pass by fast. I just enjoy coming to work with this team and this coaching staff. It’s been a blast.”
Orgeron knows Haden has talked to other coaches about the job. He knows a large part of the Trojans’ fan base will be incensed if the school doesn’t land a big-name coach with a pedigree and multiple championship rings.
Orgeron isn’t speaking out for himself much in public. He only discusses the permanent job when buttonholed by reporters or fans, choosing instead to focus attention on his players, his assistants and the crosstown showdown at the Coliseum.
“Just think about what this team has done,” Orgeron said. “The players, the coaching staff, they’ve all galvanized together. It’s all about them. The job that’s being done, I’m just a part of it myself. It’s a family, and we all work together.”
But plenty of others are sold on Orgeron, the Cajun defensive line coach who has pushed all the right buttons since taking over for Lane Kiffin.
The players seem to be near-unanimous in their support for Orgeron — and not just because the training room catering has improved exponentially under his watch.
“When you have a father figure like Coach O treating us all like sons and putting us under his arm, we want to run through a brick wall for him,” linebacker Hayes Pullard said. “We want to show him we’re with him no matter what.”
The Trojans’ results for Orgeron have been nearly perfect. They’ve won five straight games, stunning No. 5 Stanford along the way, and their only loss was a rainy 14-10 defeat at Notre Dame in which they missed two field goals.
Haden, who isn’t discussing the search in public, must walk a line between short-term sentiment and long-term planning for his program.
But the crescendo of support for Orgeron has grown during the Trojans’ increasingly impressive November.
Former Trojans are embracing Orgeron, with Hall of Famers and Heisman Trophy winners from Marcus Allen to Matt Leinart speaking up for his ability to return fun and style to what had been a dour program before Kiffin’s departure. Allen has vocally lobbied for Orgeron to get the job, while Anthony Munoz and Ronnie Lott are among others praising Orgeron’s work.
There’s even support from across town: UCLA’s Jim Mora said he voted for Orgeron as his conference coach of the year, and Rick Neuheisel, Mora’s predecessor in Westwood, performed a song parody praising Orgeron on the Pac-12 Networks.
Even Kiffin thinks Orgeron deserves the job, telling a radio station he couldn’t see how Haden could “even possibly consider bringing in someone from the outside.”
No matter what happens, Orgeron is keeping it fun right to the final week of the regular season. On Wednesday, before the Trojans had their pre-Thanksgiving team dinner at a restaurant where Orgeron said they would eat “everything on the menu,” the players practiced while wearing their high school jerseys.
And whether or not he stays, Orgeron is still preparing USC for the future — and not just with this impressive finish leading to a second straight bowl game after a two-year postseason absence.
Orgeron has been recruiting for the Trojans throughout the past two months, attempting to replenish the program with more of the elite talent he reeled in alongside Kiffin over the past four years. He’s also planning to discuss the future with several draft-eligible juniors, including receiver Marqise Lee, after USC finishes the regular season.
His pitch to the USC juniors sounds much like what he’s telling everyone around the Trojans with their lives up in the air until Haden makes a decision.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Orgeron said. “Let’s finish the season. Let’s see what the outcome is going to be. Let’s go through the process.”