One yard short, the dream job is so far away for Ed Orgeron
BATON ROUGE, La. — What may have been the final play of what is looking more like a failed audition by Ed Orgeron to be LSU’s next head football coach was the exact play, it can be argued, that led to Les Miles being fired from the position less than two months earlier.
Facing 4th-and-goal at the Florida 1-yard line and down 16-10, LSU’s final play was a Miles special, the toss lead power with tailback Derrius Guice, where he takes a pitch from quarterback Danny Etling and plows headlong into the scrum in the middle of the line.
The play looked a little discombobulated from the start as Guice started right, cut back left, tried in vain to dive into the end zone and fumbled on the way. Teammate Foster Moreau fell on the ball short of the goal line, and Florida became the second team in three weeks to celebrate an SEC division title on Tiger Stadium turf.
The first one, after Alabama’s West-clinching 10-0 win over the Tigers on Nov. 5, ended LSU’s SEC West (and, by extension, its conference) title hopes. Saturday’s loss ended the Tigers’ hope for a New Year’s Six Bowl while allowing Florida to celebrate an East title in Baton Rouge.
Those fates are definite. There’s no way LSU, at 6-4 and 4-3 in the SEC, gets to the Sugar Bowl regardless of what happens in Thursday’s regular-season finale at Texas A&M.
What’s slightly less definite –but looking more and more probable — is that the Orgeron experiment in Baton Rouge is, more than likely, over.
Now 4-2 in his interim tenure since the firing of Miles, Orgeron certainly brought new life to the Tigers since getting his second chance as an interim head coach, following a 6-2 run at USC in 2013.
And LSU’s power brokers, by all accounts, have been open-minded about the possibility of Orgeron getting the job. The powers-that-be loved the new enthusiasm the team showed. They liked how the offense looked more creative and comfortable on offense, a frustration under Miles.
But there was something the power brokers wanted to see that didn’t happen: an ability to get over the Alabama hump. And there was something they definitely did NOT want to see happen, something that was a frustration about the latter years of the Miles era.
They were tired of seeing LSU lose games — and, as a result, program prestige — to programs they felt LSU clearly should be better than.
Count Florida among teams on that list.
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Not that the Gators lack the program fundamentals to rival LSU — the Gators operate in a talent-rich state and in Jim McElwain, they have a respected coach to contend with. But the version of Florida that came to Tiger Stadium on Saturday was a wounded group, lacking its top three tacklers, a defensive line starter and its starting quarterback, among others.
It was also an offensively challenged bunch, seemingly incapable of making plays to beat the better teams in college football.
And LSU appropriately dominated the game appropriately. The Tigers outgained the Gators by a substantial 423-270 margin.
But the Tigers found a way to lose, a fact that always gets pointed back to the coach. Mistakes killed the Tigers all day. A bobbled snap killed a field goal attempt. Guice fumbled the ball away in the red zone, and Donte Jackson fumbled away a kickoff.
And the Gators managed just one touchdown — just the 10th allowed by LSU in 10 games — but it was huge, a 98-yard bomb from Austin Appleby to Tyrie Cleveland in the third quarter on the play after Josh Growden bobbled a snap to foil a 19-yard Colby Delahoussaye field goal attempt.
One of the things Orgeron made a stated effort to try to do when he got the job from Miles at the beginning of October was make the Tigers a team that wins the turnover margin battle. That’s something that has not happened. The Tigers were minus-two Saturday — and the botched field goal doesn’t even count as one.
Count that failure as a nail in Orgeron’s coffin.
Count the fact that the Tigers have scored 10 points in their two losses under Orgeron as another nail.
And count the fact that most of the nails were already in the coffin when Orgeron got the interim job. Like just about any other interim coach, the writing is mostly already on the wall when you get the job. One is loath to hire as a boss someone from a staff you already consider failed.
At this point, the question may be, what’s next for Orgeron and this LSU staff?
Make no mistake, the Cajun coach has been very good, just maybe not good enough to land this particular job. And Louisiana seems to be a place he belongs. When Frank Wilson was LSU’s recruiting coordinator, prior to accepting the Texas-San Antonio head coaching job, he was considered the best man to recruit Louisiana with one rival: Orgeron.
So LSU would rather not lose him from the staff. But having come so close to being the head coach, does Orgeron come back to be a recruiting coordinator for somebody like, say, Jimbo Fisher?
Not likely, even if the new coach begs him to stay.
There’s also trepidation about blowing up the current staff and possibly losing Dave Aranda as defensive coordinator. Aranda has proven his reputation as one of the game’s best at what he does.
But cooler heads will also tell you that regardless of who the next coach will be, unless that head coach is Aranda, his days in Baton Rouge are probably very numbered anyway. Aranda has earned the right to be somebody’s head coach. Maybe not after this season, but certainly within a year or two.
So would you really try to keep a staff together simply to keep a good assistant coach an extra year or two? That doesn’t make much sense when you look at it that way.
More than likely, what should happen is Orgeron gets his chance to be a head coach — and not on an interim basis — at somewhere below the SEC level. And he’ll knock it out of the park. And if LSU’s next head coach, whether it’s Fisher or somebody else, is a smart guy, he’ll bend over backwards to keep Aranda for that extra year or two.
In the meantime, LSU will look for a guy they think gives LSU the punch it needs to climb from the SEC hole the Tigers find themselves in.
On Saturday, Florida surpassed LSU in the SEC pecking order by celebrating an SEC East title on Tiger Stadium turf. The Tigers have seen Auburn arguably pass them by, and Alabama is so far ahead the Tigers may have lost sight of the Tide.
The feeling is, LSU needs the big name that will win the offseason and propel the program back to elite status.
That might have been Orgeron.
But after one more toss lead up the middle came up just short, that ambition now seems a long way from attainable for Coach O.