USC coach Steve Sarkisian did not seem thrilled answering questions about former coach Ed Orgeron on Sunday and some of the Trojans' assistant coaches probably liked the topic even less.
But Orgeron issued a come-and-get-me plea to Sarkisian during a published interview last weekend, which suddenly relegated Thursday's game against California to the backburner.
For several weeks, Orgeron's made no secret he wanted to return to USC despite turning down two job offers from Sarkisian last winter.
"I'd come back as an assistant," Orgeron told the Los Angeles Times.
That placed Sarkisian in an awkward position Sunday, being asked if he would hire Orgeron when there are currently no openings on the staff.
"Ed's a terrific football coach," Sarkisian said. "He's a friend of mine. I have a great deal of respect for Ed, but quite honestly, we play Cal Thursday night at 6 o'clock."
Sarkisian was asked if his current assistants should feel unsettled by the news Orgeron wants to return.
"I'm sure there's a lot of guys that want to come back to USC as an assistant coach," Sarkisian said. "This is a great place. This is an unbelievable place to be at."
Sarkisian deferred when asked if Orgeron might work at USC in the future.
"I don't speak about hypothetical scenarios," Sarkisian said.
That was a favorite response of former USC coach Lane Kiffin.
The Orgeron episode is just the latest off-field issue to overshadow the Trojans' season. Would Orgeron be content to merely work as a defensive line coach under defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox? A salary of more than $1 million per season would ease some ego issues but it also begs the question of why Orgeron would be a position coach instead of a head coach at Kansas, where he has already held discussions.
Another issue would be whether athletic director Pat Haden approved of an Orgeron return. Orgeron angrily departed USC the day Haden informed him Sarkisian would be the next football coach last year.
That fit of rage would probably be quickly forgotten if Orgeron just wanted to coach the defensive line. Outside of All-American defensive end Leonard Williams, the unit's played inconsistent this season and Orgeron would be viewed as a savior.
The topic is likely to only intensify once the season ends.
Asked what he would tell anyone interested in hiring Orgeron, USC tailback Javorius Allen said, "he's a players' coach."
USC wide receiver Darreus Rogers could not help but sympathize with Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay, who drew the national spotlight Saturday when he caught a 78-yard pass but placed the ball on the ground at the 1-yard line, thinking he crossed the goal line. Oregon picked up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown.
Two weeks ago, Rogers dropped a lateral pass and Utah returned it 53 yards for a touchdown.
"I was thinking about it when I saw the play," Rogers said. "A lot of crazy things happen in that stadium. A lot of crazy things happen in Utah. I thought the ball went out of bounds (on my play)."
Safety John Plattenburg was carted off the field at practice with what was believed to be a bruised thigh. Wide receiver Juju Smith left early after getting something in his eye but was OK.
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