Ed Orgeron has earned the benefit of the doubt at LSU
Ed Orgeron feels secure as the head coach at LSU.
It’s time for others to start feeling the same away.
Orgeron was thrust from defensive line coach into interim head coach 4 games into the 2016 season. After a 2-2 start under Les Miles, the Tigers went 6-2 under Orgeron.
LSU threw open the search for Miles’ permanent replacement after the season and Orgeron found himself competing against Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman, then the head coach at Florida State and the offensive coordinator at Ohio State, respectively.
Fisher had little interest in returning to LSU, where he had been offensive coordinator under Nick Saban, and a year later wound up as the head coach at Texas A&M. Herman was closing in on a deal with the Tigers before dragging his feet while waiting to see if the Texas job would open up, which it did.
Then-LSU athletic director Joe Alleva was turned off by Herman’s delay and quickly turned to Orgeron and offered the interim coach and Louisiana native his dream job while Herman went to Austin.
Orgeron entered the 2017 season as the full-time head coach but also with the perception that the Tigers “settled for him” and questions about whether he was up to the job after a terrible stint in his previous full-time head-coaching opportunity at Ole Miss.
After beginning the season with lopsided wins against BYU and Chattanooga, LSU went to Starkville to open SEC play and was whipped 37-7 by Mississippi State. The Tigers weren’t up to the challenge and the performance gave Orgeron’s critics legitimate ammunition.
Orgeron, his staff and his players didn’t flinch. They went back to work.
They rebounded with a victory against Syracuse before another head-scratching, ammunition-supplying loss to Troy.
The Tigers went back to work again and won three consecutive SEC games. After a respectable loss to Alabama, they won 3 more SEC games in a row before losing to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl to finish 9-4 and at least douse the villagers’ torches for the offseason.
The expectations for 2018 were not high, partly because of lingering doubts about Orgeron and partly because of a schedule that included a nonconference game against Miami and an SEC game against Georgia in addition to the annual SEC opponents.
LSU routed Miami in the opener, edged Auburn on the road to open SEC play and climbed to No. 5 in the polls. It lost to Florida but balanced that with a victory against Georgia.
Even a poor loss to Alabama and a 7-overtime loss to Texas A&M in the finale couldn’t keep the Tigers out of a New Year’s 6 bowl and they ended UCF’s 25-game winning streak with a Fiesta Bowl victory that produced a 10-win season.
Orgeron finally got some acknowledgment, receiving a contract extension after the season and he has the Tigers poised for at least a top 10 preseason ranking this year.
“Last year I felt we had a good season,” Orgeron said. “We were two plays away from being 12-1.”
It must be noted that the Tigers were also one play from losing to Auburn.
Orgeron seems to have settled on a staff that he’s comfortable with after periodic changes during his brief tenure.
After promoting tight ends coach Steve Ensminger to interim offensive coordinator in 2016, Orgeron the full-time head coach felt compelled to bring in a bigger-name coordinator and hired Matt Canada from Pitt.
It wasn’t a great match and Canada lasted just the 2017 season. Orgeron brought back Ensminger last season and the offense got better.
When passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan retired after last season Orgeron brought in New Orleans Saints assistant Joe Brady to breathe life into the passing game.
In the spring, Orgeron said he “finally” had the offense he had been wanting.
He hasn’t hesitated to make staff changes and admit a mistake when the evidence has emerged.
“I do believe I have a lot better staff today than I’ve ever had,” Orgeron said.
Perhaps more significantly is Orgeron’s willingness to lean on mentors. When he got the interim position the first person he called after his wife was long-time LSU defensive line coach Pete Jenkins to come out of retirement and take over his position. Jenkins helped through the 2017 season then retired.
Recently Orgeron brought in legendary USC and Los Angeles Rams head coach John Robinson as a consultant.
“Those guys are invaluable to have around,” Orgeron said. “John Robinson, he’s 82 years old. He’s healthy. He’s in good shape. He’s going to be a consultant. He’s going to be around. He’s going to be in our meetings. He’s going to go to practice. He can’t coach the players, but he can talk to the coaches and say this is what we did in this situation.”
A lot of coaches with more job security than Orgeron don’t have the internal security to put a legendary coach on staff.
“I’m much more comfortable being head coach of LSU,” Orgeron said.
LSU plays at Texas against Herman’s resurgent Longhorns and finishes the regular season against Fisher’s second Aggies team.
Many observers will see each of those games as a referendum on the Orgeron hiring.
A Tigers victory in either game or both won’t vindicate Orgeron, but neither should a loss in either or both call into question his worthiness.
At the very least, Orgeron has earned the benefit of the doubt.