The 8 smartest things Ed Orgeron has done as LSU head coach
LSU was 2-2 when it fired Les Miles and named Ed Orgeron interim head coach 3 seasons ago.
Now the No. 1 Tigers are 14-0 and preparing to play Clemson in the CFP Championship Game on Jan. 13.
LSU has come a long way under Orgeron and Orgeron himself has come a long way as a head coach.
Here are the 8 smartest things Orgeron has done as the Tigers’ head coach, which he became on a full-time basis after the 2016 regular season:
1. Immediately sent a message that it was time to modernize the offense
One of the first things Orgeron did after replacing Miles was fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
Cameron wasn’t what was holding LSU back, but he and Miles’ offense were symbolic of how the program had stagnated.
Miles’ old-fashioned power running game wasn’t good enough anymore. He brought Cameron in to tweak the system, but Miles kept Cameron on a short leash.
Tiger fans were desperate to see their team enter the 21st Century offensively.
Orgeron understood. He agreed.
The rest of 2016 was going to be better offensively – and under interim offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger it was.
2. Kept changing the offense until he got it right
Replacing Cameron with Ensminger didn’t transform the offense to the degree that it needed to be in order to make LSU a national contender.
After getting the full-time job, Orgeron brought in Matt Canada to coordinate a completely new offense. It didn’t work.
Orgeron scrapped Plan B and went back to Plan A, firing Canada and promoting Ensminger from tight ends coach to coordinator – again.
Things got better and Orgeron kept tweaking. Last offseason he found the final piece to the puzzle in New Orleans Saints assistant Joe Brady, who became passing game coordinator.
It took awhile. There was trial and error.
But this season Ensminger and Brady coordinated a record-setting offense.
Orgeron got the offense he – and Tigers fans – wanted.
3. Convinced Joe Burrow to come to LSU
Burrow seems so obvious now.
But it wasn’t so obvious back then.
Burrow was a seldom-used back-up at Ohio State when he graduated and started looking to transfer in the spring of 2018.
The native of Athens, Ohio, considered staying close to home and enrolling at Cincinnati, but he was intrigued by the possibility of playing in the SEC. Orgeron had doubts about the quarterbacks competing to be his starter in the fall.
Burrow visited LSU. He had a long film session with Orgeron, Ensminger and others.
The coaches were extremely impressed with Burrow’s football smarts as well as his confidence.
Orgeron knew the former Buckeye represented an upgrade for his team and he convinced him to come to LSU.
The rest is history.
4. Hired the right O-line coach in James Cregg
Joe Brady is the assistant-coaching hire everyone talks about – and understandably so.
But Orgeron knocked another out of the park when he hired Cregg to be his offensive line coach.
Jeff Grimes left the Tigers after the 2017 season to become offensive coordinator at BYU.
Orgeron worked with Grimes for 1 season at Tennessee and during Orgeron’s 2nd tenure at USC, which concluded with Orgeron as interim head coach in 2013.
Cregg spent 3 seasons with the Denver Broncos, winning a Super Bowl ring after the 2015 season, and 1 season with the Chargers.
Orgeron and Cregg respected each other. Orgeron needed a young, dynamic line coach/recruiter and knew he would have that in Cregg, who said he wouldn’t have left the NFL to work with anyone other than Orgeron.
It was a perfect fit.
5. He learned to trust his staff
It’s not enough to hire a good staff. You have to delegate responsibility to them and trust them to do their jobs so you can focus on yours.
That’s a lesson Orgeron learned during his failed tenure as head coach at Ole Miss. He tried to be hands-on with practically everything and essentially was a jack-of-all trades, master-of-none head coach.
At LSU he has built an outstanding staff and trusted each assistant to do their job.
They have and it has paid off, making Orgeron a better head coach.
6. Stayed hands-on with LSU’s recruiting and made it better
Orgeron has always been a good recruiter. He was Miles’ recruiting coordinator before becoming head coach.
Although he knew he had trust his assistants to do their jobs, he also knew that recruiting is different than the duties of a position coach.
He couldn’t be hands-off with recruiting. It was one of his strengths. He knew Louisiana. He knew his team. He knew he had to be involved in identifying the right prospects and selling them on LSU.
He also knew that as fertile as Louisiana is for talent and how vital it is as a talent pipeline for LSU, he would have to land more than the occasional out-of-state stud in order to make the Tigers national-championship contenders.
LSU’s recruiting has gotten better and farther-reaching during Orgeron’s tenure. That’s why the Tigers are playing for a national championship.
7. Shortened practices and learned to work more efficiently
As soon as Orgeron was named interim head coach, he changed the way the Tigers practiced.
Miles’ practices had gotten too long. They were stagnant. The quality of work didn’t match the quantity of time spent on the practice field.
Orgeron shortened practices. He increased the pace. The players liked the tempo. They saw how the work was more efficient.
They got better and the team got better. Just as important, they understood why.
He also changed the structure of the game week. Monday became “Tell the Truth” Monday and the coaches became brutally honest – pointing out in detail the good and the bad of the previous performance regardless of what the outcome was.
The weekly structure and the daily routine brought a greater degree of consistency to game preparation and therefore in-game performance.
8. Leaned on smart mentors
First it was Pete Jenkins. Now it’s John Robinson.
Orgeron is smart enough to know he doesn’t know everything. He’s smart enough to know older, more experienced coaches know a lot.
Another set of eyes and another set of ears are useful.
When Orgeon was hired, he immediately brought Jenkins, a legendary LSU defensive line coach, out of retirement.
Jenkins has since gone back into retirement and last summer Orgeron brought in Robinson, the legendary former USC and Rams coach, as a consultant.
Orgeron trusts Jenkins and Robinson to critique games, practices, players, assistants and even the head coach himself.
He has listened to them because they’re smart.
And they’ve made him smarter.