John Robinson gives Ed Orgeron a legend to lean on at LSU
John Robinson says he gets the question a lot.
“What in the hell are you doing in the state of Louisiana?” the Southern California coaching legend said. “And I respond, ‘damned if I know.’”
Actually it makes a lot of sense.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron is big on mentors. He likes to pick the brain of coaches that he considers older and wiser.
When he was promoted to interim head coach at LSU in 2016, he immediately leaned on retired Tigers defensive line coach Pete Jenkins.
When he was interim head coach at USC in 2013, he got to know Robinson, who had a part-time role in the football office.
“I’d take alums to dinner and fund raise,” Robinson said. “I was just kind of hanging around. I’d go to practice and as soon as Ed got the job he would say, ‘hey let’s get together and talk.’
“I think we clicked in terms of just talking about football. I think he’s really innovative and curious about how to do it better and I always thought I was, too. So the idea of trying to find a new way or a better way of doing things fascinates him.”
In June, Orgeron hired Robinson to do basically the same thing with the Tigers in a slightly more official capacity.
“I’m what you call a consultant,” Robinson said. “I think I’m a guy that kind of that wanders around and you say ‘what the hell is he doing here?’”
Here’s what he’s doing here: He’s a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He has a record of 132-77-4 as a college head coach (USC and UNLV), a 75-68 regular-season record as an NFL head (Los Angeles Rams) and 4-6 record in the NFL playoffs.
“The (NCAA) rule is I can’t coach players, so I just stand around and observe and watch film and try to make suggestions,” Robinson said. “But I do have some access to the coaching staff and I tell them old stories.
“I think it’s just having another pair of eyes, just a way to create situations on the practice field that you’re going to see in games. I think that’s really the essence of what you do in practice. If a player sees it before he gets in the game and he says, ‘oh we did that on Tuesday,’ then I think you’ve got a chance to be more successful.”
Orgeron hired the 84-year-old Robinson during the same offseason that he brought in Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints to be his passing game coordinator. Brady turned 30 last week.
Often coaches expand their staffs by bringing in young, analytics specialists as Orgeron did before the 2018 seasons, but Robinson brings an entirely different dimension.
“So much of the young guy is computer work,” Robinson said. “He just spends his life on the computer and gets information. I don’t know how to make a computer work; I’m more of the behavioral thing, trying to look at players and say how can we get better out of that guy or would you move that guy to this position – those kinds of things.
“This is where I think Ed is so strong. He has a feel for his players and he knows how to motivate them. He knows how to get on them. He knows how to deal with them and there’s no computer that’s going to tell you that. That’s his strength. I think Ed’s going to become one of the great coaches.”
Robinson said he’s “so damn excited” to be part of a team that is 5-0 and No. 5 in the country as it prepares to play No. 7 Florida in an SEC showdown on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
He’s familiar with the big-game atmosphere there. Robinson’s USC team was defending national champion and No. 1 in the country when it arrived in Baton Rouge to play Charlie McClendon’s final Tigers team in 1979.
“It was a wild night,” Robinson said. “It’s the only time I ever remember being in a game where I just couldn’t hear anybody.”
It turned out to be one of the most memorable games in the history of Tiger Stadium. LSU held a 12-3 lead for much of the second half. USC pulled within 12-10 in the 4th quarter and was driving late.
The Trojans threw an incompletion on a 3rdh down from their own territory but a borderline facemask call against the Tigers breathed life into what became a go-ahead touchdown drive.
“We got a fortuitous call from the umpire, who was my cousin,” Robinson joked.
The game ended with LSU quarterback Steve Ensminger throwing a Hail Mary into the end zone, which went unanswered. Ensminger is now the Tigers offensive coordinator.
“We’ve never really talked much about it,” Robinson said.
But Robinson did talk about that game some 10 years ago when he met the lady who would become his wife.
When they met, he learned that Beverly was from New Orleans and was a graduate of LSU.
“I said, ‘I coached at USC and we played you,’” Robinson recalled. “She said, ‘I remember. I was there and you cheated to win the game.’ So she’s never forgiven me for that. She’s still pissed.”
It will be a similar atmosphere on Saturday night.
But this time the crowd will be on Robinson’s side.
“Going into (Tiger Stadium) and not having everybody yell at me is great,” Robinson said.