There are two ways to talk about LSU deciding to promote interim leader Ed Orgeron to full-time head football coach. One of them is in a normal voice, the type that most humans have. The other is in a gravelly Cajun grumble, something that you could replicate only by paying a backwoods Bayou doctor to transplant a gator’s voice box into your throat. The latter voice is Orgeron’s, and it can talk you into anything.
The first voice says that LSU just messed up. In September it fired Les Miles, a man who long seemed to possess exactly the right combination of coaching skill and pure insanity to succeed in Baton Rouge. His good teams appeared in national championship games, while his bad teams went 8–5. Axing Les indicated that LSU was not content to merely win a lot of games and finish behind Alabama in the SEC West standings. By firing him, the Tigers made clear that they would land a top-level coach, the type who could consistently make this team elite.
LSU tried hiring two of those coaches. The first was Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, who used to serve as the Tigers offensive coordinator and reportedly turned down a raise from LSU to stay with the Seminoles. Then, on Thursday night, it was widely reported that LSU was negotiating with former Houston coach Tom Herman, who had been the hottest name on the market for months. By Saturday afternoon, though, Herman was named Texas’s head coach. It would be one thing if Fisher and Herman really did consider LSU before deciding that other jobs were better. It’s another to imagine the likely possibility that both used the Tigers as a bargaining chip to convince the moneybags at their respective schools to pay up.
And so LSU turned to Orgeron. He seemed like the smart call as the Tigers interim coach — he’d gone 6–2 in a memorable stint as USC’s interim guy after the school fired Lane Kiffin in 2013 — but it wasn’t clear that he was right for a head job. Most of Orgeron’s career has been spent as a position coach. The exception was a failed stint at Ole Miss, where his lasting legacies are a Hummer commercial, a funny song, and one of the worst winning percentages in program history (28.6 percent). He won 10 combined games from 2005 to 2007, fewer than Miles won in many individual seasons at LSU. Miles was fired for routinely failing to win the SEC West; his replacement has a history of finishing last in the same division.
But then there’s that other voice.
It’s true that no other schools were clamoring to hire Orgeron. But Coach O likely wouldn’t be a good fit at many other schools. Plenty of coaches say they’ve just landed their dream job during introductory press conferences. With Orgeron, who grew up on the Bayou Lafourche and once dreamed of playing for the Tigers (it didn’t work out), that’s clearly true. He cried while thanking his mother and late father during the presser, and if you want to learn more about them, read all the incredibly Cajun things in this story about Orgeron’s life by Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples — my personal favorites are the descriptions of Orgeron’s mother’s cooking. Miles adopted Louisiana. Orgeron was born in it, molded by it. (I’m paraphrasing Bane, who actually sounds a lot like Orgeron, except he speaks in a higher pitch and I can understand a higher percentage of what he says.)
The story of Orgeron’s transformation is well-documented. SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey, who has covered Coach O better than anyone, wrote a great piece in which he recounted how Orgeron (a) challenged him to a fight, (b) once beat a person up so badly the police thought his opponent was dead, and (c) ripped his shirt off and challenged his Ole Miss players to fight him. Now, Orgeron is one of the most beloved humans in coaching. The bond between Orgeron and the players he coached at USC was so strong that when he resigned after the Trojans hired Steve Sarkisian in December 2013, three of them compared his decision to the death of a father — including one who had lost his father in real life. Coach O even developed a loving relationship with the band, thanking the members with handwritten letters and passionately directing them with a sword.
It might seem stupid to harp so much on Orgeron’s personality, but there’s a link between how a coach acts and how well his team plays. When Orgeron was a dick, his players strongly disliked him and his teams weren’t good. Now they love him, and play their asses off for the ex-asshole.
Orgeron’s persona is as important to his potential for success at LSU as his coaching skill. He’s said that the best thing he’s done as an interim coach is allow his assistants to do their jobs without meddling much. He’ll be able to keep doing that. In his Saturday press conference, Orgeron talked about how it was his goal to retain top young defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, and rumor is that he’s trying to hire Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, whom he previously worked under at Tennessee and USC.
It’s a ridiculous turn of events. Kiffin is famed for his upward mobility, and Orgeron could try to persuade his former boss to leave a more successful program to serve as his underling. But if it somehow works out, Orgeron will be in great shape.
With a strong staff under him, Coach O will be able to focus on what he’s best at: his natural ability to create strong relationships with players and prospects alike. He recruited Cortez Kennedy, Warren Sapp, and the Rock at Miami — no, the Rock didn’t become a famous football player, but he’s the Rock, so we’re going to rank him ahead of several more prominent players Coach O has landed — and has long been sought after as a recruiting guru. Louisiana is stocked with studs, and it’s easy to imagine Orgeron cleaning up. As a lead recruiter for LSU, Orgeron has been responsible for landing oodles of four- and five-star recruits. As head coach, that should continue, and perhaps even improve. How could the Cajun coach walk into a Louisiana living room and not leave with a verbal commitment?
The ability to make people believe in you is a talent. Orgeron has it, and it’s easier to imitate his voice than his ability to get people to buy in. And while it objectively doesn’t make much sense that Orgeron can succeed at LSU, I believe that he can.
I hear the rational analysis about why LSU could have done better here. The Tigers fired a good coach, whiffed on two attempts to land prominent and established replacements, and quickly settled for a retread. But I also hear Orgeron. I can’t quite make out what he’s saying, except he keeps saying the word “Louisiana” in a way that only somebody from Louisiana can say “Louisiana.” Maybe he’s talking about football, maybe he’s selling me a purple-and-gold Hummer, maybe he’s just reading a family nutria recipe. But whatever he’s hollering, I believe him.