First and 10: LSU mess is beyond disturbing, but there's still a way for Ed Orgeron to survive it
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
Let’s get this out of the way right now: The only thing that keeps Ed Orgeron from coaching LSU in the 2021 season is evidence that directly ties him to coverup of sexual misconduct within his program, past or present.
I’m not declaring right or wrong; I’m explaining process.
Because no matter how sordid and surreal LSU’s handling of sexual misconduct accusations against players, no matter how many investigations are opened (a federal Title IX investigation was announced last week), highly successful coaches in college sports aren’t fired unless there’s undeniable and verifiable proof of injurious behavior.
And right now, at this point in the investigation, it’s one word against another. She said vs. he said.
It’s the 71-year-old victim who says she spoke with Orgeron about former player Derrius Guice’s sexual harassment, and that Orgeron ignored it.
And it’s Orgeron, who says he never directly spoke to the victim, and then last week released audio from a phone call from a person representing the victim that can only be described as a shakedown for payment to make the mess go away.
Does that phone call mean Orgeron never directly spoke to the victim as he claims? No, but it does offer background to Orgeron’s letter of testimony to the state of Louisiana Senate committee investigating the university’s handling of sexual misconduct.
In the letter, Orgeron said he was given a number to call to speak to the victim, and brought Guice into his office to apologize. When Orgeron called, he says a man answered and said the victim didn’t want an apology — she didn’t want Guice to play in LSU’s bowl game.
Orgeron said he was told by the man who answered the phone that if Orgeron didn’t agree to those terms, the victim didn’t want to speak to him. Orgeron says the conversation ended without speaking to the victim, and he wasn’t prepared to suspend Guice without “obtaining more thorough information.”
Two rape allegations against Guice, and another allegation that he took nude photos of a woman without her consent, were reported to LSU officials prior to the harassment incident.
Orgeron, according to the Husch Blackwell report on LSU’s response to sexual misconduct, has not been mentioned in any coverup of those incidents.
“An absolute cluster—,” an LSU source told me.
The moment Orgeron knew of a sexual harassment complaint against Guice, he should’ve called then-athletic director Joe Alleva and let Alleva deal with it. For their own legal cover, coaches are not judge and jury once problems arise outside the team function.
One player can’t bring down a program and a coaching career. The response to allegations against one player can.
Orgeron knew Guice did something inappropriate – he may or may not have known the extent — or he wouldn’t have had Guice with him in his office to apologize to the victim. Instead, Guice played in the bowl game.
Here’s the key: If LSU were coming off back-to-back losing seasons under Orgeron, the aforementioned scenario – Orgeron deciding punishment for alleged sexual misconduct – would more than likely be enough for dismissal.
But he’s two years removed from winning the national championship, from doing something so rare (beating college football king Alabama and Nick Saban) in the process.
That, everyone, is Orgeron’s last line of defense. Because in this day and age with the heightened awareness of sexual misconduct, a coach simply doesn’t survive such a ham-handed response to a significant allegation.
Remember, these aren’t NCAA allegations, they’re human rights violations.
A statement season in 2021 just became critical for Orgeron. If he does survive to coach – and he will unless there’s proof he did talk to the victim and knew the gravity of the allegations – he has reached the level of zero tolerance on and off the field.
The only way out: winning big again.
Because nothing makes most every problem go away in big time college sports quite like winning championships.
2. Coordinating moves
Right around the time the allegations of systemic failure in response to sexual misconduct became a reality at LSU, Orgeron admitted during a Zoom call that some coaches he hired from last year’s staff weren’t interviewed.
That’s right, weren’t interviewed.
“I’m never doing that again,” Orgeron said.
It’s hard to imagine a coach who made every right move in 2019, who grew so significantly as a head coach that he was moving toward the elite of the game, doing almost the exact opposite in 2020 before a few late corrections and a change in quarterback (more on that later) allowed the Tigers to win 3 of their last 5 and finish the season 5-5.
Orgeron never said which assistant coaches weren’t interviewed, but he’s replacing both coordinators and the dots can be connected.
No matter what you think of Bo Pelini (defensive coordinator) and Scott Linehan (pass game coordinator, it was going to be difficult for the Tigers to replace all that talent (14 players drafted by the NFL) from the national championship season (and a handful of COVID opt-out starters) and still play at a high level in the SEC.
