Did LSU fans want Ed Orgeron because he's a native, or because he can win?
“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Those lyrics from The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” are currently being sung in Baton Rouge.
Ed Orgeron, who took over for the dismissed Les Miles in Week 5, had the “interim” tag removed from his title Saturday to become the full-time head coach for LSU. He led the Tigers to a 54-39 taming of Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night.
After a frustrating 2-2 start, which included losses to Wisconsin in Green Bay and Auburn on The Plains — and only 27 points scored combined in those two defeats — Miles was mercifully shown the door. He survived a coup d’état toward the end of 2015, but clearly the administration was looking for an excuse to cut bait.
Orgeron, a Louisiana native and lovable long-time assistant coach, picked up the pieces and led the Bayou Bengals to a 5-2 finish.
Recognizing that the program had gotten stale under Miles, Orgeron immediately changed up LSU’s practice routine in an effort to make football fun again. In was apparent to him that the players were simply being worked too hard.
The Tigers responded, especially on the much-maligned offensive side of the ball. In four games under Miles this season, they averaged a pathetic 21 points. But in seven games under Orgeron — and new coordinator Steve Ensminger, who succeeded the equally criticized Cam Cameron — that figure spiked to 32.4.
Nevertheless, Miles was let go in large part because he couldn’t keep up with Alabama. He’d lost five straight to the Crimson Tide.
The results with Orgeron (below) weren’t much different. Despite getting to host ‘Bama under the lights at a raucous Tiger Stadium, it was much of the same offensively for the Bayou Bengals in a humbling 10-0 shutout loss.
With dreams of a West division title dashed, LSU welcomed East leader Florida — a vastly inferior East, mind you — to Death Valley just two weeks later. Although Orgeron and Co. were overwhelming favorites, the Gators pulled out a 16-10 victory highlighted by a goal-line stand on the game’s final snap.
The play was symbolic of recent failures for the Tigers. No imagination on offense. Just slam it up the middle and hope for the best.
Whether hiring Orgeron turns out to be the correct call for the Bayou Bengals remains to be seen. One thing, however, is quite certain: Orgeron wasn’t the school’s first choice, no matter how this news is sold in his introductory press conference.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who was offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000-06 — and is the QB guru so badly needed on the bayou — turned down the job for the second consecutive year. Surely there was a push for Houston coach Tom Herman, even if it’s possible he only used the Tigers to get a better offer from Texas.
But players and fans seemed to have a say in the decision. Coach O was their guy. Well, they’re getting their wish.
There are some recent examples of interim coaches who got the post permanently and went on to have success. The best might be Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, who took over for Tommy Bowden in 2008 and fields an annual national-championship contender now.
As far as the SEC is concerned, Tennessee was a disappointing 5-3 in 1992 — in spite of being ranked as high as No. 4 that season — under legendary coach Johnny Majors. He was cast aside in favor of a 42-year-old Volunteers alumnus named Phillip Fulmer, who went 4-0 down the stretch and won the Hall of Fame Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Fulmer eventually captured a national title for the Vols in 1998 and is the second-winningest coach in UT history behind Robert Neyland.
Naturally, there have also been a handful of instances when promoting a coach from interim to permanent didn’t work. Orgeron’s tale is awfully similar to that of former West Virginia coach Bill Stewart (below).
After Rich Rodriguez ditched the Mountaineers to move up the food chain to Michigan, Stewart — a local of the Mountaineer State, reminiscent of Orgeron’s Pelican State ties — led WVU to an upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Players and fans alike rallied around him, so the next day Stewart was announced as the full-time head coach.
Stewart, himself a grinder with a long résumé as an assistant, went 9-4 three years in a row before leaving Morgantown awash in controversy.
His only other head-coaching experience was at VMI from 1994-96, where Stewart was an ineffective 8-25. Orgeron was similarly 10-25 as the head coach at Ole Miss from 2005-07. He claims that his failure in Oxford has ultimately made him better.
Another example worth mentioning is Charlie Strong, who was the interim coach for Florida in 2004 after the firing of Ron Zook. Even though Strong was well liked among players, the Gators took a big-picture approach and hired Urban Meyer. With Strong on staff — the only Zook assistant he kept — Meyer won two national championships at UF.
It feels like LSU had preferred the Meyer route with a Fisher or a Herman. But neither said yes, so now it’s time to move forward with Coach O.
The kids in the locker room are thrilled, as are most of the 100,000-plus that fill the stands on Saturdays in the fall at one of America’s most magical venues. Tigers fan or not, it’s impossible not to root for a guy like Orgeron.
That being said, fans of the Bayou Bengals need to ask themselves why they’re on board with this move. Is it because he has a Cajun accent, or because he — a defensive line coach by trade, remember — can revamp the offense? Is it because he prefers turtle soup to lobster bisque, or because he can beat Alabama?
Miles was a Michigan Man. He brought a national title to Baton Rouge, though. Native son or not, Orgeron will be held to the same standard.