LSU Coach Ed Orgeron calls it “Tell The Truth Monday.”
Every Monday during the season Orgeron meets with his team and gives them the unvarnished truth.
“All the good and all the bad,” Orgeron said when I met with him earlier this year. “You don’t hold anything back.”
Well, it’s no longer Monday but here is my “Tell the Truth Wednesday” when it comes to the LSU football team.
Saturday’s national-televised game at Texas will be the 79th as a head coach for Orgeron. After winning 10 games last season, LSU is trying to make that difficult step from good to elite. Thus, how important is Saturday’s game in Austin?
“Very important,” said Orgeron. “But there will be a lot of games down the road just as important or more important. We better learn how to handle this."
I would take it a step further. It will also, IMHO, be the most important game of his career.
Yep. You read that right. Because if LSU beats Texas in a nationally-televised (7:30 p.m., ABC) game on one of college football’s grandest stages, two things will happen:
LSU will become a legitimate challenger to Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma and others for the national championship.
The national perception of Orgeron as a head coach will change overnight.
Orgeron, in his third full season as the head coach at LSU, has spent the better part of a decade trying to prove that he belongs in the conversation when people talk about the best coaches in college football. He wants to be more that the guy who got fired after a 10-25 record at Ole Miss (2005-2007). He wants to be more that the entertaining former defensive line coach whose gravelly voice sounds like it comes from the bottom of a cayenne pepper-aged barrel.
He wants to show he can recruit and game plan with the likes of Saban, Smart, Mullen and, Fisher.
Then he has to win a huge game when the whole world is watching. And a big chunk of the world will be watching Saturday night.
He knows that he was not LSU’s first choice to be head coach. That was Tom Herman who now is the head coach at Texas, giving us another layer of irony to Saturday night’s proceedings. And it is accurate to say that a significant number of LSU fans were not happy that the powers that be couldn’t get one of the blue bloods to come to Baton Rouge. They believe LSU settled by hiring a good defensive line coach and a great recruiter. In their minds it was not a recipe for beating Saban, which Orgeron has yet to do.
Orgeron’s response to the doubters has been to surround himself with more and more good people. Some things have worked and some things haven’t:
**--Keeping defensive coordinator Dave Aranda when Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher tried to hire him away in 2018 and making him the highest-paid assistant in college football ($2.5 million per season) was critical.
**--Hiring Matt Canada away from the New England Patriots as offensive coordinator in 2017 did not work. The two men didn’t see eye-to-eye and Canada was given a nice settlement and a gag order. Moving assistant Steve Ensminger to OC last year and then bringing in Saints assistant Joe Brady to juice up the offense this spring looks pretty promising after the 55-3 opening win over Georgia Southern on Aug. 31.
**--Orgeron continues to learn the time management and organizational skills of being a head coach, something that was sorely lacking in his three years at Ole Miss. To that end Orgeron hired former USC head coach John Robinson as a consultant to the head coach. Robinson will assist Orgeron with his “daily planning of practice, personnel, and game planning.” That is no small thing.
**--LSU’s quarterback play had been below average since Zach Mettenberger left after the 2013 season. After average play from Purdue transfer Danny Etling in 2017, Orgeron and staff scoured the country to find graduate transfer Joe Burrow from Ohio State, who led the Tigers to a 10-win season in 2018. He threw five touchdown passes before halftime against Georgia Southern Saturday night. Burrow threw to 14 different receivers. He is the most dynamic LSU quarterback since Matt Flynn, who led the Tigers to the 2007 national championship.
I would argue that Orgeron’s biggest win to date at LSU was last season’s 36-16 thumping of No. 2 Georgia at Tiger Stadium. LSU was coming off a 29-17 loss to No. 22 Florida in Gainesville and had its collective backs to the wall. LSU had to win to make the Alabama game two weeks later still mean something. LSU dominated Georgia and then lost to No. 1 Alabama 29-0 in Baton Rouge.
Orgeron’s biggest road win to date came last season at Auburn when Cole Tracy, another crucial transfer, kicked a 42-yard field goal on the final play of the game to give LSU a 22-21 victory.
That was big. A win over Texas would be bigger. Trust me.
Beat Texas and LSU has a relatively easy path (Northwestern State, Vanderbilt, Utah State) before yet another big game with Florida on Oct. 12.
Beat Texas and Orgeron gets a big shot of credibility and confidence. Both are necessary.