(STORY UPDATE: USC Picks Steve Sarkisian as its Next Head Coach)
USC finished its regular season with a 35-14 defeat to UCLA, which moved the Trojans’ record to 9-4 overall. USC isn’t sure which bowl game it will play in, but there’s an even bigger question in Los Angeles: Who will be the next head coach?
After Lane Kiffin was fired, USC was a team in disarray and just getting to a bowl game would have been a good outcome for the Trojans. However, interim coach Ed Orgeron guided USC to a 6-2 record over the final eight games, allowing the former Ole Miss head coach to throw his name into the discussion for the top spot.
While Orgeron brought USC back into the mix for a spot among the top-25 teams and secured an upset win over Stanford, it’s unlikely he will keep the full-time job for 2014.
USC is one of the top jobs in college football. The resources, money and tradition are there to win big. But the next head coach for the Trojans will inherit some problems. USC’s roster is shorthanded with scholarships due to sanctions, and receiver Marquise Lee is expected to declare for the NFL Draft.
However, USC can still recruit among the best in the nation, and this roster has enough talent to be in the Pac-12 South title discussion in 2014.
Top Candidates to be USC’s Next Head Coach
Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos
Del Rio would be a curious hire, but UCLA followed a similar path by picking Jim Mora, which has worked out well for the Bruins. USC has reportedly already interviewed Del Rio, and as a former USC player and California native, he would be a good fit for the Trojans. Del Rio worked as Jacksonville’s head coach from 2003-11 and has served as Denver’s interim coach with John Fox sidelined in 2013. If USC decides to hire Del Rio, his biggest move could be finding a way to keep Orgeron in Los Angeles as his top recruiter and assistant coach.
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
Two of the top priorities for USC’s next head coach will be to energize the fan base, as well as recruit head-to-head with Pac-12 foes UCLA, Oregon and the top programs in college football. Doesn’t that sound like something Franklin would excel at? The 41-year-old coach is 23-15 in three seasons at Vanderbilt – arguably the toughest job in the SEC. The Commodores have played in back-to-back bowls and will be invited to a third this year. Franklin has guided the program to an 11-13 mark in the SEC and finished in the top 25 of the Associated Press poll last season. The third-year coach has also increased Vanderbilt’s profile on the recruiting trail, improving from a No. 56 national rank in 2011 to No. 26 in 2013. Franklin also has one year of NFL experience and spent one season in the Pac-12 at Washington State (1998).
Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State
Petersen’s name always comes up in connection with BCS job openings, but the California native has been reluctant to leave Boise State. In his eight years with the Broncos, Petersen has compiled a 92-12 record, including seven years of at least 10 wins. Boise State finished 8-4 in 2013, but injuries and youth played a large role in the final record. Prior to taking the top job at Boise State, Petersen worked as an assistant at Pittsburgh, UC Davis and Oregon. Although Petersen would be a good fit at USC, reports have indicated he is no longer a candidate. And if Petersen does pass on the opening at USC, will he ever leave Boise State?
Steve Sarkisian, head coach, Washington
Sarkisian is one of the frontrunners to be USC’s next head coach, and he reportedly already interviewed with athletic director Pat Haden. The California native is 34-29 in five seasons with Washington, which includes an 8-4 record in 2013. And with a win in a bowl game, the Huskies would top eight victories for the first time since recording 11 wins in 2000. Sarkisian coached at USC under Pete Carroll from 2005-08 and is regarded as an excellent recruiter, reeling in four consecutive top-25 classes at Washington. (UPDATE: USC Picks Steve Sarkisian as its Next Head Coach)
Tim DeRuyter, head coach, Fresno State
DeRuyter is a California native and attended St. John Bosco High School, which is less than 30 minutes away from the Los Angeles Coliseum. In two years with Fresno State, DeRuyter is an impressive 19-5, with a win over Boise State in 2013 and a chance to win a conference title against Utah State on Dec. 7. Prior to taking the top spot at Fresno State, DeRuyter went 1-0 as an interim coach at Texas A&M and served as an assistant at Air Force, Nevada, Ohio and Navy. DeRuyter wouldn’t be a “name hire,” but the California native is ready for a chance to run a BCS program.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Morris is considered one of college football’s top assistants and is due for a shot to run a program – perhaps as early as this offseason. Even though Morris is an excellent offensive coordinator, he has no collegiate head coaching experience, and it’s unlikely USC would hire an unproven commodity as its next coach. Clemson averaged 40.2 points a game in 2013.
Ed Orgeron, interim coach, USC
Orgeron had a nice run as USC’s interim coach, recording a 6-2 mark over the final eight games. However, Orgeron seems best suited as a top assistant and would only be considered a candidate for the top spot should coaches like James Franklin or Steve Sarkisian drop out of the running. Keeping Orgeron on the next staff could be awkward for the new coach, but the former Ole Miss coach is a good recruiter and could help ease the transition for the players.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Much like Chad Morris, Roman is due for a chance to run his own program. The New Jersey native has interviewed for college head coaching jobs in recent years but has remained a coordinator. Most of Roman’s experience has been in the NFL, starting with the Panthers in 1995, continuing with the Texans in 2002, the Ravens in 2006 and the 49ers in 2011. Roman worked with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2009-10. Roman will be a head coach, but it’s unlikely USC will hire an assistant with no experience at the top spot.
Lovie Smith, former Chicago Bears coach
Smith had a successful nine-year run as Chicago’s head coach, recording a 81-63 mark and a Super Bowl appearance in the 2006 season. The Texas native last coached in college in 1995 and spent 2013 out of football. Smith reportedly interviewed for the USC opening, but he later denied any interest in the position. Even though Smith seems like he would be a good fit on the college level, all signs point to a return to the NFL at some point.