Ed Orgeron brings intensity and fun to his first USC practice
Ed Orgeron descended the ramp from USC’s McKay Center on Wednesday, cellphone pressed to his ear while flashing a “Fight On” sign to several fans.
As he crossed the street to Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field, Orgeron ended his call, greeted a group of reporters and then hustled through the gate for his first practice as the Trojans’ interim coach.
The post-Lane Kiffin era was underway.
Athletic Director Pat Haden, who fired Kiffin early Sunday, and several senior athletic department officials looked on as the Trojans worked out for the first time since a 62-41 loss Saturday to Arizona State.
Orgeron, 52, assumed center stage during an upbeat two-hour practice.
During warmups, he hustled from defensive line drills to encourage the offense.
“What do you say, Big O!” he boomed, while clapping his hands.
When the entire team gathered for stretching, Orgeron patrolled the lanes of outstretched bodies.
“Get your minds right, everybody!” he rumbled, his gravelly voice echoing off nearby buildings.
By the time the Trojans got to scrimmage drills, Orgeron was in the huddle — “Work your [rear end] off every play! We’ve got to be better on third down!” — and hand-slapping offensive players after good plays.
“That’s USC football right there!” he bellowed.
“You’ve got to love it,” quarterback Cody Kessler said afterward. “You’ve got be excited to have that in your head coach.”
USC, 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12 Conference, will not play again until Oct. 10, when the Trojans play host to Arizona at the Coliseum.
In the meantime, players said Orgeron is demanding maximum effort while having fun. The change, they said, has been evident in the meeting room, on the field and even at the training table, where Orgeron signed off on the return of desserts.
“You feed a lineman a cookie,” Orgeron said, “he’s happy.”
Players said they were shocked when informed that Kiffin had been fired. They thanked Kiffin for giving them opportunities but sounded ready to move on.
“It’s a business,” receiver Nelson Agholor said.
But it seemed to take awhile for the Trojans to acclimate to a workout without Kiffin.
“You go to the first meeting that day and he’s not there,” Kessler said. “You come to the first practice and he’s not there.
“It’s kind of weird. It’s a little different.”
Tight end Randall Telfer said players were “down” and “confused” and “don’t know what to do” after a coach was fired before midseason.
But spirits were lifted in the last few days and Wednesday’s practice was “kind of exciting,” he said.
No argument from Orgeron, who reveled in working both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Orgeron said he “loved” being able to get on the offensive line, “scream at the quarterback, all that kind of stuff.”
While Orgeron shuttled between units, Clay Helton ran the offense.
Under Kiffin, Helton had been offensive coordinator in title only.
As Memphis’ offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2009, Helton called plays from the press box. But he said he would do so from the field for the Trojans, so he can be near the quarterback, running backs and offensive linemen.
Receivers coach Tee Martin and offensive line assistant James Cregg will be in the coaches’ booth in the press box.
“It’s not a big deal,” Helton said of working from the field. “When you get the correct information and get a great feel for the game, it’s not an issue.”
Neither, apparently, is USC’s roster.
Scholarship reductions and injuries that further thin depth will not be used as an excuse as the Trojans move forward, Orgeron said.
“We have our team. It’s what it is. It’s what we are,” he said. “We’re Trojans. We put 11 out on the field and we fight.”
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