Ed Orgeron was LSU's third choice and the right choice
It’s almost as hard to believe that Jimbo Fisher never became LSU’s football coach as it is to believe that Ed Orgeron did.
For years, Fisher seemed to be the Tigers’ unofficial coach-in-waiting.
He had been LSU’s offensive coordinator under Nick Saban from 2000-2004 and was an integral part of the Tigers’ national championship in 2003. He was a candidate to succeed Saban when Saban left after the 2004 season to join the Miami Dolphins and stayed on staff when he was bypassed in favor of Oklahoma State head coach Les Miles.
In 2007, Fisher was hired as offensive coordinator at Florida State with the understanding that he eventually would succeed Bobby Bowden, whose legendary tenure finally ended after the 2009 season.
In 2013, Fisher led the Seminoles to a national championship, but still the specter of him someday returning to Baton Rouge as the Tigers head coach persisted.
Things started going downhill for Miles after the Tigers lost to Alabama in the BCS Championship Game after the 2011 season. By 2015, LSU fans were getting really impatient with Miles.
A fifth consecutive loss to the Crimson Tide was followed by bad losses to Arkansas and Ole Miss and the Tigers brass started shopping around for a potential successor to Miles as the regular-season finale against Texas A&M in Tiger Stadium loomed.
Fisher’s name surfaced as LSU’s top candidate – if the school chose to fire Miles. Eventually the Tigers saved their coach’s job by beating the Aggies 19-7 in an emotional performance played amid the expectation that Miles could and probably would be fired if LSU lost.
Less than a year later, the Tigers got off to a 2-2 start and LSU fired Miles after a loss at Auburn, naming Orgeron, who was the defensive line coach, the interim head coach.
-- Ed Orgeron
Orgeron was considered a long shot to land the job on a permanent basis, though being named interim coach gave him an opportunity to greatly increase his chances of landing his dream job.
The Tigers immediately responded well to Orgeron’s promotion and won 6 of their 8 games under him. Their only losses were narrow ones to No. 1 Alabama (10-0) and No. 21 Florida (16-10).
But there was pressure on the LSU administration to hire a big-name head coach – or at least a universally coveted coordinator at an elite program. The candidates were Fisher and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
Fisher’s interest was lukewarm at best and LSU wasn’t prepared to pay what it would cost to hire him. Herman’s salary demands and his foot-dragging as he hoped for an offer from Texas turned off LSU athletic director Joe Alleva.
The Tigers’ job, which Fisher could have had if he had pursued it, fell into Orgeron’s lap.
Now Herman is in his second season at Texas and Fisher is wrapping up his first season as Texas A&M’s head coach as the Aggies host Orgeron and the Tigers on Saturday night.
Orgeron said this week that he doesn’t know Fisher particularly well, but added that a mutual respect exists between the two and Fisher has always been “very professional” around him.
“He’s a great coach, has a great plan, a great competitor, great recruiter,” Orgeron said. “He’s done a tremendous job.”
Orgeron said “it doesn’t matter” that he wasn’t LSU’s first choice and Fisher was.
“I got here, man, you know?” he said. “I’m a defensive lineman. I wasn’t always the first one to get the date, you know what I’m saying? I had to work at it, you know what I mean?”
Fisher’s first A&M team has had a satisfactory season with a 7-4 overall record and 4-3 SEC mark. The Aggies can tie LSU for second in the West is they win Saturday night. Meanwhile, the Tigers are ranked No. 7 and can win their 10th game and secure a New Year’s 6 bowl berth with a win.
Meanwhile, Herman’s first Longhorns team went 7-6 and 5-4 in the Big 12 last season. This year’s team (8-3, 6-2) is ranked No. 14 and still alive for a berth in the Big 12 title game.
The big names with the bigger salaries are behind Orgeron in the rebuilding business.
“I think things happen for a reason,” Orgeron said. “Two years ago we’re going to play Texas A&M, we don’t know what’s going to happen. Two years ago we got to (the Texas A&M game), Jimbo Fisher was getting the job. That was Wednesday night. Then Thursday night Tom Herman was getting the job.
“Then Saturday, Ed Orgeron got it. So anything can happen, you just got to keep on competing. I’m glad I’m here, I thank God for this job. I can see why they wanted Jimbo Fisher, he’s an excellent coach. I can see why they wanted Tom Herman, he’s an excellent coach. I understand that.”
One wonders is LSU understands that its third choice was the right choice all along.