Each year, numerous media groups look to honor players, teams, and coaches for their hard work and accomplishments throughout the season. One of the most prestigious awards handed out is the Coach of the Year award, which seeks to honor a leader who stands out above all of his peers.
Often, the coach who receives the honor has to deal with adversity and must find a way to overcome certain obstacles. While the award has never been bestowed upon an interim head coach, this is the year that could, and should, change.
There are a number of very worthy candidates in 2013 – names such as Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Baylor’s Art Briles, and Alabama’s Nick Saban are popular choices for obvious reasons.
Malzahn has brought a team that went a dismal 3-9 last season to the brink of an SEC Championship Game berth.
Briles has been at the helm of a surprising squad that has dominated quality competition.
Saban has been the model of consistency and is yet again demolishing anything and everything in his path.
Yet while those candidates have done admirable jobs, there is another candidate who stands above them all this year. And that is Ed Orgeron, the interim head coach of the USC Trojans.
The Trojans began the year with Lane Kiffin as their head coach. Five weeks into the season, the Arizona State Sun Devils demolished the Kiffin-led Trojans 62-41. Kiffin didn’t even make it back to campus as head coach after the Trojans fell to 3-2 on the year. Suffice it to say, many people would have called it “shocking” if USC was within striking distance of its conference championship game in late October. Well, the Trojans are.
Orgeron took over and almost immediately gained the support of his team. He has gotten the most out of his players, kept them focused and motivated and has reestablished a winning culture in Los Angeles.
But how? By doing the exact opposite of what Kiffin had done.
Orgeron successfully changed USC’s culture the moment he took over as interim head coach. Kiffin, who many believe was under-qualified to be a head coach at such a young age, ran a tight ship. He banned the media from asking questions about injuries. Then, he just banned the media in general. There was even a dessert ban for his players. His “no fun allowed” mentality made him a target for fans and analysts. Orgeron completely reversed course.
The Trojans’ turnaround had nothing to do with X’s and O’s – the talent was there all along. The team was just desperate for a change. It’s worked – the Trojans are 5-1 since he took over, with a victory over No. 4 Stanford to brag about. Heck, they even have an outside shot at playing for a Pac-12 title.
Has any coach positively influenced his team more dramatically than Orgeron? Sure, Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers have had an amazing turnaround in 2013, but he had all offseason to make chances. Orgeron took a team in despair midseason and turned it around – a much more difficult task.
Yes, Orgeron’s season is far from over – the Trojans still have matchups with Colorado and UCLA left on the schedule, along with whatever bowl game the team lands. But he provided the antidote, in less than two months, to whatever it was that the Trojans were ailing from these past few seasons. For that, he should be named Coach of the Year.