Saturday, November 26, 2016

Geaux time for Coach O

Coach O -- Ed Orgeron -- is the man in charge for LSU football.
 (photo from
       So LSU is going to geaux with Coach O, and I'm not surprised. I'm OK with it.
       All right, Bebe. Prove your doubters wrong.
       Is Ed Orgeron -- Coach O -- the right guy to head the LSU football program for good? We'll see, won't we?
       He's been very good, but not perfect, as the interim head coach since we (happily and unhappily) said goodbye to Les Miles after game 4 this season.
        (Happily because Les' time as a gambling, successful, kind-of-wacky coach for the Tigers had run out. Unhappily because no program needs or particularly wants a coaching change early in the season.)
        Except for four too-conservative, no-creativity play calls near the Florida goalline at the end of that game two weeks ago, and a stilted offensive performance -- again, no risk taking -- against mighty Alabama, you can't find much fault with the job Orgeron and interim offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger have done.
        Their biggest fault was letting Miles and deposed OC Cam Cameron phone in those plays at the end of the Florida game.
        If one of those inside-the-tackles runs had succeeded, LSU and Orgeron probably would be Sugar Bowl-bound right now. Instead, they'll go bowling with a 7-4 record, a what-might-have-been look at this season ... and a new permanent head coach.
         As soon as word of the announcement came this morning, my Facebook news feed was covered with posts from Orgeron boosters ... and Orgeron detractors.
         You'd think this was a Presidential election. But this is LSU football. This is more important.
         We're paying the LSU head football coach a helluva lot more than The President makes. Even the President-Elect isn't campaigning for this much salary (he doesn't need it).
         Reportedly LSU was willing to pay $6 million or $7 million for Jimbo Fisher to leave Florida State and come back to LSU, and apparently Tom Herman wanted as much or more to leave University of Houston and choose LSU over an offer from Texas.
          (More on the salary aspects in a moment.)
          I never thought Jimbo would leave FSU. I have told friends all along that Texas would outbid LSU (or anyone) for Herman. 
          What really surprised me -- and I couldn't believe it when I saw it on the ESPN crawl early in the LSU-at-Texas A&M game Thursday night -- was that (a U. of Texas outlet) was reporting that Herman and LSU had a deal in place that looked to be finalized on Saturday (today).
          Too good to be true. It wasn't.
          In the next 24 hours, more rumors/reports: The Texas university president didn't want to fire Charlie Strong. Herman would wait for a Texas offer. Jimbo had talked to LSU people; he had his offer, and he wasn't coming.
          Meanwhile, the Houston football team was playing at Memphis ... and losing badly, then winning, then finally losing on a late Memphis TD (some teams can do that). What were all these rumors doing mentally to the Houston players?
          "Where does all this come from?" one of my friends asked on Facebook. My smart-aleck answer: "The rigged media." 
          I had inside information about Jimbo and Herman. No, I didn't; I'm kidding. But that's a lead-in to my real answer to my friend's question.
         The public wants to know what's going on. The media wants to tell them. Media people have "sources," usually close to a program or the administration or the boosters. So they talk to someone who has the "inside," has the "scoop," and they trust that source, and they report it online or in the paper or on TV or radio.
          Sometime the source think they know, but they really don't know. Solid reports also might be erroneous reports. And there you have it (or you don't).
           Orgeron, with his Cajun background, is the perfect fit that way for an LSU coach. He speaks the language in South Louisiana; he grew up in Lafourche Parish, in the Larose-Cutoff area. I've known some guys, Louisiana Tech football players, from there. Loved hearing them talk.
            The players love Coach O; they've responded to him. He's a motivator, a loud, gruff character. The players told everyone they could, after that 54-39 debacle-of-defense victory against A&M, they wanted Coach O for the job.
             Players are loyal to the coach they know. Look how they carried Miles off the field after last season's victory at home against A&M. And Miles was "embattled" then. We've all seen cases of players sticking up for their coaches who are under fire.
             Orgeron has a stellar background as an assistant coach and recruiter in high-profile programs such as Miami and Southern Cal, and he's been in the NFL (Saints, for one season), and he twice now has been a fairly successful interim college head coach.
