BATON ROUGE, La. — When Les Miles returned to Tiger Stadium last weekend for the first time since being fired, the potential for awkwardness was high. Championship reunions may be common, but it isn’t very often that the coach in question was fired just one year before that reunion.
It’s perhaps even stranger that a member of that coach’s staff — in this case Ed Orgeron — ends up as the full-time replacement. And when the new coach has already dropped a game to Troy, the mere sight of the old coach has the potential to bring on a mass wave of firer’s remorse.
But that scenario did not play out at Tiger Stadium on Saturday. Even as the crowd thundered approval for Miles, and players such as Derrius Guice greeted their former coach with hugs as they came out of the locker room for the second half, it seems this town is big enough for both Miles and Orgeron.
Orgeron had no reservations about Miles being celebrated for his accomplishments at LSU — namely winning the 2007 BCS national championship. In fact, he thinks some measure of credit for LSU’s comeback win over Auburn belongs to the energy provided by Miles and the ’07 Tigers.
“The 2007 national championship team brought a lot of energy to the football team,” Orgeron said. “I’m glad that Coach Miles came to the football stadium. They had a great reception, which he deserved. What an honor it was to have him there.”
With most coaching changes, there are conscious moves to differentiate from the previous administration. Orgeron has certainly made plenty of those moves, particularly with his efforts to modernize LSU’s offense.
Despite the varying philosophical coaching differences between the two, Miles maintains a special place in Orgeron’s heart.
“We’ve always had great relationship. I always wanted to come to LSU. He tried to hire me before I went to Tennessee [in 2009],” Orgeron said. “When I was at Ole Miss, he was very complimentary of the way my team played. We would go to Destin, Fla., on trips. His family would be there, I remember, with our kids [when they were little]. It’s kinda like we’ve been friends.”
Orgeron is most thankful for Miles hiring him in 2015 after he didn’t land the full-time coaching job at USC following a 6-2 interim stint.
“I didn’t have a job,” Orgeron said. “So I’m forever grateful for that.”
Orgeron frequently mentions the importance of “the Tiger family,” involving former LSU players at practice and in the pregame Tiger Walk. When it comes to former coaches, he shares the same attitude — even for the man he replaced.
“I’ve always had great relationship with him and always had respect for the job he did here,” Orgeron said. “And that is never going to change.”