That’s what made the current coordinator hires so critical. They’re hand-picked by Orgeron, and one LSU source told me they went through a “highly detailed” interview process.
More than anything, they’re coordinators who will make or break Orgeron moving forward at LSU.
Former LSU pass game coordinator Joe Brady recommended OC Jake Peetz to Orgeron, and Orgeron interviewed numerous candidates before hiring DC Daronte Jones. Half of the staff has turned over from last season, and LSU has new coordinators on both sides of the ball for the first time since Nick Saban arrived as coach in 2000.
“You’ve got some young coordinators that want to prove themselves,” Orgeron said. “I can already see the difference in this team, as far as execution and practice.”
One LSU source told me Orgeron thinks Peetz can have a Brady-like impact on the offense. But Orgeron will no longer be hands-off when it comes to the defense.
He made his bones coaching defense, and said in March that he, “kind of stayed out of it” in 2020. Not so much for 2021: “If I see something I don’t like, we’re not doing it.”
The last time he intervened with coordinators was a disaster. But that was his first season as head coach in 2017, and it was Matt Canada’s misdirection offense that wasn’t a good fit for the program.
This time, the defense is more in his wheelhouse.
“I’m not going to let things slip up. Not one thing,” Orgeron said. “I’m going to identify it. I told the coaches that.”
3. Righting the ship, The Epilogue
This season will be successful if the quarterback play is successful, as most football seasons at any level are.
And wouldn’t you know it, Orgeron poked his head in there, too.
He didn’t make philosophical changes or force schemes and situational play (like he did with Canada), he just had one mandate: Sophomore Max Johnson would get the first snap when spring practice began.
Orgeron said he and Peetz agreed that all four quarterbacks – sophomores Johnson and TJ Finley, freshman Garrett Nussmeier and senior Myles Brennan, last year’s starter before a season-ending core injury – would get work with the first team.
While Orgeron hasn’t revealed a starter – and likely won’t so all four push each other in the summer – the job likely comes down to Johnson vs. Brennan. Johnson was 2-0 in two starts last season, including a win at Florida.
Brennan played well in his three starts and delivered impressive numbers. But for a horrific effort from the LSU defense, he played well enough to be 3-0 in his starts instead of 1-2.
“There’s no favorites,” Orgeron said earlier this spring, before later admitting, “there’s one quarterback that’s 2-0 on this campus.”
The football field is Orgeron’s purview. It’s where he has complete control.
Once he starts veering into other lanes outside football, trouble invariably awaits.
4. A new fit
One criticism – among the many – of former Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt, was his insistence on fitting scheme to player.
Or as one former Vols assistant told me recently, “he was jamming square pegs into round holes with a sledgehammer.”
Maybe that’s why Tennessee gave up a whopping 8.5 yards per pass play in 2020, and why the defense couldn’t get off the field in the second half of so many games.
The schemes and blitz packages were too complex, and didn’t allow players to play with speed and attitude. There was too much thinking going on pre-snap and during plays.
That’s why there were so many holes in the back seven, and missed tackles and bad angles. Why tackling was atrocious.
New coach Josh Heupel began spring telling the defense he wanted them to attack. The defense, he said, would be built for them, to help them get the most out of it.
That doesn’t mean the Vols won’t blitz as much, or won’t use exotic stunts and blitzes. Everyone does.
It will be more clear and concise where players should be, and what their assignments are. Heupel likes to call it “fast football,” and says it’s the perfect complement to the tempo offense.
5. The Weekly 5
The top five assistant coaches at the top of the head coaching radar for the 2022 season:
- 1. Bill O’Brien, offensive coordinator, Alabama
- 2. Jeff Lebby, offensive coordinator, Ole Miss
- 3. Doug Marrone, offensive line coach, Alabama
- 4. Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Georgia
- 5. Barry Odom, defensive coordinator, Arkansas
6. Your tape is your résumé
Each week an NFL scout breaks down the 2022 draft prospects of an SEC player. This week: CB Kaiir Elam, Florida.
“A physical guy who can run. If you’re going to start with a report, what better way to start? I wish he were more consistent. I need to see it, or elements of it, every play. And it’s just not there right now. It’s different when it’s your money year (first eligible year to be drafted) and you’re trying to get teams to select you. You’re going to see how much he wants it this year, if he really loves the game.
