In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
Move over Babe: If you thought the Curse of the Bambino – the infamous whammy where the Boston Red Sox traded George Herman “Babe” Ruth to the Yankees and the Red Sox couldn’t win a World Series for generations – it appears the USC Trojans might be the recipients of their own curse – the Curse of the Voice, better known as Ed Orgeron, the former USC interim head coach and D-line mentor.
Move over Babe – Part 2: Since Ed “The Voice” Orgeron was unceremoniously bypassed for the Trojans’ permanent head coaching position by former athletic director Pat Haden back in 2013, a negative chain of events has transpired and has manifested itself and has not let up. Most of you know what happened to Orgeron some seven years ago and where he is today and what has become of the once storied and vaunted USC football program. Yes, in the last seven years, things have changed dramatically and drastically. In the 2019 season, LSU, under Ed Orgeron, became the No. 1 team in the country and playing for the national title, and the Trojans, under Clay Helton, lost badly in the 2019 SDCCU Holiday Bowl to Iowa.
Move over Babe – Part 3: On Saturday night, Ed Orgeron (photo above) was receiving the 2019 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year banquet honor in New Orleans while current USC head coach Clay Helton was still trying to figure out who was going to be his defensive coordinator and praying that his current offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and his air raid offense doesn’t find itself as Washington State’s head coaching replacement for the departed Mike Leach, now the head man at Mississippi State.
As Orgeron was giving his acceptance speech on Saturday and getting his No. 1 LSU club ready for Monday night’s CFP National Championship game against mighty No. 2 Clemson, first-year USC President Dr. Carol Folt – who has proven she has yet to fully comprehend, understand, and handle what USC football means not only to her university, the Southern California and Pac-12 region, and college football in general – was still trying to figure out how to survive a continuous social media bombardment and stink eyes everywhere over her supporting and allowing Helton to be her head football coach for 2020 in the face of near unanimous opposition. To say that Folt has placed herself in the middle of a Category 5 cardinal and gold hurricane would be an understatement at the highest level. Just call it Hurricane Carol.
Meanwhile, Folt’s athletic director Mike Bohn, who has gone basically underground after saying he was “pleased” to announce that Clay Helton would continue being the Trojans head coach in 2020, no longer tweets much of anything and has been placed alongside the Heritage Hall mantelpiece next to two of his notorious predecessors, Pat Haden and Lynn Swann, which isn’t a good place to be at the present moment. Nobody quite knows for sure what Bohn’s role was in the recent retention of Clay Helton, but a national television audience of millions will know on Monday night once again how Ed Orgeron was tossed aside by the politics of Haden and USC and where both parties are today.
Move over Babe – Part 4: So, what has happened since “The Voice” became another ex-USC assistant and interim head coach seven years ago? First, let’s remind ourselves that it was a tearful Ed Orgeron who understandably resigned before the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl after being allegedly being lied to by Haden regarding the interview process or lack of for the permanent USC head coaching position. Arguably, Orgeron had just turned the careening Trojans season around after the tarmac firing of Lane Kiffin, but it mattered little to Haden. After saying an emotional, stressful, and tearful goodbye to his cardinal and gold players and vice versa, Orgeron departed in total depression and was replaced by loyal soldier Clay Helton, an interim replacement for the Las Vegas Bowl. To make a long story short, you can start by seeing the effect of Orgeron’s head coaching successors – Steve Sarkisian (fired) and now Clay Helton, who is now a regular on the nation’s coaching hottest of seats. No doubt, Orgeron is getting the last painful laugh as Sarkisian is now a vagabond assistant at the NFL level and Alabama, and Helton is hanging on only by the grace of Dr. Folt or should we say Gentleman Clay’s integrity.
Move over Babe – Part 5: As you see the momentous assent of Ed Orgeron, you can also see a USC fan base now unified in its anger regarding the football program and athletic administration, which has done nothing to fix the current state of the overall football program or its future, but relying on the USC brand name, some resolved and unresolved personnel changes, and looking paralyzed by its own inexperience and questionable goals and priorities. You can see the athletic directors’ revolving door (Pat Haden, Lynn Swann, Mike Bohn) along with the recent controversial effects of past and current presidents of the university – Max Nikias, interim Wanda M. Austin, and now Dr. Carol Folt – different in their approaches and philosophies, yet seemingly ending up affecting the football program in their own way.
