BATON ROUGE, La. — During Ed Orgeron’s Monday news conference, a reporter asked the former Ole Miss head coach and current LSU interim head coach if he was remembered more at Ole Miss for his coaching or his role as himself in the movie, “The Blind Side.”
“Well, I had more success in ‘The Blind Side’ than I did coaching,” he quipped, “so it might be that.”
Indeed, his three years as Ole Miss’ head coach from 2005-07 weren’t memorable for either Orgeron or Ole Miss fans. The Rebels went 10-25 under a coach who was noted for being fiery but to a fault. And controlling. And stressed.
Fast forward nine years and Orgeron is a different man and a far different coach. Since the days on Oxford, he’s 8-2 as a head coach in a couple of interim stints, going 6-2 at USC in 2013 and 2-0 so far this year at LSU, replacing the fired Les Miles.
At USC, there was a groundswell of support for him to become the permanent coach. It didn’t take as the Trojans went to Steve Sarkisian instead. And now, there is plenty of support around Louisiana for Orgeron to get the job in Baton Rouge.
But 10-25 also hangs over his résumé like a prison record.
So it behooves Orgeron to make it a frequent talking point to discuss how much he has changed since the Ole Miss days.
“Look, (Ole Miss) was a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I mean, that’s a good job. That’s — and I didn’t do well, and I didn’t like it. I was mad at myself.”
But he said it led to some introspection.
“So in the five years that I became assistant coach, I said these are the things that I need to change,” he said. “These are the things that they didn’t work, to be honest. 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.”
How much has he changed? Here are some notable ways:
He lets his coaches coach
On Monday, Orgeron shared what he thought was one of his biggest mistakes in Oxford.
“When I was a first-time head coach, I wanted to run the USC system,” he said. “I loved USC offense. And Noel Mazzone was my coordinator. And I forced the USC offense on him, and he didn’t know it well. Obviously, he’s a very successful coordinator today. So I thought that was a mistake on my part.”
The lesson? Let his coaches coach. When he was given the LSU opportunity, he made it clear he wants each assistant coach to be able to do their job without being micromanaged from above.
An example came when the offensive line started suffering injuries and Orgeron would take questions from the media about who might play in place of injured players like tackle Toby Weathersby. Each time, he would concede to offensive line coach Jeff Grimes.
“I’m going to let him manage his position,” Orgeron would say.
It’s a theme now. He’s here to provide big-picture guidance. Within those general guidelines, coaches are free to run with it how they see fit.
“We’ll talk before the game, what we want to do, how we want to open up the game, the places we want to run, just a certain style,” he said of his current relationship with offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. “But the nuts and bolts of it, I let the offensive staff do.”
He doesn’t try to coach an entire team like a defensive line coach
When he was at Ole Miss, he brought a mentality that worked for him as a defensive line coach at Miami but didn’t necessarily translate to being a head 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 he’d physically challenge his players. If that meant ripping his shirt off and getting down into a 3-point stance and daring them to come at him, he’d do it.
At Ole Miss as head coach? That didn’t come across so well.
“So those techniques that I used to create some of the best defensive lines in the country did not work as a head coach,” he admits. “But they were applauded of a defensive line 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.”
He makes it fun for players
One thing he learned from Pete Carroll at USC following his Ole Miss stint was that this was a player’s game.
“You have to treat ’em like your own sons,” he says.
He admits he didn’t do that at Ole Miss. He was more likely to challenge them than to reward them.
Now, he has a practice schedule designed to give players something to look forward to daily — “Tell the Truth Mondays” lead to “Competition Tuesdays” and on down the line.
The idea? Keep the players engaged and enjoying every minute of the experience.
Perhaps this should be the first change on the list because it’s the foundation for all the rest.
Facing the failure of a 10-25 tenure as a head coach made Orgeron a little more introspective and a little bit more human. That’s something that doesn’t necessarily happen to big, gregarious former all-conference college linemen who were once fast-tracked through their coaching career.
Yet, that’s what has happened to Orgeron. He has had successes in his career and disappointments. It’s left him with a different perspective of things.
He knows he’s fortunate for the opportunities he gets. He also knows nothing is guaranteed, and he’s OK with that.
“Take the future aside, whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” he said at his introductory press conference. “Let the chips fall where they may. We’re going to come together one team, one heartbeat, take it one game at a time.”