“He’s got everything is that toolbox. He has makeup speed, he can extend, fluid hips, drives in run support. He’s a top-20 pick, no question. But can he push himself to get even better, get more consistent, be more of a factor on the field with some big plays in critical moments. I need to see more of those.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll: ranking the starting quarterbacks.
1. Matt Corral, Ole Miss: Hard to argue with the prolific season in Year 1 under coach Lane Kiffin. Has he hit his ceiling, or can he do more?
2. JT Daniels, Georgia: Four games, and a meteoric rise to the top of the list. But for how long?
3. Bryce Young, Alabama: Zero starts and 22 career attempts, and No. 3 on the list. How long will it take to reach No. 1?
4. Emory Jones, Florida: Has sat for three years and waited his turn. Has talent and motivation. Time to make it all connect.
5. Myles Brennan, LSU: Let’s not forget how good Brennan looked before the injury. He was setting up a monster season.
6. Connor Bazelak, Missouri: Didn’t put up big touchdown numbers, but his efficiency and ability to steer clear of bad plays are a significant base. Watch how develops in Year 2 under Eliah Drinkwitz.
7. Bo Nix, Auburn: The talent is there, the arm strength is, too. But his mechanics and decision-making need work. New coach Bryan Harsin has made bigger projects boom at Boise State.
8. Will Rogers, Mississippi State: Started to pick it up late in his freshman season, and finally got comfortable in Mike Leach’s offense.
9. K.J. Jefferson, Arkansas: Has a ton of potential, and a feel for big plays. Can OC Kendal Briles improve his accuracy?
10. Ken Seals, Vanderbilt: Really liked the way he played in 2020 as a freshman on a bad team. Can make every throw and is full of moxie.
11. Harrison Bailey, Tennessee: The Vols may not stop anyone, but new coach Josh Heupel has a track record of developing elite QBs who stress defenses.
12. Haynes King, Texas A&M: Threw four passes in 2020, and completed three – one to the other team, and one for a touchdown. We have to give coach (and QBs coach) Jimbo Fisher the benefit of the doubt with the former 4-star recruit.
13. Luke Doty, South Carolina: Didn’t really play all that poorly when pressed into a tough situation last year. Is he the long term answer?
14. Beau Allen/Joey Gatewood/Will Levis, Kentucky: Let’s go with Allen, who seems like the best fit for new OC Liam Coen’s offense. Balls will be in the air this fall.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Do you see Florida moving more toward running the ball with Emory Jones as quarterback. I’m excited to see a little something different with the offense.
Lisa Wilson, Miami
Lisa: Florida will use more quarterback specific runs, but to think the Gators won’t throw it as much (or close to as much) as they did last season with Kyle Trask is ignoring where the sport is headed: The passing game dictates everything.
In college football and the NFL, offenses are throwing the ball more because the rules favor the offense in the passing game. The more accurate your quarterback, the more dangerous your offense.
Jones has shown accuracy in important moments (see: the Auburn win in 2019), and struggled at other times (last year’s Cotton Bowl). Make no mistake, there will be more quarterback run game with Jones (and backup Anthony Richardson), but the offensive package won’t be limited because Jones isn’t the thrower that Trask was.
In fact, Jones has a stronger arm than Trask and can make every throw with more velocity. He knows the offense (this is Year 4 in the system), and if his accuracy exceeds 65% like the staff feels it will, expect a big season throwing from Jones.
9. Numbers: 2.3
The 2020 season was brutal for Auburn QB Bo Nix. His numbers were down or plateaued across the board, and the big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 that every coach of quarterbacks preaches never materialized.
One statistic stood out: He completed 59.9% of his passes. That number, in this age of quarterback friendly offenses, is about 8-10 percent – a huge number – from where he needs to be.
Nix competed 57.6% of his passes as a freshman with a more consistent offensive line. That jump of just 2.3% is the one area that needs considerable improvement in the offseason. Accuracy means everything in today’s offense/passing game.
10. Quote to note
Georgia coach Kirby Smart on his new defensive analyst Will Muschamp – the former Florida and South Carolina coach, and Smart’s best friend for decades: “He’s probably the guy I lean on the most in terms of coaching the coaches and drill selection … trying to find new ways to make our program better.”