Coach O has a soft place in his heart for Arkansas and not just because he’s 4-0 vs. the Razorbacks

Current LSU head coach Ed Orgeron was 25 years old when he was named a University of Arkansas football assistant strength coach in 1986 where he stayed for two seasons.

LSU head football coach Ed Orgeron will rarely tell you when he doesn’t like another coach or school.

But when he does, like his fondness for the University of Arkansas, LSU’s road opponent Saturday at 11 a.m., he doesn’t hold back.

Three years removed from his senior season as a Northwestern State defensive lineman, a 25-year Orgeron was hired as an assistant strength coach by the Razorbacks in 1986. He spent two seasons there before being hired by Miami.

“I love the place, it was my first Division I coaching job,” Orgeron said during Wednesday’s SEC coaches teleconference. “I learned a lot under (head coach) Ken Hatfield. In fact, I’m going to see him before the game. Brett Goldsmith, Dean Webber, who hired me, are tremendous guys. They taught me how to be a football coach, so I respect that school. I respect the Arkansas program. I’m glad to see Sam Pittman is bringing it back.

“Obviously, when I play them, I’m not a fan, but I’m a fan and have always been a fan of Arkansas. It’s a great place.”

The 59-year old Orgeron has a kindred spirit in the 58-year old Pittman, who until getting his first head coaching job has spent almost all of 37-year coaching career as an offensive line coach, That included three seasons at Arkansas from 2013-15 before handling the same job at Georgia the last four years.

Orgeron said he spoke on Monday with Pittman, who missed last Saturday’s Arkansas loss at Florida because he had contracted COVID-19.

“He said thank you for paving the way for line coaches to become head coaches,” Orgeron said. “He had told me that at the SEC meeting.. . .Coach Pittman and I are both line coaches and consider ourselves friends. There’s a mutual respect between he and I.

“We talked about a couple of things. He wanted to know how our COVID was and I said we were fine. I told him we would be ready to play and I congratulated him on what a great job he was doing.”

Meanwhile, Orgeron, who is 4-0 against Arkansas including last year’s 56-20 win in Baton Rouge, said he hasn’t decided on a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game.

True freshman TJ Finley, who started in both the South Carolina and Auburn games, was the only healthy scholarship quarterback that LSU had that was able to practice last week after an undisclosed number of players were in quarantine because of either COVID-19 positive tests or contact tracing.

Fellow true freshman Max Johnson, who Orgeron said was in quarantine last week, returned to practice for the first time Tuesday.

“We’re not going to make the decision until the end of the week, but it’s looks like it’s going to be him (TJ Finley) because Max was out with the quarantine,” Orgeron said.

Here’s what else Orgeron had to say:

Opening remarks

“I’d like to complement Sam Pittman and his coaching staff. What a tremendous job they’ve done to turn this Arkansas team around. Outstanding coaching job and I compliment the way their players play. They’re playing very hard. They’re a good football team and it’s going to be a challenge for us, but our guys are ready to play. We have most of our team back. We had a great practice yesterday and look forward to having a great practice today.”

On whether offensive tackle Dare Rosenthal has been reinstated

“Yes. He was suspended indefinitely from the team and we keep all of that stuff in house.”

On Rosenthal’s conditioning level

“I’m sure he’s been working out on his own. You’ve got to get in football shape. Yesterday he practiced with the second team. He looked pretty good. We’re going to have to make that decision on Friday. We’re not going to put him in if he’s not in shape. He looked like he came back in pretty good shape.”

On if he has ruled out injured starting quarterback Myles Brennan for the rest of the season

“Not yet. I talked to (LSU trainer) Jack (Marucci) yesterday. We’re still trying. We still haven’t made a decision. He hasn’t practiced yet. I think he’s going to try and practice one time this week. It doesn’t look like he’s going to play, but the final decision hasn’t been made. The decision to go ahead and operate has not been made yet.”

On the concerns Saturday’s game may be in jeopardy over reports Arkansas may have some COVID-19 cases

“I feel good. I haven’t heard anything yet. We’re planning on playing. I feel they’re going to want to play unless their numbers get so low. Our numbers got so low last week it wasn’t for the best health of the football team where we couldn’t play. I understand if their numbers get low, but I haven’t heard anything.”

On whether you’ve noticed Arkansas freshman safety Jalen Catalon on film

“Outstanding player. A great athlete. Makes a lot of plays for them.”

On what’s your sense on the morale of your team and their excitement level for Arkansas

“They’re very excited. We had an enthusiastic practice yesterday. We had most of our guys back. By the end of practice yesterday the guys were ready to play. Obviously, we have to have a great day today and a great week of preparation, get up early in the morning and play against Arkansas which is a very good football team right now.”

On playing a game at Arkansas with unseasonably warm temperatures

“It’s supposed to be 60 degrees. It’s a beautiful place up there. I spent two years up there. We’re going to be ready to play and Arkansas will be ready to play. This is a game they look forward to LSU-Arkansas is a big game.”

On the dynamic you find in kids that are from Louisiana who play against LSU. (Arkansas has a pair of Louisiana natives in its secondary in Joe Foucha and Greg Brooks Jr.)

“I believe both of those young men came to our camp. We were very close to taking both of them. You can’t take everybody, but they were right there as very important prospects in the state of Louisiana. I’m glad to see both of those guys doing well. I know the high school coaches well. I’m glad to see they’re playing well. When you’re from Louisiana and you don’t go to LSU and you play against LSU, you fire up the team and you want to have a good game and I understand that.”

On refocusing on goals with this team after winning a national championship last season

“We’ve got to take it one game at a time. We have a lot of football left. We’ve got a young football team. Many of these guys were not starters on the championship team, so this is a brand-new team. I told them we’re building a championship team. Just like we lost after Troy we had to get together and get back to the fundamentals and the basics and acquire some grit and toughness and that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re in a building phase of a championship football team. We’ve got a lot of room to grow.”

On the progress of the defense the past two weeks

“Simplifying and playing within the scheme of the defense. Really working on stance, alignment, assignment, technique and being in the right place. Being there at the right time, making the right call. Finding out whether our guys can make these adjustments. If they can’t we’re not going to make them. We practiced for the last two weeks the things that hurt us which was a lot. There’s some concepts that have given us problems and we’re trying to eliminate those problems concepts.”

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