HOOVER, Ala. — Ed Orgeron had an answer for everything Monday … and that was sad.
The best part of the LSU coach’s persona is gone, stowed away like an old moth-eaten letter sweater. No more ripped shirt after which Orgeron reportedly challenged his first Ole Miss team to a fight. No more guzzling energy drinks like 5-hour Energy’s stock price depended on it.
“I’m calmer now,” Orgeron told the gathered masses here at the kickoff of the 2017 SEC Media Days.
Told you it was sad.
Whatever Orgeron becomes in this golden ticket of a second chance as an SEC head coach, we’ll probably never see the wild man who got him to this point in the first place.
“I’ve eased into the head coach mode,” Orgeron said. “I’ve always wanted to be a head coach. If I wanted to be a head coach, I needed to start acting like a head coach, not a defensive line coach.”
For 24 of his 25 years as an assistant, Orgeron has coached the defensive line. He’s never been a coordinator. Somewhere between being fired at Ole Miss in 2007 and getting a second chance at LSU last year, Orgeron had a revelation about how he should conduct himself.
Coach O became Coach Orgeron. All that ranting and raving? Gone. Since that time, the coach says he is 12-4 as an interim coach (at USC and LSU).
And we’re less entertained because of it.
It might as well been a cardboard cutout of Ed Orgeron up there at the podium speaking before more than 1,100 media while going over his starting roster like it was an accounts receivable ledger.
There have been more exciting filibusters on the Senate floor. The only time Orgeron seemed flustered was when a network production assistant asked him to yell, “Are you ready?” into a camera in one of the back interview rooms.
“Are you sure you want me to say that?” Orgeron asked. “Can I say something else?”
As any self-respecting Rebel knows those are the first three words of “Hotty Toddy,” Ole Miss’ traditional cheer.
And those days in Oxford (2005-07) might well be forgotten as the colorful Coach O.
“I’m older now,” he concluded, “I’m 56.”
This is not exactly an assessment of his coaching abilities. God bless the man. How many SEC coaches go 10-25 at Ole Miss then resurface 10 years later replacing the winningest coach in LSU history?
The man must know something even if his athletic director does not. The last two seasons, LSU AD Joe Alleva chased Jimbo Fisher — clumsily.
Depending how you look at it, Alleva also let Tom Herman play him before Herman went to Texas.
“A lot of factors had to happen for me to get the job at LSU,” Orgeron admitted.
But he was always going to be there. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being the last man standing.
LSU players, like USC’s before them, love Coach O. He’s always been a rah-rah guy. Now he’s just a smarter rah-rah guy, surrounding himself with a capable staff, including new offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
Receiver D.J. Chark told the story of Orgeron cancelling winter conditioning one day to stage a home run derby at LSU’s softball field.
“First, we were reluctant,” Chark said. “At LSU we never get some kind of break like that. It definitely shows that he gets us. As an athlete you have to grind. There are times when your body really needs a break.”
Orgeron is part of the what the SEC is today as a coaching incubator: During the 2010 season, the SEC roster of coaches included five who had won or were in the process of winning a national championship (Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Gene Chizik and Steve Spurrier).
Back then, that was almost half the league. Less than seven years later, Orgeron is one five in the league who have yet to start a third season at their current school (Jim McElwain, Kirby Smart, Barry Odom and Will Muschamp).
We’ll see how all of it works out. Those five have a combined .539 winning percentage.
None of this is Orgeron’s fault, but he knows the stakes. LSU’s coach is still on a honeymoon that will last about as long the final whistle of the next game the Tigers aren’t supposed to lose.
Coach O was always going to be there no matter how much Alleva bungled the search. Orgeron doesn’t care. How many guys get that second shot at an SEC head coaching job? Well, two at the moment, including Muschamp at South Carolina.
That’s part of what the SEC is today, too. If you’re looking for reasons why the conference has to rehab its image, look no further than its lack of coaching depth.
Also look at Nick Saban, the ultimate coach killer. Les Miles might have been Saban’s latest “victim” despite being one of only three people walking the planet who have beaten the Alabama coach in consecutive meetings. (Spurrier and Hugh Freeze are the others.)
Coach O wants to make it four.
“The quarterback made two plays,” Orgeron said of last season’s 10-0 loss to the Tide. “We didn’t. I don’t know it isn’t that big a gap.”
For one brief moment, there was some fiercely competitive blood pumping through that cardboard cutout.