Less than a week into the job, there is only one thing I can say about Ed Orgeron with any degree of certainty: The man is a genius.
Most people probably don’t expect genius to come in the form of a guy who sounds like Farmer Fran from The Waterboy, but that is precisely what makes Orgeron’s brand of brilliance so effective.
The untrained eye expects to be dealing with a good ol’ bayou bumpkin, but Orgeron is much more than that. Like Peter Falk’s character in the old detective show “Columbo,” he’s actually several steps ahead of the game while giving every appearance otherwise. Let’s not forget the man learned from Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carroll, two of the three coaches to win it all at both the college and NFL levels. (The other, Barry Switzer, lucked into inheriting Johnson’s talent-laden Dallas Cowboys, but that’s another story.)
Orgeron’s political aptitude is on par with LSU superfan James Carville, or maybe even The Kingfish himself, Huey Long. And because of those skills, you’d be a fool to count him out when it comes time for athletic director Joe Alleva to name a permanent successor to Les Miles.
Before even coaching his first game, Orgeron has launched a three-pronged offensive that would impress the school’s first superintendent, William Tecumseh Sherman. Combined with victories on the field, these moves will envelop Alleva and make it extremely difficult for him to hire anyone but Orgeron.
The first and most important prong is the fanbase, which already is rallying around “Coach O” in spectacular fashion.
He has been telling fans exactly what they want to hear since Monday’s introductory press conference, when he casually mentioned that there will be a member of the staff whose only in-game responsibility will be clock management. That weakness, of course, led to the clock striking midnight on Miles’ LSU career.
He’s also promising an eventually opened-up offense that might include four receivers and more shots downfield, changing things from Miles’ marriage to the I-formation or double-tight end sets.
In part, that explains why Orgeron’s first Coach’s Show brought a standing-room only crowd to T.J. Ribs restaurant in Baton Rouge. But it’s not just what he says that gets fans excited — it’s how he says it.
Orgeron is the first Louisiana native to coach the state’s flagship program since Jerry Stovall (1980-83) and the first from southern Louisiana’s Cajun country since player-coach Edmond Chavanne in 1900, giving LSU fans a connection they’ve only dreamed of having with their coach.
“This is the first place I’ve coached where they don’t think I have an accent,” Orgeron quipped during Wednesday’s broadcast.
He’s also taking time to do the little things in fan interaction, signing everything that’s shoved his way.
Whereas Miles slipped in through the back door of the restaurant to do his show, Orgeron strolled through the front to press the flesh. And when it was over, he stayed another 25 minutes to talk to every single person who was interested in an autograph or a chat. He even briefly chatted with a caller in Cajun French, an increasingly rare dialect to hear spoken.
But O knows it’s going to take more than the fans to hold onto his dream job.
So he’s enlisted former players into the cause, inviting them to practices and to participate in the pregame Tiger Walk. With Orgeron in charge, LSU’s past feels invested in the present. One more politically influential demographic is checked off.
And then there’s us, the media.
We strive for objectivity, but we are highly malleable. More than anything we like being able to tell a story. And information is crucial to a good story.
Voila, just like that, Orgeron opens in-season practices to the media for the first time in more than 10 years. Even though it’s segments of practice that don’t tell a whole lot, these windows help us have a better idea of what to expect Saturday, theoretically leading to fewer dumb questions after the game.
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With those master strokes, by season’s end Orgeron will have created three blocs who will make noise advocating his full-time promotion: fans, former players and media.
The man is playing chess. And fortunately for him, Alleva is more of a checkers player.
Of course, securing the flanks won’t make any difference if Orgeron cannot achieve the main objective: victory.
Obviously winning out gets him the gig no matter what. The same 6-2 mark he had as USC’s interim head coach should do the trick if one of those wins is at the expense of Alabama. Likewise, a 7-1 finish with the lone loss coming to Bama would have to be deemed good enough once Alleva finds himself surrounded by pro-O forces on all sides.
Just as it was clear Orgeron learned from his failures at Ole Miss when he took over USC’s program on an interim basis, it seems obvious he has learned from his failure to land that job permanently and has no intention of a repeat.
With LSU’s bear of a schedule — five games remain against the Top 25, including two against the Top 10 — it’s going to be a long shot for Orgeron to win enough games to stave off the sexier names in the hunt for the job.
But if the man can game-plan as ingeniously as everything else he has done in his first week, he’s going to have a chance.