Paradise Found: Ed Orgeron has his dream job as LSU's head coach. Now, he must return the Tigers to the national elite.
Ed Orgeron went to bed early Friday night in his home in Mandeville, La. It was the first time in a long time he'd slept in his own bed—which is located about an hour from Baton Rouge. Before Orgeron retired, wife Kelly offered a prediction. "You're going to be named the head coach at LSU," she told him. Coach O laughed. "Have you been reading the papers?" he replied.
The phone rang at 5:30 a.m. central time Saturday morning. Orgeron let it go to voicemail. Then he realized who might be calling and grabbed the phone. He'd missed a call from LSU athletic director Joe Alleva. Orgeron called back immediately.
"How are you doing?" Alleva asked when he answered.
"Great when I hear your voice this early," Orgeron replied.
Alleva didn't offer Orgeron the LSU head coach job during that phone call. He said he wanted Orgeron to drive to Baton Rouge on Saturday morning to meet with LSU's athletic board. But Orgeron knew what that meant. In the wee hours, LSU leaders had decided to give the job to the man who grew up along Louisiana Highway 1 in Larose with a bayou across the street and gumbo on his mother's stove. Florida State's Jimbo Fisher—a former LSU offensive coordinator—had turned down the Tigers. Houston coach Tom Herman, whose representatives had begun negotiating with LSU, had indicated he'd prefer to become the next coach at Texas. Orgeron, who was barely considered at USC in 2013 after a successful run as the Trojans' interim coach, had turned his second interim head coaching gig into his second permanent head coaching gig. Now all he has to do is not screw it up the way he did at Ole Miss. Given everything that has happened between his firing in Oxford in 2007 and now, it seems Orgeron has an excellent plan to make his LSU tenure last.
"I've had my chances before," Orgeron said Saturday after Alleva introduced him as the permanent successor to Les Miles. "I've learned from my mistakes." We catalogued those mistakes last month, and there is evidence Orgeron has taken steps to address most of them. When I visited Orgeron's mother, Coco, while reporting that story, she put it an interesting way. 'If you get divorced, would you not get married again?" she asked rhetorically. "People can change." Ed and Kelly Orgeron—for each of whom the second marriage was the one that took—are a perfect example of the literal truth to that statement. Could Ed Orgeron and LSU be the ideal figurative example?
He wasn't LSU's first choice. We know that. But Alleva was quick to reference Orgeron's former USC boss Pete Carroll, who—depending on which accounts one believes—was either the fifth, sixth or seventh choice of the Trojans when he was hired in December 2000. Orgeron didn't have a perfect interim stint, either. A close loss to top-ranked Alabama is perfectly excusable, but the lack of fire and red-zone abominations that led to a 16–10 loss to Florida seemed like a dealbreaker. Still, Orgeron said he had "a glimmer of hope" even after that loss. Five days later, LSU crushed Texas A&M at Kyle Field and the idea of Coach Oeaux taking up permanent residence in Baton Rouge once again seemed plausible. Then came a Friday meeting with LSU officials, during which Orgeron impressed the decision-makers with his organization and his plans for the future. He'd prepared his entire life for that meeting, and it showed.
So can Orgeron bring the Tigers the championships they crave? He can recruit and inspire just as Miles did. He also has a top-flight defensive coordinator in Dave Aranda, whom Orgeron singled out in Saturday's press conference as someone who will stay in Baton Rouge. But what will LSU be on offense? From a purely athletic standpoint, the Tigers are loaded on that side of the ball. But they've underachieved dramatically. Saturday, Orgeron said something Miles never would have said while still LSU's coach. (But seems more than happy to say now that he's seeking employment.) "You have to run the spread offense," Orgeron said. "You have to have dual threat quarterbacks who can run it and throw it. But you have to have somebody who knows how to run it." Without taking a breath, Orgeron added that LSU would have to remain physical on that side of the ball and pointed out that tailback Derrius Guice will be back for at least one more year.
Because other schools of LSU's caliber weren't pursuing Orgeron, he'll be a relative bargain. That means LSU will have huge money to spend on an offensive coordinator. Hmm. If only Orgeron had a former co-worker with an expiring contract—and a hefty pricetag—who has demonstrated an ability to run a productive spread offense that also can bludgeon opponents between the tackles while working in the SEC West.
Such a move might also deal a blow to the team that has beaten LSU six consecutive times and stands between the Tigers and all their goals. Of course, Alabama's Nick Saban also has former USC coach Steve Sarkisian working as an analyst and could simply slide Sark into the job should Lane Kiffin decamp for Baton Rouge. Or maybe Sarkisian—the man who got the USC job Orgeron felt he'd earned a crack at—would wind up working for Coach O? No matter how it shakes out, Orgeron knows he won't last long if he can't beat the team in Tuscaloosa. "You are judged by that game," Orgeron said. "That's the nature of the beast. I welcome it. Bring it on. I can't wait for the day when we beat those guys. Because that's the benchmark."
Orgeron knows exactly what needs to be done at LSU. Is he capable of doing it? We're about to find out. But for a native son of Louisiana, nothing was more satisfying than that drive Saturday from Mandeville to Baton Rouge to meet his destiny. "I was going very fast," Orgeron said. "I was listening to some of my greatest music, and I was hollering all the way."