USC Sports

USC Now mailbag: Ed Orgeron, Steve Sarkisian and Justin Wilcox

Ed Orgeron

Ed Orgeron led USC to a 6-2 record as interim coach after taking over for Lane Kiffin last season.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC routed Notre Dame, 49-14, in the regular-season finale, and my inbox filled up -- but not one message was about the Trojans’ convincing victory. 

Questions or comments about USC? Email me at or tweet @LindseyThiry and I will respond to select messages in a weekly USC Now mailbag.

Comment: Offensive coordinator Clay Helton should be calling the plays, primarily from the boxes at the top of the stadium. He has shown [himself] to be extremely versatile, imaginative, and effective in his play-calling compared to Sark, who seems to be too predictable much of the time. And bring back former defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. He’s available, says he’s eager to be a Trojan assistant again, and always put more fire in the bellies of his players than any other coach. It would be a mistake to pass on him this time.

-- A. Gruber


Reply: Clay Helton should be calling plays. It allows Steve Sarkisian to be a head coach, and it leaves the offense in the hands of a coordinator who is perfectly capable of calling a great game – as Helton demonstrated in last season’s Las Vegas Bowl victory.

But bring back Ed Orgeron?

It amazes me that USC fans think this is a good idea.

No way can Sarkisian bring Orgeron back – because he did put more “fire in the bellies” of players than the current staff. That’s part of the problem.


Imagine this: Sarkisian’s Trojans are down at halftime in next season’s opener against Arkansas State and the team runs off to the crowd chanting, “Coach OOO!!! Coach O!!!”

Sarkisian cannot run a program with players, fans and media constantly wondering if the man standing within a few yards could have done it better. And that’s a very likely scenario at different points of the season.

Question: We had four losses this year. In all of our loses, coaching was largely in play whether it was questionable play-calling on both sides or the team just came out flat. Hypothetically speaking, if USC had made Ed Orgeron the head coach, do you think we would have had fewer or more losses this year?

--Bill Agnew

Reply: Coaches hate when reporters ask hypothetical questions – but I love them, Bill!

So hypothetically speaking, if USC had hired Orgeron, the Trojans’ record would be the same or better. It would have been Orgeron’s second season leading the program, so there would have been no transition period or learning of new schemes that tend to set a team back.

Orgeron would have kept the staff and would have spent the offseason making the necessary adjustments for the program to continue on the upward trend.

Orgeron fired up his team emotionally, and the team seemed to play with a chip on its shoulder each week, even in defeat.


An Orgeron-coached team would have finished 11-1 (Even Ed O couldn’t have this team prepared for the punch UCLA packed that day).

Comment: As a Washington Husky I would like to thank USC for taking this idiot from us. He takes great talent and makes it mediocre. As for his play-calling, a skunk smells better. Again, THANK YOU USC and enjoy him.

--Bob, UW ’70

Reply: Well, Bob – tell me how you really feel. What are you doing trolling a USC blog, anyway? You must love the videos – can’t blame you.

USC finished the regular season 8-4, Washington 8-5.

The records suggest that Sarkisian did okay at USC and left enough talent at Washington for the Huskies to finish okay, too.

Washington has multiple players receiving NFL draft buzz… and so does USC.

I thought my argument was going to suggest that Sarkisian is a step above “mediocre,” but reading it over – you chose the right word. Mediocre.


Comment: I am willing to give Sarkisian the benefit of the doubt this season because the offense performed well (especially at the quarterback position where Sark shines), but he must make improved in-game and second-half adjustments. As much as I am willing to give Sark the benefit of the doubt, I am over Justin Wilcox. He turned a 13th-ranked defense into the 68th. Even in the wins, the defense was shaky at best and almost turned victories into losses (see Arizona & Cal). Wilcox will come back because Sark won’t fire him yet, but if this team doesn’t improve next year, he will be forced to fire him or lose his own job.

--Geno Apicella

Reply: USC’s defense is ranked 66th (UCLA’s is 68th) and was ranked – as you wrote – 13th last season.

Statistically speaking, Wilcox was not an upgrade over Clancy Pendergast. But remember: USC did not play Oregon or Washington last season. Those were the Pac-12’s top offenses in 2013.

This season, USC’s defense could not stop Arizona State and Utah in the final seconds – and as you wrote, nearly broke again against Arizona and California. After three seasons at Washington, Sarkisian fired Nick Holt – who left USC for Washington.

If Wilcox does not get the defense trending in the right direction next season, Sarkisian will probably be faced with a similar situation.

Comment: It is the Lane and Monty Show – Act II.

--Rudy Shepard

Reply: We all know how the Lane and Monty Show ended (though who predicted Lane would be nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant in college football?)

The real question: Who stars in Act III?

Comment: This team has the “Heart of a Hummingbird” instilled by the Sark.

--Fred Demarest

Reply: C’mon, Fred. After routing Notre Dame, how about an upgrade to the heart of an eagle? ...On second thought, that’s a big upgrade.

Let’s go with a hawk.

This team had every reason to quit after it was routed by UCLA. Instead, it routed its other rival.

It also bounced back from losses to Boston College, Arizona State and Utah. The Trojans might not get up for games, but they can rebound from losses.

That’s worth more than the heartbeat of a flitting hummingbird, isn’t it?

Question: Gary Klein has been conspicuously absent since last week. What is the story?

--Bill Blethen

Reply: Word is that Gary has been out shopping for some new sweaters – Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. The wardrobe department at the Times said he needed to add some color to his closet.

Just kidding, he’s been blogging like a mad man!

Comment: Why in the fourth quarter did Sark limit Max [Browne] to just a couple of hand-offs? Would think fourth quarter with the score what it was to be an ideal time to give Max some real game reps, but that was not the case.

--Nick Connor

Reply: This was actually one of Sarkisian’s best decisions this season.

Browne replaced Cody Kessler halfway through the first series of the fourth quarter with USC leading, 49-14. With such a large lead, it would have been safe to put Browne in sooner.

However, it was awesome that Sarkisian put in Anthony Neyer for the fourth quarter – on Senior Day.

Neyer walked on at USC in 2010. He transferred to Los Angeles Pierce College for the 2012 season, participated in spring practice at Idaho in 2013 and then returned to USC that fall.

Players who put in four (or five) years of work deserve to see the field at some point in their career, and it was great that USC was in a position to make that a reality for Neyer and other seniors.