As national focus zeros in on outside names to replace Lane Kiffin as USC’s next head coach, the two most intriguing candidates are sitting right under Pat Haden’s nose.
Ed Orgeron has Bovada’s lowest odds to take over full-time for Kiffin at 20/1. Clancy Pendergast is a much more likely 7/1, but that’s still fifth in line according to the odds makers. Of course odds don’t hire coaches and odds don’t make wins. Both of the coaches on USC staff now have to opportunity to do do the latter and perhaps make Haden’s search a bit more easy on the former.
Orgeron struggled as the head coach of Ole Miss, posting a 10-25 record in three seasons. As a consequence, he seems relatively uninterested in talking about the future or his potential as a head coach beyond the next eight weeks with USC. However, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be a serious candidate.
With an already established presence at USC, he’d create continuity in recruiting that would otherwise be impossible with a new head coach and staff. He already has the connections, both locally and nationally, to continue the Trojan’s strong recruiting tradition.
Even more important, Orgeron has already made the right changes in tone to potentially get the most out of an already talented squad. With the argument that Kiffin lost the team last winter, Coach O has already made strides towards winning them back with a more relaxed, fun attitude. Bringing back cookies and soft-serve ice cream are little gestures that can make a big difference. Getting the team loose and restoring some of the Pete Carroll swagger could be massive game-changers for a Trojan squad that hasn’t looked like having real fun in a long while.
If those tweaks translate on the football field, the change Haden saw as necessary when he fired Kiffin will have been implemented without the need to completely overhaul an already well-liked and well-respected staff.
As a member of that well-liked and well-respected staff, Pendergast also finds himself in an interesting position as the search for a new head coach begins. Though he has no head coaching experience, he brings NFL credentials to the table, including a four-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals, and is already well-versed in the west coast recruiting scene.
Before USC gave up 62 points to Arizona State on Sunday, there were murmurs on twitter of a #PendergastForHeadCoach movement which were only slightly tongue-in-cheek. Those murmurs have died down a bit, but it still stands to reason that Pendergast could fill the role with many of the same positives that Orgeron offers.
One bad game doesn’t undo the progress that his 5-2 defensive scheme brought to the down-and-out USC defense. His players love him and that enthusiasm has been apparent in their play all season. With a strong finish to the season, especially on the defensive end, Pendergast would have his audition built in. That’s especially true if Orgeron expresses no interest in taking the job himself.
Speculation will continue so long as no long-term coach is named, but don’t sleep on either Orgeron or Pendergast as real possibilities. If they get results, there’s every reason to stick with what works.