Nearly 3 years later, LSU is better off with Ed Orgeron than Tom Herman
A verb can sometimes make all the difference in a sentence.
“LSU rolled past Georgia Southern” sounds a whole lot different than “LSU squeaked past Georgia Southern.” While the English language is complicated, it’s fascinating how tweaking one verb can change the entire meaning of a sentence.
Nearly 3 years ago, then-LSU athletic director Joe Alleva was in negotiations with then-Houston coach Tom Herman to be the team’s next head coach. Had LSU been able to agree to terms with Herman, you know what headlines everywhere would have read.
“LSU lands Tom Herman.”
Instead, Texas won that battle and Alleva turned to his second choice, interim LSU coach Ed Orgeron. At the time, the headline was “LSU to shed Ed Orgeron’s interim tag.” But there were plenty of people who felt there would have been a more appropriate headline.
“LSU settles for Ed Orgeron.”
At the time, it made sense that there was some disappointment that Alleva couldn’t get the hottest up-and-coming name in the coaching business, and that he instead turned to the guy with a 3-21 SEC record as a full-time head coach at Ole Miss.
In a strange coincidence, Orgeron and Herman will square off Saturday night in Austin. They’ll each try to lead their teams to what would be a monumental nonconference victory to boost their program’s chances at reaching the Playoff for the first time.
In hindsight, the verb “settle” doesn’t seem appropriate to describe the news of Orgeron’s hiring. Why? LSU is better off with him than Herman.
I don’t have that belief just because LSU board member Stephen Perry said in a recent Sports Illustrated story that if the Tigers could do it over again, they’d pick Orgeron over Herman and Jimbo Fisher, who was rumored to be a candidate but with an even steeper price than Herman.
Before you assume that’s my way of saying that Orgeron is a better coach than Herman, it’s not. Texas is better off with Herman and LSU is better off with Orgeron. Both sides got what was best for them. I don’t believe Orgeron would have done the things Herman has done at Texas, and I don’t believe that Herman would have done the things that Orgeron has done at LSU.
But just for those who are under the impression that Herman is still in a different galaxy than Orgeron as a coach, I’d beg to differ.
Yes, LSU had more talent on its 2017 roster than Texas did. One could argue that from a roster standpoint, Orgeron inherited the better situation.
The appeal with hiring Orgeron wasn’t how he was going to manage the inherited roster. It was how he was going to recruit. So far, his classes (2017-19) averaged a national ranking of No. 9 nationally. That’s not including his 2020 class, which is ranked No. 3 as of Tuesday morning. Herman’s classes averaged a No. 10 ranking nationally, and the 2020 class is slightly behind LSU at No. 6 nationally.
Orgeron can sell LSU in Louisiana in ways that not even Les Miles could. He’s coming off a 2019 class that signed 8 of the top 11 recruits from the state. Landing 5-star Louisiana recruits like Derek Stingley Jr. and John Emery only added to the belief that Orgeron is an elite recruiter, just like Herman.
But for all the similarities of what Herman and Orgeron did leading up to this collision course they’re on, there’s one thing that they’re very different in — money.
Negotiations with Herman fell through reportedly because the asking price was too high. At the time, LSU was cutting checks for Miles’ $12.9 million buyout. There was a reason that LSU didn’t cut a blank check to Herman. In 2018, Herman made $5.5 million. He just signed a 2-year extension following Texas’ 10-win season. By 2023, he’ll make $6.75 million.
In 2018, Orgeron made $3.5 million in 2018. He just signed a 2-year extension following LSU’s 10-win season. He’s set to make $4 million annually (not including incentives) until his contract ends in March 2023.
Orgeron is the better value. In fact, he’s one of the top values of any coach in the country. What Orgeron’s relatively low base salary allowed him to do was build up his assistant staff. It’s what allowed LSU to give Dave Aranda a record-setting deal to keep him from leaving for Jimbo Fisher’s staff at Texas A&M. In 2018, only Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia spent more on assistants than LSU.
That’s how LSU is trying to establish its continuity moving forward. It’s more like the Clemson model than the Texas model (at least when Dabo Swinney was still establishing himself and Brent Venables was making bank to stay as his defensive coordinator). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different.
And look, I realize that if Texas beats LSU on Saturday night, some people will turn back to this and go “you still think LSU would rather have Orgeron than Herman?” For LSU, yeah, I would rather have Orgeron. One game won’t change that.
What can change on Saturday night is the belief some college football fans are holding onto as it relates to Orgeron. That is, his Ole Miss struggles will eventually resurface and that LSU will be looking for a new football coach again. That crowd prefers to ignore the fact that Orgeron can improve to 6-2 against top 10 teams with a win at Texas on Saturday night (both losses were to Alabama).
That’s all since he shed the interim tag, too. LSU fans wondered if Orgeron could be more than the guy who steadied the ship with his passion and undeniable love for all things Louisiana. Nearly 3 years later, that should no longer be the question.
Herman took one path and LSU took another. Both will be better for it when they battle as top 10 teams on Saturday night.