BATON ROUGE, La. — If the Les Miles Era ended in a fashion fitting his Mad Hatter persona — with one final clock-management disaster being the final wacky straw — then it can be also said that the Ed Orgeron Era started in a way reflective of the man in charge of LSU football.
“WHAT D’YOU SAY, GUYS? IT’S A GREAT DAY FO’ TIGAH FOOTBALL, A GREAT DAY IN MY LIFE,” Orgeron sonic-boomed into an entirely unnecessary microphone as he opened his first press conference at the job he’s been waiting for his whole life.
Orgeron was quite literally born on the bayou, with the Bayou Lafourche and Intracoastal Waterway intersecting through his hometown of Larose in the southeastern corner of the state.
“Growing up in south Louisiana, being the head coach at LSU is a dream,” Orgeron said.
He earned his way here the hard way, starting his career with stops at two FCS programs in the state — Northwestern State and McNeese State — before making a major jump to Miami in 1988. Ironically, Baton Rouge was the site of his low point, a bar brawl that contributed to his departure from “The U” in 1992.
It took a job at another Louisiana FCS program, Nicholls State, for Orgeron to get back into football in 1994. A year later he was hired at Syracuse and never returned to his home state as a coach until Miles brought him in to lead the Tigers defensive line last season.
Now he’s suddenly in charge of the whole darn thing.
“It is a well-respected position that I am holding right now, and I hold it in high esteem and I understand the expectations at LSU,” Orgeron said. “And I fully, fully intend to meet all those expectations.”
Orgeron has eight games to prove he can meet those expectations and continue living his dream.
He has been in this position before, inheriting Southern Cal in 2013 when Lane Kiffin was fired after a humiliating 62-41 loss at Arizona State dropped the Trojans to 3-2. Orgeron turned things around for a 6-2 finish, including a 20-17 win over No. 5 Stanford, but resigned prior to the Las Vegas Bowl when Steve Sarkisian was hired for the permanent job (USC played 13 games that year thanks to the NCAA rule permitting an extra game for teams that schedule Hawaii).
“I’m glad that I had the experience of being an interim coach. I think every time you go through a head coaching job you learn where your strengths are and your weaknesses are and the more you do it the more you find out what type of coach you are,” he said. “I do believe that the style of coach that I was during my last head coaching job was the style of coach you’re going to see now, a style of coach that I’m going to let my coaches coach. Give them a job. They’re going to be accountable, and if I see something that needs to be fixed we’re going to fix it.”
The inability to be a delegator is what led to Orgeron’s flame-out at Mississippi, where he arrived to much hype but laid many eggs with a 10-25 record that included a 3-21 mark in SEC play.
“I was at Ole Miss as a D-line coach, and that’s how I coached the team and you can’t coach a team that way,” he said. “I went full-speed ahead and I wanted to do everything, coach the quarterbacks, the receivers and I don’t know nothing about ’em. But I wanted to do it my way.”
“My way” may have been an effective policy for Frank Sinatra, but it was an abject failure for Ed Orgeron.
“When I went to USC, I delegated authority,” Orgeron said. “I got guys that were very experienced in what they did, but I played to my strengths. I got that team to play the way I got my defensive lines to play. So I played to my strengths, allowed guys to coach, gave the team some freedom to be themselves, express themselves, have some team leadership and we won football games. I plan to do the same.”
And he plans to do it by — gasp! — opening up the offensive playbook from the stone-cold conservatism of Les Miles and Cam Cameron.
“We’re going to spread the ball out a little bit, do some different things, change the style of play,” Orgeron said. “There’s a lot of things on offense that we’ve done well running the football, and we want to have a different passing game.
“We want to be more creative, find ways that the quarterback can get the ball down the field throwing it. Obviously, we know people load up the box on Leonard and Derrius Guice, and we want to put the ball in our playmakers’ hands. We want to throw short for the quarterback and move the ball down the field. You have to score points these days.”
Certainly, that last quote is music to LSU fans’ ears — delivered in a gravelly Cajun accent that’s finally come home.