BATON ROUGE, La. — One year from today we may know whether Ed Orgeron is Coach O-ver and Done With at LSU.
The Class of 2019 has long been viewed as the key to LSU’s football future, and its importance was escalated to an even higher degree as Orgeron stumbled to the finish line with his 2018 signing class. Heck, he didn’t even get to the finish line.
The Tigers assumed they would be pushing the scholarship limit so they put a NO VACANCY sign in front of several interested prospects. But LSU failed to fill its 25-man class after a stunning series of Signing Day defections.
The loss of Patrick Surtain Jr. hurts the most because the 5-star cornerback spent the last two years giving off the vibe that he was bound for Baton Rouge. But Orgeron’s inability to secure quality insurance has to be the more troubling aspect for LSU fans.
If the Tigers had landed Mario Goodrich or Ar’Darius Washington, the loss of Surtain would still sting like getting hit in the arm with a fastball. Instead, it feels more like getting hit in the midsection — without a cup. There’s no choice but to double over in agony.
LSU played hardball with Washington, the Shreveport defensive back who was committed to the program but didn’t want to sign in December. He finally gave in to TCU, which wanted him more.
The failure to land Goodrich also was a byproduct of having room for only four players after December’s early signing period. With Surtain, safety Kelvin Joseph and receiver Ja’Marr Chase expected to fill three of those spots, LSU backpedaled from Goodrich to woo quarterback James Foster.
Instead, LSU ended up with a giant whiff on three of the five players it was trying to squeeze into four spots.
The trouble here is that Orgeron’s entire career is built on his recruiting chops. And at the moment, he looks like a pitcher who has lost his fastball.
Or maybe it’s just a dead-arm period. His first true class as LSU’s coach does have plenty of talent sprinkled in. No one in the country added a better wide receiver tandem than Terrace Marshall Jr. and Chase. Interior depth is no longer an issue with 12 linemen signed.
But on the whole, signing day was a bust. LSU’s Class of 2018 ranks 15th nationally — the program’s lowest-rated incoming class since 2002. There’s no superstar running back or quality depth at quarterback or cornerback, two positions that were identified as needs.
But there is a silver lining, and it’s much more pertinent than noting that the low-rated ’02 class helped LSU win a national title one year later. The Class of 2019 is loaded with talent, especially in Louisiana. Three of the nation’s top 20 recruits live in the Pelican State, as do three of the top 10 running backs.
When things have looked the bleakest for Orgeron during his career, he’s shown an ability to rebound. Look no further than last season’s loss to Troy. Perhaps he can do it again. Even in this underwhelming class, he nearly sealed the border, keeping eight of Louisiana’s top 10 prospects home.
Next year’s class is Orgeron’s ultimate rebound opportunity. And for what it’s worth, he now has two extra scholarship spots open for players in that ultra-talented class.
Of course, the shortcomings on Wednesday bring Orgeron’s ability to seal the deal into serious question. If that happens for a second straight class, a dropoff in on-field results is bound to follow. When a coach’s top selling point is his ability as a recruiting ace, that becomes a flaw that’s impossible to survive.
A year from now, there’s a good chance we are writing a much different story about LSU’s recruiting class. There’s that much talent floating around for 2019. But if we’re not writing that feel-good story, the obituary for Orgeron’s head-coaching career might not be far behind.