Positives, And Concerns, Surrounding Ed Orgeron As LSU’s New Head Football Coach

He’s no longer an interim coach, and Ed Orgeron is excited.

That was readily apparent when the head man had his introductory press conference on Saturday…

Orgeron’s press conference was moving. It’s clear he’s got the job he’s always wanted and he grasps the enormity of the opportunity he’s getting – an opportunity that on sheer resume’ alone he’s frankly a reach for. But head coaches don’t succeed on paper; the impact of “intangibles” on a coach’s performance are huge, and Orgeron brings two things to the table which any objective analysis of his chances to do well at LSU has to take into account.

Those being humility and passion.

Orgeron is, by all accounts, a much more humble guy than Les Miles was. Miles was very likable, for sure, and he was entertaining to watch as a coach even if the brand of football he presented was often mind-numbing. But what brought Miles down at LSU was, plain and simple, a lack of humility. Miles refused to recognize that offensively, the game had passed him by – and the Bo Schembechler three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality which pervaded his team’s performance had become an existential threat to his job at LSU. That stubborn attitude even persisted to November of last year when he almost lost his job amid a booster revolt that sparked a political fight over his buyout; Miles managed to win that fight through more or less dumb luck, and proceeded to make no adjustments to his offensive scheme despite being told that was the specific cause of his trouble. As such he deserved his firing a lot more than the $8 million in go-away money LSU will be paying him over the next six years if he doesn’t get a new job in that time frame.

With Orgeron, you’re unlikely to have that problem. Orgeron has failed as a coach before in large measure because of that stubbornness. He’s admitted he made mistakes at Ole Miss, where he was let go after three years with a 10-25 overall record and just three wins in 24 chances against SEC teams, in attempting to force the USC offense on a coordinator in Noel Mazzone who wasn’t suitably familiar with it and also by meddling with his position coaches. At stints as the interim head coach at first USC and now LSU, he’s backed off from those mistakes and made a point of letting his assistants do their jobs without as much interference. That’s an indication of humility, and an understanding he doesn’t have all the answers and his success depends on doing what works rather than attempt to beat a square peg into a round hole all the time. College football is far too competitive a profession for arrogance and stubbornness to pay off; the best are constantly adapting to changes and innovations. Orgeron has shown he can be an improvement over Miles in that regard.

And with this coach you’re going to get the kind of passion that will be infectious. Frankly, we’re not as impressed with this sudden necessity for a Louisiana man to be coaching at LSU; that’s a provincialism which has little or no value in a dog-eat-dog business like college sports is. That said, for a job which routinely requires 18-hour days of work characterized as mentally, physically and spiritually strenuous, a large dose of love and passion is essential to success – and if that passion comes from being homegrown, great. Orgeron has it. He’s used it for his entire career on the recruiting trail – at Ole Miss, even when he was coaching awful football teams it was brutally difficult to beat him for kids he was going after, even when he had no business laying a claim to them. It was maddening, for example, that LSU had to go two days past National Signing Day to finally wrest Keiland Williams, a running back from Lafayette who had an opportunity to compete for a starting job immediately for a title contender in Baton Rouge, away from Orgeron’s going-nowhere Ole Miss team. But Orgeron’s passion for what was ultimately a doomed cause at an SEC have-not made him such a good salesman that even that battle was a tough one. And in 2008, the year after Orgeron had been fired, the roster he’d assembled at Ole Miss carried his successor Houston Nutt to the Cotton Bowl.

Orgeron will recruit. And it’s a good bet Orgeron will be a lot of fun to work for, which means at least initially he should be able to assemble a good coaching staff. If he’s able to marry those qualities with a humility which allows him to make changes to what he’s doing where needed, he could be a quality chief executive for the program.

Orgeron isn’t a particular X’s and O’s guy, though. He’s going to have to have top-quality coordinators if he’s going to win. He has one in Dave Aranda, his defensive coordinator; Aranda is either the best in college football or awfully close to it. Keeping him around as long as possible will go a long way toward getting Orgeron’s era as LSU head coach on solid footing. The major perceived threat in that regard is Tom Herman’s moving to Texas, as Herman and Aranda were college roommates for a semester at Cal Lutheran. But as of Sunday morning it sounds as though Herman’s plan was to bring both his coordinators with him from Houston to Texas, and that would mean Aranda isn’t likely to jump to another college assistant position this year. Particularly when he cashes in with a sizable raise at LSU in the offseason.