             But he was a flop as a college head coach (10-25 in three years at Ole Miss) -- and that is one item that his critics always mention. Saw it again repeatedly this morning.
              Two points: (1) It was a decade ago (2005-07). Orgeron says he's learned from that, grown a lot, learned to delegate more. (2) Bill Belichick was fired from his first head coaching job, a so-so tenure with the Cleveland Browns (1991-95). Now he's the NFL's resident genius, certainly one of the most greatest coaches ever, whether you like him or not. I can cite baseball managers who were from fired multiple times to World Series champions/Hall of Famers. Start with Casey Stengel and Joe Torre.
            So as I've heard many times this week about President-Elect Trump, let's give him a chance.
            No doubt, Orgeron will have to find an offensive coordinator who can teach and guide quarterbacks and call the right, most effective plays. We all know that offensive staleness and limitations, good-to-average (not great) QBs, and screw-ups have kept LSU from Alabama-level type success the past few years.
             But, except for the Alabama game, LSU's offense looked much more versatile and efficient with Orgeron and Ensminger in charge. They discovered that tight ends are eligible receivers more than once a game. And the LSU offensive line -- suspect at times -- has done a better job, although running backs Leonard Fournette (when not injured) and Derrius Guice don't always need a lot of help.
             The shame of the Florida game was that QB Danny Etling managed the game well and Ensminger called good plays ... except at the end. But Florida's defense should be given credit, too.
             Don't know what Ensminger's role will be now. People keep mentioning bright-boy Lane Kiffin -- Orgeron's coaching buddy -- as a possibility for offensive coordinator at LSU. I would be shocked if he left Alabama for LSU in the same position. Why would he?
           Money? Outside of Texas, who is willing to pay more money in college football than Alabama?
            My buddy Glenn Guilbeau, who does a great job covering LSU athletics for the Gannett newspapers in Louisiana, repeatedly made the case for LSU hiring Jimbo Fisher, no matter what the cost. He also thought LSU should have paid whatever for Herman. He thinks LSU "settled" for Orgeron and has to pay him a mere $3 million per year.
             I don't think it's "settling" and I certainly think that all the coaching salaries are obscene when education in general is in such financial need everywhere. But that's a different topic.
             Long-range, national championship potential year after year, I can't blame Tom Herman for picking Texas over LSU. Florida State is at least equal, if not a better spot, than LSU.
            But those of us from Louisiana love our state, our schools and our Tigers (split allegiance for me with Louisiana Tech). We've got pride in our programs.
             So maybe Orgeron is a risk. Nick Saban wasn't a special coach before his five years at LSU. 
            The last time LSU elevated a defensive line coach to head coach, that guy had the job for 19 years, took the Tigers to six major bowls (two victories each in the Sugar and Cotton Bowls, two Orange Bowl losses) and 13 bowls overall (his best team, 9-1 in 1969, didn't go to a bowl), and he now has a football practice facility named for him.
            "Cholly Mac" -- Charlie McClendon -- had been a nine-year LSU assistant when promoted in 1962 after Paul Dietzel joined the Army.     
             The last time a Louisiana native son was named LSU head coach, one of the school's greatest players, he lasted four years. Jerry Stovall's 1982 Tigers went to the Orange Bowl; he was fired after the next season.
            The last time an LSU assistant coach was promoted to head coach, defensive coordinator Mike Archer, he lasted four years. The program was somewhat in disarray after that, and two what proved to be mediocre hires later (Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo), it took a then-big money hire (Saban) to eventually bring LSU back to yearly football prominence as it had been in the early McClendon years.
              Les Miles, for all his foibles, kept it there. He was entertaining and the players and even media appreciated him. But his last five seasons, watching his Tigers also was exasperating.
              And so we have Coach O. From a media standpoint, for what it's worth, he's not smooth or polished, pretty stilted actually. But he is charming, in a way. His media presence doesn't really matter if he can he recruit, get his kids to play and to behave properly on and off the field, and get them to go to class and prepare for their futures (in or out of football). 
              And ... and ... and ... if the Tigers can win a lot -- most -- of their football games.
              We'll see. He has his chance, and it's his dream job. "It's bigger than life," he said today.