Could LSU's Ed Orgeron be the SEC/National Coach of the Year?

Quarterback Joe Burrow on Ed Orgeron: "He' the kind of coach you really, really want to play for."Matt Bush/USA Today
Tony Barnhart

Go ahead LSU fans. Just admit it.

In November of 2016, when interim head coach Ed Orgeron was named permanent head coach at LSU, you had doubts. Lots of doubts.

Tom Herman had left you at the altar to go to Texas.

Twice you had looked hard at Jimbo Fisher but he wanted too much money (which he eventually got it at Texas A&M).

And that left you with the gravelly-voiced Orgeron, who was 10-25 (3-21 SEC) in his only three years as a head coach at Ole Miss. It was a disaster. Oregon wasn't close to being ready to be ahead coach.

Says who? Says Orgeron.

“I made a lot of mistakes at Ole Miss,” Orgeron said when we met in his office a while back. “I tried to do too much. I promised myself that if I ever got another chance I would do things a lot differently.”

Yeah, but how many guys who were 10-25 get a second chance at a blue-blood program like LSU? This decision was not without some risk.

Orgeron was 6-2 as the interim head coach when Lane Kiffin got fired at USC. He was also 6-2 as the interim at LSU when Les Miles was relieved of his head coaching duties in late September of 2016.

But it’s one thing to be the interim coach at LSU and to hold the season together with a talented team. It’s something entirely different to be the face—and the voice—of a power house program on a daily basis.

And you certainly know this: A big chunk of LSU fans looked at Orgeron as a great defensive line coach and a great recruiter. But nothing more. They thought he lacked the sophistication and star power of a Nick Saban.

Because let’s be perfectly honest here. Ultimately that’s what all schools want in a head coach. They not only want to win but they want to do it with rock star like Saban, Urban Meyer, or Bob Stoops--a coach that other schools covet. Ed Orgeron, who signed with LSU out of high school and then transferred to Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La., was certainly not a rock star.

But look at what Ed Orgeron has done in the 2-plus seasons since he became the full-time head coach at LSU:

**--In 2017 he tried to fix the offense, which is why Miles was fired in the first place. Orgeron hired Matt Canada away from Pittsburgh. But Canada’s style, which included a lot of player movement before the snap, did not mesh with Orgeron’s philosophy or his personality. LSU went 9-4 which included a 24-21 loss to Troy at Tiger Stadium. Orgeron fired Canada in January of 2018.

“It’s tough when you make a mistake,” Oregon said that summer at SEC Media Days. “But it’s even tougher not to admit you made a mistake.”

**--In 2018 he elevated Steve Ensminger from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator. But Orgeron knew that the offense was not going to get significantly better unless the Tigers found an upgrade at quarterback. Enter Joe Burrow, the transfer from Ohio State.

With Burrow throwing for 2,894 and 16 touchdowns the Tigers went 10-3, beating UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.

**--But one of those losses was 29-0 to Alabama. Orgeron knew that LSU was not going to reach its ultimate goal—beating Alabama and winning the SEC West—unless he took another aggressive step outside of his comfort zone. Enter Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints as the new passing game coordinator. He was given the green light to radically change the offense.

And the rest is history.

Through seven games this season, LSU is No. 2 (behind Oklahoma) in the nation in scoring offense (50.1 ppg). Burrow leads the nation in passing yards (2,484 yards) and touchdown passes (29). And Burrow, whose has already broken the school record for touchdown passes in a season, is one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy.

**--And then there is this: On Saturday LSU (7-0, 3-0 SEC) will play No. 9 Auburn (3:30 p.m., CBS) at Tiger Stadium. After week off, they go to No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 9.

Orgeron is 7-3 against Top 10 opponents as LSU’s head coach. You read that right.

Here is one other thing: Since his dismissal and Ole Miss a million years ago Orgeron has spent a lot of time acknowledging his weaknesses as a head coach and addressing them. In the off season he hired Hall of Fame coach John Robinson as his special assistant to help fill in the knowledge gaps about being a head coach.

Bottom line: Orgeron has proven his critics wrong and reminded us all that there is more than one way to win.

“Coach O is the perfect coach for this team,” Burrow said earlier this summer. “He’s a guy you really, really want to play for.”

He’s also a guy who could be the SEC Coach of the Year—or maybe even the National Coach of the Year--when this season is over.

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Tony Barnhart

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