Tell the Truth Monday: Being a lame-duck coach is a 2-sided coin
Being a lame-duck head coach can have its advantages.
The knowledge that your job is not in jeopardy can free a coach to be bolder and to think outside the box more than he otherwise might.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron has been a lame duck for more than a month.
During the Tigers’ open date 3 weeks ago, he assessed his team’s approach on both sides of the ball and decided changes were in order.
He didn’t hesitate to dramatically alter his and his staff’s approach to defense, becoming bolder and more aggressive.
His struggling team had little to lose and he no longer had a job to lose.
The defense played much better in narrow losses to favored opponents Alabama and Arkansas and played well again in a workmanlike 27-14 victory against outmanned Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
Orgeron chose to allow freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier to play all but two series in place of Max Johnson against Arkansas.
The offense wasn’t appreciably better with Nussmeier and nothing other than the strength of the opponent changed when Johnson played wire-to-wire against ULM.
But Orgeron didn’t hesitate to try stuff in search of improvement.
On this Tell the Truth Monday, though, the truth is that the freedom that comes with being a lame duck is a two-sided coin.
Not feeling restrained by employment considerations can also lead to reckless rather than bold decisions.
LSU didn’t get off to a great start against the Warhawks on Saturday, but still it plowed ahead to grab a 17-0 lead late into the second quarter.
Johnson and Malik Nabers provided enough offense to put the Tigers in control. The defense kept ULM’s offense in check and the margin felt larger than what it really was.
LSU wasn’t going to have any problem wit ULM. The Tigers knew it – and the Warhawks knew it.
Then the Tigers faced a 4th-and-4 at their own 39.
A punt figured to place ULM deep enough in its own territory to make a scoring drive highly improbable.
In fact a 3-and-out might have left LSU with good enough field position and sufficient time to take another crack at scoring before halftime.
But the lame duck opted for a fake punt.
What did he have to lose?
After all, a fake punt had kept alive a drive that produced a touchdown, a 7-0 lead and an emotional lift against Alabama.
But LSU was the outmanned team in that game. It needed something unexpected and unconventional to try and level the playing field.
On Saturday night the Tigers had control of the game. They didn’t need to risk anything.
But they did.
Punter Avery Atkins, who flawlessly executed a jump pass against Alabama, tried a more conventional pass this time.
But his receiver slipped to the ground and the ball sailed to the Warhawks’ Josh Newton, who returned to the Tigers’ 28.
Two plays later, Rhett Rodriguez threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Boogie Knight to cut the lead to 17-7 at halftime.
ULM went to the locker room uplifted, a bit surprised that it was down by just 10 points with half a game remaining.
On the first possession of the third quarter, the Tigers drove to the Warhawks’ 14 and faced 4th-and-3. The lame-duck coach passed on a chip shot field goal, went for first down, and a Johnson incompletion handed the ball back to ULM.
LSU didn’t lose to ULM. Nor did it win as easily as it could have and should have.
The Tigers have one more game – unless they upset No. 16 Texas A&M on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium and receive a bowl invitation.
This will be Orgeron’s last game in Tiger Stadium. It probably will be his last game as LSU head coach.
None of that matters.
This is this team’s last game, these players’ last game – the last chance to experience victory, to get to .500, to have a chance to extend the season.
Orgeron should coach this week as if he still has something to lose – because his players do.