The real threat to keeping Aranda comes from the NFL. When coaching staffs start turning over around the league after the first of the year, it’s entirely possible that he’s going to get some offers to move into a defensive coordinator’s role for a pro team, and his personality is extremely well suited for such a job. One would think that Aranda would rather take some time and fully install his defensive scheme at LSU – most really good college defenses produce their best results in the second and third years after being introduced, as the upperclassmen have “grown up” in the system and play instinctively within it – before running off to the NFL. But when the right offer comes along, you’ve got to take it. It’s a concern which should keep Orgeron, and LSU fans, up at night.

And then there is the question of the offensive coordinator. Somebody – we don’t really know who – has been leaking the idea that Orgeron is going to hire Lane Kiffin away from Alabama for a parallel move to take over the offense at LSU. If Orgeron got the permanent head coaching job on the basis of guaranteeing that, it’s extremely perplexing.

Kiffin currently has the best college assistant coaching job in America and he’d be crazy to leave it. Kiffin is the offensive coordinator for Nick Saban, who for the most part takes a hands-off approach to offense, and Kiffin’s quarterback is a Heisman finalist as a true freshman surrounded by future high draft picks who were at or near the top of the national recruiting rankings at their positions. Getting him to LSU on a lateral move seems like a pipe dream and there are two possible ways it could happen.

The first of those entails backing up a Brinks truck to Kiffin’s house and paying him an absurd, unwise amount of money to come to LSU. He currently makes $1.4 million per year; we’re talking about bumping that to $2 million or more. That kind of money might be justifiable to Aranda, who is already here and has already demonstrated he’s aces at LSU; to Kiffin it’s a bit tough to rationalize given some of the character issues he’s displayed in his previous coaching stops.

Which is related to the second possibility for why Kiffin might make a lateral move, that being the chance he’s worn out his welcome in Tuscaloosa and Saban has told him he needs to shove off. It’s not inconceivable that LSU hires Kiffin and then word breaks he was involved in something embarrassing off-the-field, in which case you’ve just spent a fortune hiring somebody who gives your program a black eye just by being here and becomes a negative in recruiting.

Perhaps more intriguing is the possibility Orgeron might hire another of his former co-workers at USC, Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian, who was the head coach hired after Orgeron’s stint as the interim leader at USC in 2013, is currently on hand as a consultant for Alabama’s offense and will likely be someone’s offensive coordinator next year. He’s got a good resume’ as an offensive mind; everywhere he’s been the quarterback has played pretty well and the offensive production has ranged from respectable to outstanding. Sarkisian’s stock as a head coach has been quite solid as well; it wasn’t performance on the field which killed his career at Southern Cal in 2015, it was his drinking problem.

If Sarkisian is on the wagon, he could be a home run of a hire. The problems at USC might actually play to LSU’s benefit, in that another school might be wary of giving him a head coaching position for three or four more years, and then you could get a top-notch assistant with some successful head coaching experience to lend to Orgeron’s aid, and also have him around a good while. But there is an element of risk involved in giving Sarkisian the reins to the LSU offense; he could self-destruct in the middle of the season, and take the chance to win a championship with him. LSU’s competitors will likely use that risk in recruiting against LSU as well.

There are good offensive coordinators out there beyond Kiffin or Sarkisian, though, and if Orgeron is open to finding one – and if he’s serious about moving LSU to a spread offense – then he’s going to have some good options. LSU has two very good high school quarterbacks committed, and that job is probably more marketable now than it’s ever been; the coach who takes it will have more or less free rein to install his system, future NFL players galore to run it, all the money he could want as an offensive coordinator and the prestige of a high-profile position at one of the most prominent programs in the country to serve as a springboard to a bigger job. It shouldn’t be hard to land a Dave Aranda for the offense this winter.

Our major concern with Orgeron is the Florida game this year. Frankly, that loss at home to a team LSU was favored to beat by two touchdowns would have been disqualifying were we hiring. It was the worst home loss, in terms of underperforming against the spread, since Saban stumbled against UAB in his first year at LSU back in 2000. And the sloppy play, the awful playcalling in the red zone and in particular with the game on the line, the lack of discipline evidenced by the pre-game fight the team engaged in, the strange decision to let Leonard Fournette suit up and play despite not being medically cleared after he’d gotten into a shoving match with a Florida assistant coach – the whole performance looked not-ready-for-prime-time. He can’t present that kind of product again, or else his tenure in Baton Rouge will take a fast turn in a direction he won’t like.

Those concerns having been raised, we’re on board with Orgeron as LSU’s head coach, and we wish him all the success in the world. He’s to be congratulated for playing his cards right in order to land the job of his dreams, and should he bring LSU back to national prominence as the head coach it would be the culmination of a picture-perfect Hollywood story of personal improvement and redemption. We love a story like that, and we do appreciate having a coach without an accent. He’s got our full support and our prayers.

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