LSU hopes its opponent this week doesn’t have the same success in its debut under its interim coach that the Tigers had under similar circumstances last season.
Tennessee fired head coach Butch Jones on Sunday and elevated defensive line coach Brady Hoke to interim head coach. The Volunteers host the Tigers on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium.
Last September after a 2-2 start, LSU fired head coach Les Miles and elevated defensive line coach Ed Orgeron to interim coach. Six days later the Tigers routed Missouri, 42-7, in Tiger Stadium.
That victory represented a fresh start for the Tigers, who finished the regular season 5-2 under Orgeron, won a bowl game and earned him the head-coaching position.
Hoke and the Volunteers have just this week’s game and the regular-season finale against Vanderbilt a week later left on the schedule. They can become bowl eligible by winning both of them.
The dynamics of taking over with eight games left, like Orgeron did, are different than those Hoke faces this late in the season. Nonetheless, lifting the spirits of a deflated team is the most important thing any interim coach can bring to any team at any point in the season.
Orgeron made staff changes, most notably firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replacing him with tight ends coach Steve Ensminger as well as bringing Tigers legend Pete Jenkins out of retirement to assume Orgeron’s defensive-line duties.
Ensminger was able to breathe some life into the moribund offense, which was the primary source of fans’ frustration under Miles — even before Cameron arrived. Despite Leonard Fournette being sidelined by an ankle injury, LSU had dual 100-yard rushers in Orgeron’s debut. Derrius Guice had 163 yards, Darrel Williams had 130 and each ran for three touchdowns.
Orgeron and Ensminger didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they did provide a fresh start. When he was named interim coach, Orgeron spoke of “re-energizing” the team, the culture and the atmosphere in Tiger Stadium.
That worked against Missouri, which coincidentally drove the final nail into Jones’ coffin with a 50-17 thrashing of the Volunteers last Saturday.
Hoke can’t reinvent the wheel in a week either, but he and the rest of the staff might be able to handle the re-energizing part, especially with the game in Neyland Stadium and especially with the depth to which enthusiasm had sunk under Jones.
“Can’t change much, obviously. I’ve been there,” Orgeron said. “Obviously they’re going to tweak some things. He’s going to put his spin on it. I know he’s going to do a good job.”
Orgeron said LSU will prepare for what Jones’s team put on film, then “make adjustments on the sideline” for any tweaks that Hoke implements.
LSU chose Orgeron, in part, because he had been a head coach, albeit an unsuccessful one, at Ole Miss, but more so because he had succeeded as USC’s interim coach. Tennessee chose Hoke, in part, because he was a head coach at San Diego State, Ball State and Michigan.
“They’re going to play over their head,” Orgeron said. “I know this guy. He was a defensive line coach. Inspiring guy. He’ll get them fired up.”
Orgeron got the Tigers fired up, not only for the debut against Missouri, but for the rest of the season as well.
It’ll be Orgeron’s task Saturday to make sure the Tigers can match whatever fire Hoke is able to instill in the Volunteers.