|Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports|
|Interim coach Ed Orgeron celebrates after USC upset Stanford, 20-17, on Saturday.|
LOS ANGELES -- Someone at USC is trying to prepare fans and players for the possibility that interim head coach Ed Orgeron -- the gravel-voiced Cajun who has embraced the university, the football program and its traditions like no other -- will not be the Trojans' next head coach.
That is the only way to read into the disclosure that USC athletic director Pat Haden recently interviewed Denver Broncos defensive coordinator and interim head coach Jack Del Rio, which broke only hours after Orgeron directed a 20-17 victory over No. 4 Stanford.
Delirious players and fans stormed onto the field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to celebrate at midfield, but Haden stayed out of the fray. After speaking with Cardinal head coach David Shaw, Haden congratulated players and accepted the congratulations of fans, a scene unimaginable after former head coach Lane Kiffin was booed out of the same building 10 weeks earlier after a loss to Washington State.
Orgeron has restored faith and confidence in USC since taking over after Kiffin was fired on Sept. 29, going out of his way to make the players feel good about themselves with little gestures like returning desserts to the training table or treating them to dinner from Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles and In-N-Out Burger.
But just as importantly, Orgeron has installed the conditions for players to improve, even as injuries decimated USC's depth all over the roster. Players who were buried on the depth chart, like running back Javorius "Buck" Allen and defensive end/outside linebacker J.R. Tavai, got the chance to play, as did numerous walk-ons.
That has carried over to a 5-1 record under Orgeron, the only loss by four points at Notre Dame in a game in which USC missed two field goals and squandered other scoring opportunities. USC is unbeaten in conference play under Orgeron and has a chance at playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game if it wins out and gets some help.
Players and assistant coaches delivered testimonial after testimonial on behalf of Orgeron taking over on a full-time basis after going toe-to-toe with bruising Stanford.
"When you have a father figure like Coach O treating us all like his sons and putting us under his arm, we want to run through a brick wall for him," linebacker Hayes Pullard said.
"Ain't no doubt in my mind that Ed Orgeron should be named USC's head coach, and I don't care who hears me," running backs coach Tommie Robinson told CBSSports.com. "No man on this planet can make these kids play harder than he can. We got 50 kids on scholarship playing like they are and like they did tonight against that team? This guy is phenomenal."
That is not to say Del Rio would not be a worthwhile candidate that could have success at USC, but his hiring presumably would have come with Orgeron in a prominent supporting role. Long regarded as one of the best recruiters in college football, Orgeron could handle the day-to-day logistics that would seem insane to Del Rio, who has spent the last 16 years coaching in the NFL and has never done so in the college ranks.
Now it is going to be nearly impossible to keep Orgeron in a secondary role, especially if USC closes out the regular season with wins over Colorado and UCLA. Clearly having learned his lessons from a failed three-year stint at Ole Miss, Orgeron is much more at ease in the top job now. Combine this stint with his recruiting prowess, Orgeron would have to be a viable candidate for downtrodden schools like Connecticut, Virginia or Illinois, or even more established programs.
USC is so much better than it was last year when it began the season ranked No. 1 with a more-talented roster that included Robert Woods, Nickell Robey, Matt Barkley and T.J. McDonald. Better coached, more engaged.
All because of Orgeron.
USC fans and the media seemingly want "interim" removed from Orgeron's title; the players certainly want it.
Does the USC administration?
The Del Rio report hints the answer might be no.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.