NEW ORLEANS – One thing was clear Sunday morning when coaches Ed Orgeron of No. 1 LSU and Dabo Swinney of No. 3 Clemson met with the media here for the last time before Monday night’s College Football Playoff national championship game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
And that’s these teams can’t wait for the 7 p.m. kickoff.
“The guys are getting excited,” Orgeron said. “They are getting antsy. I can feel it. I’m getting antsy, too. But I think we have to continue to work up through game time.”
“Both these teams are ready to play,” Swinney said. “You can only practice so much.”
This is the first national title game with two head coaches that started as interim coaches at their schools. That kinship is why there is such a high level of respect between Orgeron and Swinney.
“I want to congratulate Coach Swinney and his outstanding achievements so far that he’s done as a coaching career,” Orgeron said of Swinney, whose team has a 29-game winning streak and two national championships in the last three years. “I think he’s a model of other coaches that have been interim coaches and had success. He’s a friend of mine. I have a lot of respect for him, a lot of respect for his football team.”
Swinney returned the compliment tenfold.
“You have to just be genuine in everything that you do,” Swinney said, “and man, that’s what I love about Coach O, and have for a long time, not just since he’s been at LSU. He’s one of the most genuine, passionate people that you see in this business, and it resonates with his players. That’s why he’s been so successful.”
Here’s Orgeron on other subjects:
On the playing status of previously injured starting offensive guard Damien Lewis
Damien is ready to play. (LSU trainer) Jack Marucci and (strength and conditioning coach) Tommy Moffitt, those guys, (director of health and wellness) Shelly (Mullenix), everybody down there, they do a tremendous job. I’ve never been around a training staff that gets guys back so fast.
On his “block out the noise” mantra
At the beginning of my career (when Orgeron was Ole Miss head coach in 2005-07), I had to block out the negative noise. There was a lot of negative noise. I couldn’t let it affect me, and there was no way I would. And I know the team would listen to stuff like that, but it was about blocking out the noise.
Early in my career at LSU we faced some adversity, some strong adversity, and it was time to block out the noise. We can see through the adversity it made us stronger. I do believe the loss to Troy (24-21 in 2017) was a turning point in our program. It helped us realize what we had to get done, what we had to do as a coaching staff, as players. We could never let our hands down. We always have our hands up and ready to prepare for every game.
I think now the noise is good. Look, they’re going to be on that Twitter machine. I know they will. You can’t stop them, know what I’m saying? But we don’t talk about individual awards. We don’t talk about anything except the task at hand, and we keep everything team, and I think that helps us out.
On his Cajun heritage
I’m very proud of being Cajun. My grandparents didn’t speak English, and my mother and father spoke Cajun French at the table and then when they wanted to talk about me they spoke Cajun French, so I learned Cajun French. So, I’m excited to be at LSU at home where we’re proud of our Cajun heritage. We’re proud to be from Louisiana. I’m just feel at home here. People that made fun of my accent before, I thank them. That gave me internal motivation to do better, so I thank them to be motivators of my career.
On playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome
There’s a lot of things you can look at this game for motivation, and the only motivation we’ve used is to finish strong and focus on winning the game. But those external motivations are there. These guys have always wanted to play in the Dome. (LSU safety) Grant Delpit is from New Orleans. His family was displaced from (Hurricane) Katrina. All his family will be there. It will mean more to our guys that we’re playing here in New Orleans for the championship, no question.
On senior linebacker Michael Divinity’s decision to return to the team after being suspended for the last six games
I know the special circumstances to opt out to go to the NFL, and again, that’s their personal decision. But me personally, I think I’m a team man; you stay with your team. Michael did that. Michael had a chance to go out early last year. He wanted to come back. He wanted to finish his career at LSU. He had a bump in the road. He could have left to get ready for the NFL. He didn’t. He paid his penalty, and he came back. He practiced with the team every day. He did the thing he was supposed to, and now he’s playing in the championship game. So, it tells you a lot about his character, tells you a lot about his grit and who he is.
Mike is going to help us, especially in pass rush situations. Now, there’s a certain situation he could be on the field on 1st down. It all depends what personnel grouping we get, but Mike is a very good player, a very good pass rusher. He brings energy to the football team.
On the 2014 season when he was out of coaching and home in Mandeville
It was a good time. I didn’t get the job at USC. I realize now it was for a reason. It was to come home. I got to spend a whole year. I had never seen my kids play. I went to every practice, every game. Cooked a lot of food in the backyard. Had a blast. And then was very fortunate that (then-LSU head) Coach (Les) Miles hired me. I wanted to come back to Louisiana. I wanted to be at LSU, and Coach Miles hired me, and for that I’m forever grateful.