LSU’s 42-21 blowout loss at Kentucky on Saturday was going to be, according to a lot of “in-the-know” observers, the last straw for the head coaching career of Ed Orgeron.
At least in Baton Rouge.
But it’s Monday morning, and we’re coming up on two days after that loss, when the team clearly quit on its coach – and perhaps with good reason, because word has leaked out of a violent pregame tirade Orgeron unleashed on LSU’s video staff for a hype video which the coach alleged made the players look soft – and no moves have yet been made.
Yesterday, when there was an expectation among some that LSU would relieve Orgeron of duty – Les Miles’ firing after the 2016 loss to Auburn happened on the Sunday afternoon following the game – a new rumor surfaced which would explain why the head coach has hung on to date.
According to that story, athletic director Scott Woodward is having trouble finding an interim coach to replace Orgeron.
There aren’t many great candidates on the current coaching staff for the position. Neither of LSU’s coordinators has been a head coach before; in fact, neither Jake Peetz nor Daronte Jones had ever been a coordinator before this year. And among LSU’s position coaches there are no former head coaches, either, with one exception: wide receivers coach and assistant head coach Mickey Joseph was the head coach at Langston University in Oklahoma in 2011 and 2012.
There was some talk last week that Steve Ensminger, who was LSU’s offensive coordinator under Orgeron from 2016-20, including the 2019 national championship team, might be brought back from retirement to serve as the interim coach. We’re told Ensminger is reticent to jump back into coaching, particularly in the current circumstances. LSU’s remaining six games come against five SEC teams – Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&M, all of which will likely be double-digit favorites over the Tigers – and UL-Monroe.
Meaning, if the rumors are true, that LSU’s football program is in so much disarray right now that no one associated with it wants to try to bail it out over the short term.
And it’s unlikely Woodward would be able to bring anyone in from outside the program to coach six games.
That would indicate a long death spiral is about to unfold, and this weekend’s game with Florida could come in front of an empty Tiger Stadium even with LSU having relaxed its on-campus COVID restrictions.
Nobody thinks Orgeron is still coaching for his job. Most believe any chance of saving himself was stamped out when Kentucky ran for 330 yards in that blowout victory. At this point it’s just a question of whether he can win any of those five SEC games (it’s expected he could still beat ULM) before a change is made at the end of the season.
The problem being opt-outs and the transfer portal, because with seven weeks and six games left in the season there is a lot of noise left in the death-rattle, and with that much misery there’s a real risk of LSU’s roster being gutted by the players losing heart and heading for the exits. With an interim coach, were one to be found, there would at least be a little difference in style and communication and something of a fresh start to keep the kids interested.
As opposed to an increasingly unstable head coach who knows his career is coming to an end and who’s likely to lash out at the world.
When Woodward was the athletic director at Washington, he relieved then-head coach Tyrone Willingham midway through the 2008 season effective at its end. Willingham ended up 0-12 that year, a very poor result, but there were no embarrassments off the field obstructing a clean transition. Willingham was replaced by Steve Sarkisian, who quickly rebuilt the program to a point of competitiveness before leaving for USC after five years. Woodward then hired Chris Peterson, who brough the Huskies to their only College Football Playoff appearance.
LSU is in a much better position than Washington was in 2008. Most believe there is enough talent on this roster for a good coach to field a team belonging in the Top 25. And as the losses mount this year Woodward’s search for a new coach won’t likely be impeded by the results on the field.
But there is irony in the fact that Orgeron’s final coaching staff at LSU is so devoid of top-flight assistants that not a single one fits as an interim, and this fact has the unexpected effect of prolonging his tenure.
It’s likely to be a rough ride for the rest of the season. This could well be worse than 1999, when Gerry DiNardo’s final team went through some competitive games and close losses on the way to firing its coach.
This team has already fired its coach. But the end has not yet come. It’s going to be painful and ugly over the second half of the season.