USC and Lessons on Promoting from Within

Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron

Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The University of Southern California (USC) hired a new head football coach this week.  While this is not extraordinary news – at the end of the football season, many teams decide to make coaching changes – it is an interesting leadership case for us to study.

After the USC football team started the season with a record of 3-2, Pat Haden, Athletic Director at USC, fired the head coach and promoted Ed Orgeron, an assistant coach, to the role of interim head coach.  Orgeron breathed new life into USC and guided the team to a 6-2 record under his leadership.  The Trojans finished 9-4, and although they lost to rival UCLA at the end of the season, Orgeron was credited with re-energizing the program.

Shortly after the season ended, Haden hired a new head football coach.  Rather than naming Orgeron the head coach, as many thought he would, Haden hired a coach from the University of Washington.  The move surprised many, but probably none were more surprised than Orgeron who thought his performance earned him a chance to lead the Trojans on a permanent basis.

As leaders, we will be faced with hiring decisions similar to the one that Haden faced here – do we promote from within or go outside of the organization for a new hire?  Certainly, all situations are unique and it’s impossible to say one path is always better than the other.  But my experience has been that if you have a high performing team member and have an opportunity to reward him or her with a promotion, this sends a great message to others on your team.  You see, if the members of your team know that working hard and getting results can lead to future opportunity, they’ll tend to be more committed to getting those results.  If on the other hand, your team feels that they can work hard, get great results, and not have any opportunity to advance, they’ll be demoralized and question their commitment to the organization.

It appeared that Haden had a great candidate within the USC program.  Orgeron took over a team that was really struggling – with results, with morale, with teamwork – and got them playing together and winning games.  From afar, Haden’s choice to hire from outside was a curious one.  But being far removed from the situation, it’s difficult for us to know all the factors in the decision.  We’ll have to watch next season to see if Haden’s decision turns out to be an effective one.

When you are faced with a decision like the one at USC, certainly consider all factors in your decision making process.  But if you have a chance to reward a team member who is doing great work, don’t underestimate what this will do for the morale of your team.  People like to know they have an opportunity to grow and to achieve their goals.  When you promote from within, you send a message that opportunity is a real possibility for high performing members of your team!

Thanks for reading,

Ways to follow Dr. Jim Earle:
Twitter – @jvearle
Blog –
Facebook – JVEarleConsulting
Book – 100 Yards of Success: Leadership Lessons from College Football,


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