BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU athletic director Joe Alleva released a letter to Tiger fans Friday morning detailing what qualities he is looking for in the next LSU football coach.
Because none of those qualities included the words “Ed Orgeron,” some Tiger fans who support the interim coach’s candidacy for the position are starting to freak out, convinced the fix is in against Coach O.
Come back off the ledge. Alleva’s letter does not literally mention Orgeron by name, but it might as well be flashing “Coach O” and “I Love You” with Bourbon Street-caliber flashing neon lights.
Integrity and work ethic
These are the first traits Alleva mentions in the letter. Les Miles had both, and Orgeron follows in those footsteps with his possibly dangerous consumption levels of energy drinks to make sure he gets everything done before going home for the night.
The integrity clause also means Louisville’s Bobby Petrino is eliminated from consideration.
And in the eyes of some folks, Jimbo Fisher’s handling of the sexual assault allegations against Jameis Winston at Florida State does not scream “integrity.” (That matter is open for debate, perhaps, but the fact it can get as far as the debate stage might be uncomfortable for some people to come to grips with hiring Fisher).
A skilled and relentless recruiter
There’s literally an entire book written on Orgeron’s skill as a recruiter: Bruce Feldman’s “Meat Market,” which chronicles his time leading up to Signing Day at Ole Miss in 2007.
But our own Sam Spiegelman has more modernized details of what Orgeron is accomplishing at LSU:
LSU has undergone a slight makeover since Orgeron took over as LSU’s interim coach in place of Les Miles.
Like his predecessor, Orgeron continues to emphasize Louisiana and Louisiana first. However, there is one major exception.
Under Orgeron, the pursuit of elite national prospects has been engraved in the recruiting staff. For instance, 5-star Texas defensive tackle Marvin Wilson and 5-star Mississippi running back Cam Akers have surfaced to the top of LSU’s priority list during the fourth-quarter stretch of the recruiting cycle under Orgeron’s direction.
Orgeron handled both recruitments as LSU’s defensive line coach, but as the interim head coach, has remained heavily involved, along with his position coaches. That has helped LSU convince Wilson and his family to visit Baton Rouge this weekend for the Florida game. The same goes for Akers, who has began to lean toward the Tigers as a result of Orgeron’s steady pressure.
This is the same philosophy that helped Southern Cal land some of the best recruits in the nation during Orgeron’s tenure there, and as a result, procure top-five recruiting classes year in and year out. That’s expected at LSU and much easier to accomplish with SEC facilities, resources and a larger budget for the recruiting staff. But it also takes an accomplished recruiter who takes advantage of the circumstances to piece together the elite recruiting hauls that compete with the Alabamas and Ohio States of the world annually.
Able to motivate players at highest level
I’m just gonna let you watch and decide.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 17, 2016
Instinct to adapt to changes
If Orgeron was the same coach he was at Ole Miss, the Tigers would be a trash fire. He’s not.
Orgeron’s ability to adapt as a head coach from a meddling, overbearing screamer to someone who delegates the majority of responsibility to his assistants has been the biggest factor in his success as an interim coach at USC and now LSU.
“In the five years that I became assistant coach (after Ole Miss), I said ‘These are the things that I need to change. These are the things that they didn’t work, to be honest,'” Orgeron recalled the week of the Ole Miss game. “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. So I tried to change the things that I normally would do as a defensive line coach.
“Listen. When you’re coaching Warren Sapp at 28, 29 years old, you’re not just going to walk in there with a tie and just say, read stuff from a book. I mean, it ain’t going to happen that way. So, those techniques that I used, to create some of the best defensive lines in the country, did not work as a head coach… So I had to get out of that mode and get more into the head coach and delegate, and not be the hard-butt on the staff.”
An accomplished leader of young men
In this clause, Alleva notes that he’s looking for someone who can give young men “valuable lessons they can use the rest of their lives.”
Save Art Briles, you could make an argument that any coach in America is capable of fitting that bill. But Orgeron is uniquely built to relate to players who make mistakes because he himself was once a young screw-up.
Orgeron came to LSU as a player in 1978, got homesick for his tiny hometown of Larose and bolted Baton Rouge before his freshman season even started.
He was a boozer, and the worst kind at that. While an assistant at Miami, he was arrested in Baton Rouge for head-butting a bar manager and lost his job. So he stopped drinking and worked his way back up the ladder.
College kids always will make mistakes. Such is learning how to be an adult. In Coach O, those players will know they have a guy who isn’t just talking the talk. He’s been there, and he knows how to get back on track in life.
The final verdict
If Ed Orgeron wins the next two games, Joe Alleva can legitimately go to every point he made in Friday’s letter to the fans and say he has a coach who already fits the bill.
Alleva’s letter is a coded message, because athletic directors have to do that sort of thing. He cannot go all-in on Orgeron yet in case the Tigers collapse against Florida and Texas A&M, unlikely as that scenario may be.
But make no mistake: the letter’s failure to mention Ed Orgeron is not an indictment against his chances. Because if you look hard enough, you can find the name “Orgeron” everywhere Alleva wrote those words.
SEC Country’s Sam Spiegelman contributed to this report.