LOS ANGELES — The table was set. Earlier in the day, Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin agreed to an extension to remain with the Aggies, eliminating himself as a candidate to be USC’s next head coach.
The job, for Trojans interim head coach Ed Orgeron, appeared to be there for the taking. All he needed to do was win the crosstown showdown with UCLA to really force athletic director Pat Haden’s hand into retaining him and removing the interim tag from his title.
Easier said than done.
In a game that didn’t resemble any other game in Orgeron’s eight-game tenure, No. 23 USC was flat in a 35-14 defeat at the hands of No. 22 UCLA (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) at the Coliseum.
The loss was the first conference loss for Orgeron as the interim at USC (9-4, 6-3) and his second loss in eight games. The other came at Notre Dame which makes it an even more uphill climb for him to be retained as head coach.
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed especially when you don’t beat UCLA and Notre Dame,” Orgeron said. “That’s what (the) head coach at USC is supposed to do. I totally understand that has to be done.”
Despite a win against a top-five team, going 0-2 against the rivals makes it an easier call for Haden to dive into the playbook on the coaching search. Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was interviewed by Haden earlier this month. Boise State’s Chris Petersen is another name that is picking up steam in light of Sumlin’s extension early Saturday.
Despite never leading in the game on Saturday night, USC fans continued to express their support for Orgeron with numerous “Coach O” chants during the game, despite watching a team that lacked the energy and enthusiasm that had been prevalent for the Trojans under Orgeron’s watch.
In between the third and fourth quarters, the entire UCLA team huddled on its sideline, jumping up and down. It could be expected USC would be doing the same thing in front of its bench but that wasn’t the case.
Orgeron said the energy was as high as he’s seen it before the game. That never translated onto the field, however.
“I think that when we did not make the plays, we may have gotten discouraged a little early, which is disappointing,” Orgeron said. “We tried to sustain. We had energy in spurts but we wasn’t as consistent as we’ve been in the past couple of games.”
Orgeron says he and Haden have had discussions about the inner workings of the program but not about the future. After Saturday’s loss, it appears to be very much in the balance for Orgeron as it relates to him becoming the next head coach.
“What the future holds?” he asked. “We don’t know.”