Ed Orgeron Finds Validation in LSU's Stunning Win Over Alabama

Plenty has been written about Joe Burrow and LSU’s new-look offense. But Saturday’s win over Alabama belongs to Ed Orgeron, a man many doubted when he was tabbed the Tigers' head coach in 2016.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — This happened after everything else happened. After president Donald Trump got a warm welcome from his midfield suite at Bryant-Denny Stadium. After LSU did the improbable and snapped its eight-game losing streak to vaunted Alabama; after it scored 46 points against Nick Saban’s defense; after its quarterback all but secured the Heisman Trophy. This happened after a Louisiana party unfolded on Alabama grass; after the man they call Coach O boomed at midfield “This is our house now!” his players encircling him in a postgame road celebration like no other you’ve ever seen. This happened after linemen lifted quarterback Joe Burrow on their shoulders and hauled him halfway across the field, after Ed Orgeron verbally boasted in his news conference, “It ain’t the last time we’ll beat ‘em.”

It happened after LSU staff members and administrators, exhausted of nearly a decade of losing to their SEC West rival, exploded in a purple-and-gold eruption, their frustrations expelled into the chilly Tuscaloosa night. This happened after one assistant shouted to whoever would listen, “There’s a new day in the West!” and after another told a media member, “Write about that, mother------.” This happened after all of that, after Orgeron tackled a grown man in the coaches’ locker room, after his wife Kelly wept with joy, after his sons saw their pop beat Alabama and celebrate like the mad man he used to be.

Then it happened: an intimate moment between a mom and a son, a Cajun and Cajun, the Louisiana blood between them spicy enough to send you running for the fire hose. Coco Orgeron slowly rose from her chair, her left hand grasping a wooden cane and her right gripping her son’s arm. There was a kiss. And then suddenly Coco’s cousin, her trip-mate on this journey to Alabama, placed a phone to Ed Orgeron’s ear, on the other end their Cajun family back home in south Louisiana. Say hello, Coco told her son, and like a good boy, he listened, “HEY GUYS!” he roared into the phone. Ed Orgeron then jogged down a hallway and disappeared into darkness.

You think this is all made up, right? Make believe? Embellishment? Fake news? It is not. And maybe the most stunning of it all is the scoreboard. The Tigers beat the Crimson Tide 46–41, carving through Bama’s defense like a hot knife through cold boudin. They jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead, held on for dear life during a frantic fourth quarter and got a Heisman worthy performance from their star gunslinger. Burrow was responsible for 457 yards of LSU’s 559 yards of offense, passed for three touchdowns and threw just eight incompletions in 39 attempts. In the waning minutes of a game that suddenly got tight, he led the Tigers on consecutive touchdown drives that’ll go down in the storied history of this program. He converted four third downs in Tide territory on those two scoring marches, a pair of them through the air and two more on the ground himself. “We knew he could do that,” Orgeron said. “He’s a dual-threat quarterback.”

And a Heisman winner? In all likelihood a coach’s son who started this season as a 200–1 longshot to win the top prize in college football, a guy who lost the starting QB battle at Ohio State, that boy will be LSU’s first Heisman winner in 60 years. Plenty has been written, said and told about Joe Burrow. But what about his coach? This night, this day, this game was about Ed Orgeron. The man who was fired as an assistant at Miami and who flopped as a head coach at Ole Miss, the guy who once had his team scrimmage during a rain delay, who tore off his shirt in front of them, a man whose formative years were spent in bar brawls, who needed to get clean off alcohol. That man, the one most everyone doubted when he was hired to lead his home-state Tigers in 2016, the one you all can barely understand, the man who pounds upwards of a half-dozen energy drinks a day, that guy—he did it. Game of the Century? This was Ed Orgeron’s Game of his Life. And his family knows it. “Nobody believed in us,” says Kelly Orgeron, Ed’s wife. “They thought we were going to be fired after the third game of last season. We knew that. We heard it.”