Move over Babe – Part 6: Isn’t it amazing,regarding what goes around comes around? Here we have Ed Orgeron coaching LSU to a potential national title while Pat Haden sits at home with a tarnished reputation for forever and a day. So why didn’t Haden hire Orgeron? Well, it was a culture clash between the two. Orgeron, the tough and gruff defensive line coach with that deep Cajun voice, a hardworking, everyday guy. Conversely, Haden, the choirboy quarterback perception, was the intellectual and financial elitist. There may have been a place for both at USC the university but not in a head coach and athletic director working relationship. They couldn’t be more different in their DNA. Orgeron, however, was never accused of being an elitist. Think of it this way: Orgeron might say, “Let’s go get a beer” while Haden might say, “Cocktails, anyone?”
Move over Babe – Part 7: Without question, today Ed Orgeron is a more mature and developed head coach and person than he was when he was an interim head coach with the Trojans back in the day. From 2013 to today, Orgeron and Haden have been exposed for who and what they are in the present. Each has walked a road that has taken them to different places in their lives. One is coaching for a national championship, while one is said to be a witness in a massive federal crime for college admissions. One is the national coach of the year while one is a fallen hero, a disgraced athletic legend, which never could have been predicted a generation ago.
Move over Babe – Part 8: And the Curse of the Voice continues to torment USC football. It was no secret that Ed Orgeron at USC was a recruiting dynamo and a superior D-line coach. Look, Pete Carroll had “O” as his recruiting coordinator for a reason. Look at Orgeron now at LSU and how he comes into L.A. and keeps plucking out players that may have gone to USC under normal circumstances. Good for Orgeron, bad for USC with no end in immediate sight. It’s getting harder to remember when Orgeron as USC recruiting coordinator – along with or without head coach Pete Carroll – had California recruiting locked down in a USC stranglehold.
The Curse of the Voice epilogue: In perhaps the saddest moment to date of the evolution of Ed Orgeron (The Curse) and the decline of USC football came on Saturday night after the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year presentation. Among the Ed Orgeron close supporters in attendance was renowned and high profile USC athletic booster Brian Kennedy, who supported Orgeron vigorously to Pat Haden some seven years ago to be the permanent Trojans’ head coach. When Kennedy, who obviously remains very close to Orgeron , was asked by the media about the state of the USC football program today, the man who has given millions of dollars to the USC football and the athletic program, the man whose name is on one of the Trojans’ football practice fields, replied to a group of media,”It’s dog (feces).” A sad comment indeed, given by a man who has devoted his life and part of his savings to USC athletics.
From the press box…
In retrospect: Back in the day, I think the biggest mistake that USC made in blowing an obvious superstar candidate to be its next head coach – with all due respect to USC Hall of Fame coach John Robinson – was when John McKay moved on to the NFL and his top assistant, Dave Levy, was bypassed for the head coaching position. It didn’t happen because Levy was a UCLA grad and didn’t have the personality, quips, and schmoozer mentality of McKay, but Dave was a helleva coach. In some respects, Levy and Orgeron had a few similarities in the eyes of those USC administrations, working class guys, totally dedicated to their jobs but not having the “USC perception.”
Sightings: It would appear to be a no-brainer that we’ll see Marcus Allen on the LSU sideline on Monday night. Will Dr. Folt be watching when they show Marcus? I assume she knows who Marcus Allen is, right?
FYI: Ed Orgeron still tweets out to his loyal USC friends and boosters in Los Angeles and also messages local media members that he befriended during his stay in L.A.
A distinct USC flavor: A lot has been made of former Trojans assistants and coaches who are connected to LSU. FYI, besides former D-line coach Kenechi Udeze and former USC head coach John Robinson, former Trojans on Ed Orgeron’s staff also include O-line coach James Cregg and running backs coach Tommie Robinson.
The big hires: Two of Ed Orgeron’s biggest hires during his time at LSU has been top defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, previously the DC at Wisconsin, and passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who brought a major change in the Tigers’ offense, which affected greatly Heisman Trophy QB Joe Burrow. BTW, Aranda, originally from local Redlands (Calif.), should one day be considered for the Trojans’ head football job when there is an opening.
A memory: I’ve been to LSU, which is located in Baton Rouge. I drove up from New Orleans, and although there wasn’t a football game being played, I did so with some fellow coaches, and we got into the football stadium. It was really an intimidating place to play, and, yes, we saw the famed tiger mascot in a cage not far away. I know that a number of you good readers attended the exciting 1979 game the Trojans played at LSU, a game in which the Trojans shocked the Tigers 17-12.
