LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron went 10-25 as the head coach at Ole Miss from 2005 to 2007. He was rigid, and he took criticism hard, which isn’t a good trait when you’re going 3-9 at Ole Miss. He tried to fight my colleague, reporter Steven Godfrey, at the deepest depths of his Ole Miss darkness, and the school fired him after 2007.
But things have changed. By every account, Orgeron is a sunny personality now. He’s a drastically different man, as he told Godfrey in an interview a couple of weeks ago.
Orgeron used to be a screamer. He’s still a yeller, but those are different, and he handles problems better than before.
“Now if I need to correct something with a coach, don’t do it on the field. Go back to the office and have a discussion,” he told Godfrey. “‘What can we do here?’ Instead of the way I did it at Ole Miss.”
Orgeron’s become a sympathetic figure in recent years, beloved by legions of fans and players who watched him huff and puff his way to failure at Ole Miss.
He did a stint as USC’s interim coach in 2013, and when he didn’t get the permanent job, a player said it was “like I just lost my father.” There was palpable disappointment on the part of USC’s roster.
Words can't explain how I'm feeling right now....just lost a father. Way more than a coach #coachO— Leonard Williams (@leonardwilliams) December 2, 2013
Feel like I lost my dad again........— Kenny Bigelow (@_mcmxcv__) December 2, 2013
Current Rebels coach Hugh Freeze was a recruiting staffer and lower-level assistant while Orgeron was at Ole Miss. Freeze eventually succeeded Orgeron, and things worked out in Oxford – but not before four interceding bad years under Houston Nutt.
Freeze said this week the school should’ve given Orgeron more time.
People are not patient. I really think that we had recruited well under Ed here and it was close to turning a corner. Hindsight is 20/20 and who knows what decisions were made. I’m not second guessing any of those, I’m just saying if you look at the athletes that Ed and his staff, our staff, had brought in, we thought we were really close.
This is a picture of Orgeron when he coached Ole Miss:
This is a picture of Orgeron this year:
Did I cherry-pick those images to serve a broader narrative about Orgeron seeming a lot happier and being viewed more positively now than then? Absolutely I did.
Orgeron has reason to be happy. He’s in a good spot.
He has started well in relief of the fired Les Miles. Orgeron is 2-0, and in his first game, LSU set a school record for SEC single-game yardage.
Things seem like they’re working out well with new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, who replaced Cam Cameron when Orgeron replaced Miles and has overseen 1,093 yards and 87 points. The first two games of the Orgeron-Ensminger offense have marked the two highest yardage and points totals of LSU’s six contests, by far.
Star running back Leonard Fournette hasn’t played since Miles’ last game on Sept. 24, but he’s expected back against the Rebels. Everything’s on the upswing.
But it’s not going to be easy for him to keep his dream job.
Interim coaches have a hard time shedding that tag. There’s an entire country’s worth of coaching candidates, and the field tends to win out. At USC, Orgeron learned it the hard way, losing out to Steve Sarkisian after going 6-2 upon Lane Kiffin’s firing.
That might happen again. Houston coach Tom Herman might take another job or stay put, but he’s out there and would be a terrific fit at LSU. Jimbo Fisher’s name will pop up until LSU hires somebody else.
Orgeron clearly loves being the coach at LSU. He called it “a dream” when he was introduced, and he’s a Louisiana native coaching the historic football team at Louisiana’s flagship school.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva hasn’t set a wins benchmark for Orgeron to reach. There’s no sense in guessing what it might be.
But it takes no imagination to figure that Orgeron has to beat Alabama and/or everybody else to set himself apart during the trial run.