Editor’s Note: This is the second of a nine-part series surveying the LSU football program following the end of the 2018 regular season, this time focusing on head coach Ed Orgeron. For Part One, click here.
We’re going to offer some pointed criticisms of him to come, but Ed Orgeron deserves a lot of credit for the work he’s done this year. It wouldn’t be accurate to say everything is as it needs to be where LSU football is concerned, and some things do need to be fixed, but Orgeron has run a pretty good program in 2018.
Orgeron has done a lot of things to address problems in his program since he took over, and those were evident this year. His kicking game was terrible in 2017, and Orgeron turned that around completely this season with the hire of Greg McMahon as his special teams coach and the additions of Avery Atkins as the kickoff man and Cole Tracy as the placekicker.
He had some major problems with coaching staff chemistry last year, so Orgeron changed out Matt Canada for Steve Ensminger and while the results on the field have been mixed – LSU went from 27.2 points and 411.1 yards per game in 2017 to 31.8 points and 389.3 yards per game in 2018 against a tougher schedule with less talent at running back and wide receiver – you haven’t heard much talk about a dysfunctional relationship inside the football office like in 2017.
Which matters. To the fans, perhaps it doesn’t, but it matters. Over the long run the coaches have to be able to work well together or it’s just a matter of time before things collapse. Whether it was Orgeron’s fault or Canada’s (we actually loved Canada’s offensive scheme and the personnel LSU had on offense this year might have actually been better suited to running it than last year’s group was), that relationship had gone sour and the program probably would have suffered more damage by trying to repair it than by just moving on.
And the addition of Joe Burrow was a fantastic move. Amid the disappointment of the Texas A&M loss, one thing is clear – Burrow is the kind of leader you can build a championship-level team around, because he will give a superhuman effort to win. LSU hasn’t had a quarterback like that since Matt Flynn, and Flynn won a national title. With Burrow back next year, there is certainly reason for optimism.
Orgeron managed to hold LSU together through a lot of adversity this season, when a coach who’s manifestly unqualified for his job wouldn’t have been able to post this level of success against this difficult a schedule with this many injuries and other player attrition. Think about the losses – Ed Ingram and Tyler Taylor suspended and Drake Davis expelled prior to the season, Lowell Narcisse and Justin McMillan transferring, then season-ending injuries to Jamal Pettigrew, Thaddeous Moss and K’Lavon Chaisson, other injuries requiring missed time from players like Adrian Magee, Saadiq Charles, Garrett Brumfield, Breiden Fehoko, Ed Alexander, Jacob Phillips, John Battle and Kristian Fulton – and you realize how easily the season could have deteriorated into a mess. Even with all of those losses it still took a mind-boggling series of hard-to-explain unfortunate events courtesy of Matt Austin and the SEC officiating clownshow to keep LSU from getting its 10th win at Kyle Field.
We’re going to discuss our thoughts on Steve Ensminger as the offensive coordinator later in this series, but what can be said about Ensminger is that for all the snickering and prophesies of offensive doom befalling LSU, he hasn’t been anything like the disaster some had predicted.
Orgeron should get some credit for that. He should get the respect of the LSU fan base – even from those who remain unsold on him as the savior of Tiger football. He did a solid job this year.
Next: A championship season in 2018 simply wasn’t meant to be for LSU.