BATON ROUGE, La. — In order to turn his present job into his future job, Ed Orgeron will first have to make his way through the ghost of his coaching past.
The good times feel like they are here again at LSU, where the Tigers (4-2, 2-1 SEC) are back in the Top 25 after back-to-back blowout wins over Missouri and Southern Miss. Orgeron’s first actual challenge comes Saturday night at Tiger Stadium in the form of No. 23 Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2), and there could be no more fitting opponent for the task at hand.
Orgeron’s first tenure as a head coach came at Ole Miss from 2005-07. After arriving in Oxford to much fanfare following a successful tenure as Pete Carroll’s chief recruiter at Southern Cal, Coach O and the Rebels blew up on the launchpad. He went 10-25 with a 3-21 record against SEC opponents and 1-12 mark against ranked teams.
As Orgeron put it, “I don’t have many memories of that place that I want to remember.”
You can’t blame him.
Orgeron was lampooned frequently in those days, with the parody song “Colonel Reb Is Crying” being the most infamous example.
Seemingly the only thing that was proven during his Ole Miss tenure was that Sandra Bullock makes everyone around her better.
“I had more success in ‘The Blind Side’ than my coaching, so it might be that,” Orgeron said of his cameo appearance as himself coaching Ole Miss in the film that earned Bullock an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
But Orgeron did not allow himself to be defined by his Mississippi failure. Instead, he used it to learn from his many errors and redefine himself should he ever have the chance to become a head coach again.
“Look, that was a great opportunity for me. I mean, that’s a good job,” Orgeron said. “And I didn’t do well, and I didn’t like it. I was mad at myself. So, in the five years that I became assistant coach, I said ‘These are the things that I need to change.’ These are the things that didn’t work, to be honest. You got to look at yourself in the mirror.
“You can place blame on other people but nothing’s going to change. I’m the only person that can change me.”
After an eight-game dress rehearsal as the interim head coach at Southern California in 2013 showed the improvements to be effective — he went 6-2. Now he’s getting another opportunity to do it for his dream job at LSU.
Orgeron’s biggest change was to tone down the intensity that was his trademark as a defensive line coach.
“Those techniques that I used to create some of the best defensive lines in the country did not work as a head coach,” Orgeron said. “So I had to get out of that mode and get more into the head coach and delegate (mode), and not be the hard-butt on the staff.”
These days, Orgeron lets his position coaches do the coaching at their individual positions while he focuses more on keeping the operation moving smoothly.
“I’m more mature,” he said. “I see the whole game to be able to make decisions as a head coach. Daily organization of the staff. Daily organization of practices. I spend less time with the defensive line and more time in certain situations with the offense and certain situations with the defense. Watch all the film, ask coaches what corrections we need to make here if we need to.
“I’m more of a head coach.”
While he isn’t fond of his time in Oxford because of how things turned out, Orgeron doesn’t bear ill will towards the school that once fired him. He knows he didn’t cut it.
To him, this game doesn’t mean more because it’s a chance at revenge. It means more because it’s a chance for the 2016 LSU Tigers to turn their season into something special — and in turn give himself a full-time opportunity to prove the old Ed Orgeron was nothing like the new one.