A memory – Part 2: I can say this, the Baton Rouge area reminded me of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride with the surrounding environment. We also got a chance to visit nearby Oak Alley, which is a location of former Southern plantations and is lined with oak trees. Of course, it is also depressing because there are still slave quarters at the sights we visited. It was the best and the worst of the South.
The post-game show…
False optimism: If you think that former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s decision to leave the Crimson Tide for the NFL will make a major difference when the Trojans play the Crimson Tide in the 2020 opener in Arlington, Texas, you haven’t followed the Tide when Tagovailoa went down with his injury this past season. And with incoming freshman QB Bryce Young (Santa Ana, Calif./ Mater Dei HS), the 2019 National High School Player of the Year, competing in spring ball, Alabama will be in good shape when they are hopefully challenged at some level by the Trojans.
False optimism – Part 2: And did we mention that Tua Tagovailoa’s Alabama backup this season, redshirt sophomore Mac Jones, started four games in place of Tagovailoa? Jones was 3-1 as a starter, throwing a combined 13 touchdowns and two interceptions.
FYI: The 2020 season opener against Alabama in Arlington, Texas, is officially known as the AdvoCare Classic. The way things are shaping up, I am not sure I would call the opener against Alabama a classic.
Planning ahead: Sure, it’s way too early, but if you like USC football road trips, the 2020 season will include the Alabama opener in Arlington, Texas, and then trips to Stanford, Arizona, Oregon, Utah, and UCLA, not necessarily in that order. Obviously, one would not consider UCLA and the Rose Bowl a road trip.
Really planning ahead: If you really need to look at future road games, the 2021 season will feature journeys to Notre Dame, Washington State, ASU, Cal, and Colorado.
A question: Is there going to be a recruiting banquet after the February signing period? Not to be tacky about it, but I guess if you can get rid of Salute to Troy, you can get rid of anything.
The new arrivals: With little fanfare, early Tuesday spring enrollees for the Trojans included wide receivers Gary Bryant Jr. and Josh Jackson, kicker Parker Lewis, and defensive tackle Kobe Pepe.
The call-in show:
Caller No. 1: Things are still kind of tough now with the Trojans head coaching situation. Katz, at what point would you ever consider having Lane Kiffin return? Let me compose myself; does the word “never” resonate with you?
Caller No. 2: We know that you have been with WeAreSC almost since its inception, however, do you follow the NFL at all? It might surprise you to know that I worked for the Rams for a time when they were in Anaheim. I did spotting for NBC (Bob Costas) and CBS (Charley Jones) and ran post-game quotes from the locker rooms for Associated Press. I also did some national radio broadcast spotting of Rams home games. It was a lot of fun and the pay was pretty good. I can tell you this, you don’t truly appreciate the violence of the NFL until you’re on the field watching a game. Watching a game on TV doesn’t do the physical aspect of the game justice.
Caller No. 3: Do you think that Dr. Carol Folt understands what USC football is all about and the passion of the fans? I think extending the tenure of Clay Helton answers that question. As we watch her actions through her support of Helton, it is quite clear, IMHO, that she doesn’t passionately take football nearly as seriously as the USC fan base. Her definition of USC football – which she claims is a national championship – does not match with her actions. Her retention of Helton may be a long- range plan, but her short-term plan was a disappointment at the highest level for all concerned.
Caller No. 4: How do you think the Pac-12 moving its conference title game to Las Vegas next season will do? I think it’s a brilliant idea and will be a major success no matter which teams play. I do know if the Trojans are in it next season, I would be surprised – given the excitement of going to Las Vegas – if a huge turnout doesn’t follow, helping make it a first-class event. Imagine if the Raiders are playing at home that weekend, as well?
Caller No. 5: Speaking of Las Vegas, have you ever seen any famous rock and roll stars play there? Well, the first one was back in the very early 1970s when I saw Elvis live in concert. The King was amazing. In fact, our late publisher Garry Paskwietz and I would talk about our experiences of seeing Presley perform in Vegas. I also saw the original Righteous Brothers (Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield) in concert, and they could really belt it out. They were known as “blue-eyed” soul. A couple of years ago at the Wynn I saw the Moody Blues after they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they were as good as ever.
The Final Word: As for Monday night’s national title game, I am going with the Tigers. Of course, if I just go by that, I can’t lose since both LSU and Clemson are the Tigers. Seriously, my rooting interest is for LSU, but Clemson will be hard to beat. However, imagine if LSU does win. Will Pat Haden be watching? I do know this, Trojan fans will be watching, and I have no doubt where most hearts will be rooting.