Ed Orgeron doesn’t want credit or spotlight. It’s not about me, he often says, but maybe it should be. Maybe this should be about the 58-year-old Louisiana boy who has taken his Tigers five games from a national championship. Orgeron wants to show the world that some funky-talkin Cajun man can win a title, show his momma that he’s a winner, his dad looking down that he did it. “You know who the best coaches are? Failed coaches,” says Verge Ausberry, a longtime LSU administrator and athletic director Scott Woodward’s righthand man. “Look at [Bill] Belichick. Even Nick [Saban]. I don’t think I’ve ever shared this story. O and I sat down in his office while he was interim coach in 2016. I asked him why he wanted this job.”

You know, Verge. I’ve got to redeem myself for Ole Miss. I messed some things up.

“That’s special,” Ausberry says now. “People who admit they did wrong.”

Back in 2016, then-athletic director Joe Alleva and members of a coaching-search committee chose Orgeron over a lengthy list of potential candidates. There was Dana Holgorsen and Mike Gundy. There was Justin Fuente and Kliff Kingsbury. There was Larry Fedora, Mike Leach and Mike MacIntyre. “Look at those guys. Some of them have been fired,” Ausberry says. “Everybody wants a coach who speaks well and looks all pretty, has the nice hair and pretty face. Get you a guy who fits. Ed Orgeron fits LSU.”

Oh, does he. His Louisiana came out Saturday night, that fire that only those good Cajun people keep bottled up before it spills out like etouffee. He sounded like a man who was doubted from the start. “Might get to go to a 7-Eleven and get me a Monster or Red Bull without people saying ‘Gotta beat those guys,’ Well, I beat ’em,” Orgeron said from the same pulpit that two years ago he glared at a camera man and delivered a now famous quote, “We comin’. And we’re not backing down.” Is LSU finally there? “We were there tonight,” he says. He talked of beating Alabama again. This is the first but won’t be the last. He exuded confidence, his chest nearly ripping through a purple, short-sleeved collar shirt. “We felt all week that we were the better team,” he said. That’s what he told the team before embarking on the trip. “We’re getting on that plane,” he said, “and we’re going to beat Alabama.”

The Tigers didn’t just beat them. They hammered their old coach in a way offensively that few have. It was the most points a Saban-coached team has given up since 1998, when he was head coach at Michigan State and Oregon put up 48 on the Spartans. “They have no weaknesses on offense,” Saban said afterward in a gloomy news conference. LSU had scored a combined 39 points in its previous five meetings with the Tide. The Tigers eclipsed that total in four quarters Saturday. “Made up for a couple years,” Oregeron said. Credit Burrow, yes, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (he had 103 yards and three scores). Credit Orgeron, of course, and offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, another Louisiana-bred boy. But don’t leave out Joe Brady, the 30-year-old wunderkind who over the offseason overhauled LSU’s offense from archaic to outstanding. Maybe the hottest assistant in college football, LSU officials know keeping Brady after this season is a priority. “We know we have to pay, and we will,” one said.

And what of Orgeron? He has the 30 highest salary ($4 million) among head coaches. He’s got the Tigers No. 1 in the AP Poll, in sole possession of the SEC West, bound for a conference championship duel with Georgia. You don’t have to tell this to Coco Orgeron. Her and her Cajun cousin slowly walked out of Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night all smiles. She clutched her chest when asked about her current feelings. “A lot of pride in what he’s done,” she says of her son. “It’s beautiful. It’s a goal in life that you reach. He’s reached it.” And few thought he would, maybe even him. In January 2018, after a drama-filled and stumbling 9–4 first season, Orgeron changed offensive coordinators, parting way with Matt Canada and promoting his Louisiana brother, Ensminger. After introducing Ensminger during a news conference, the coach invited a reporter into his office. After a brief interview, he rose from a couch. “Steve and me, Louisiana guys,” he said then. “What if we could bring a championship back to Louisiana? It would be a great story wouldn’t it?”

Sure would.

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