ENGSTER: Orgeron at the Gate to Greatness

On the afternoon of Oct. 27, Edward Jim Orgeron reached the pinnacle of his profession. The 58-year-old journeyman coach from the remote Cajun outpost of LaRose is maestro of the team ranked No. 1 in the land. Orgeron’s ascension to the peak of his game is 12 years removed from his abrupt firing at Ole Miss, where he lost 21 of 24 SEC assignments in three years.

LSU is 8-0 and ranked ahead of Nick Saban’s Alabama monolith as the Tigers and Tide prepare for a Tuscaloosa duel a week from Saturday. Talk about David and Goliath. Orgeron enters the new Game of the Century with a career record of 22-28 (44 percent) in SEC play. Saban boasts a record of 116-25 (82.3 percent) in SEC competition.

Orgeron invades Bama Land with the best sharpshooter at quarterback for LSU since Bert Jones paraded into Birmingham 47 years ago. Joe Burrow is hoping for better results. The Ruston Rifle played well, but LSU lost 35-21, and Charlie McClendon chose to punt in the fourth quarter rather than have the best passer in the nation give it a whirl on fourth down.

Jones grimaced at his coach for giving up. There will be no repeat of that occurrence at Bryant-Denny. Orgeron and Joe Burrow enter the clash on the same page with both obsessed at avenging last year’s 29-0 shutout at Death Valley.

Alabama’s gifted quarterback Tua Taglovailoa is hobbling and will not be at full capacity for his date with LSU, but carries the Alabama mystique into the battle and it is that aura of invincibility that has enabled the Tide to win eight straight times against its storied rival.

Everything for 2019 rests on the Nov. 9 outcome with the NCAA, SEC and SEC West championships at stake along with the Heisman Trophy, which might as well be delivered to Burrow or Tua based on the final score.

Orgeron is also in range of eclipsing Saban in this year’s recruiting derby. LSU has 23 commitments, including three five-star players who hail from California, Georgia and Washington D.C. Fifteen of Coach O’s commitments are from out of state. It is an amazing collection of athletes from every part of the U.S.

Orgeron has 84-year-old USC legend John Robinson at his side as a consultant, and Robinson knows what is like to beat a great Alabama team on the road. Robinson directed USC to a 24-14 over Alabama at Legion Field in 1978. Unfortunately for USC, the 11-1 Trojans shared the NCAA crown with the 11-1 Crimson Tide.

Robinson was 43 when he captured national honors nearly half a lifetime ago. Here are the ages of the NCAA coaches to win titles in the last 40 years. When there are multiple championships, the age of the first crown is listed.

Year                       Coach                                                    Age at first NCAA Title

1979                       Bear Bryant                                        37 at Kentucky in 1950

1980                       Vince Dooley                                     48 at Georgia in 1980

1981                       Danny Ford                                         33 at Clemson in 1981

1982                       Joe Paterno                                        56 at Penn State in 1982

1983                       Howard Schnellenberger              49 at Miami of Florida In 1983

1984                       Lavell Edwards                                  54 at BYU in 1984

1985                       Barry Switzer                                     37 at Oklahoma in 1974

1986                       Paterno

1987                       Jimmy Johnson                                 44 at Miami of Florida In 1987

1988                       Lou Holtz                                             51 at Notre Dame in 1988

1989                       Dennis Erickson                                42 at Miami of Florida in 1989

1990                       Bobby Ross                                         54 at Georgia Tech in 1990

1990                       Bill McCartney                                   52 at Colorado in 1990

1991                       Don James                                          59 at Washington in 1991

1992                       Gene Stallings                                   57 at Alabama in 1992

1993                       Bobby Bowden                                 64 at FSU in 1993

1994                       Tom Osborne                                    57 at Nebraska in 1994

1995                       Osborne

1996                       Steve Spurrier                                   51 at Florida in 1996

1997                       Osborne

1998                       Philip Fulmer                                      48 at Tennessee in 1998

1999                       Bowden

2000                       Bob Stoops                                         40 at Oklahoma in 2000

2001                       Larry Coker                                         53 at Miami of Florida in 2001

2002                       Jim Tressel                                          50 at Ohio State in 2002

2003                       Nick Saban                                          52 at LSU in 2003

2003                       Pete Carroll                                        52 at USC in 2003

2004                       Carroll

2005                       Mack Brown                                       54 at Texas in 2005

2006                       Urban Meyer                                     42 at Florida in 2006

2007                       Les Miles                                             54 at LSU in 2007

2008                       Meyer

2009                       Saban

2010                       Gene Chizik                                        49 at Auburn in 2010

2011                       Saban

2012                       Saban

2013                       Jimbo Fisher                                       48 at FSU in 2013

2014                       Meyer

2015                       Saban

2016                       Dabo Swinney                                   47 at Clemson in 2016

2017                       Saban

2018                       Swinney

If Orgeron becomes the fourth LSU coach in modern time to win the NCAA football title, he will become the third oldest man to earn the championship for the first time. Only Bobby Bowden of FSU and Don James of Washington were older when they reached the throne room, and in those cases, it was the culmination of long head coaching careers.

The LSU leader is a testament to tenacity in staying the course through wounds that in some cases were self-inflicted to be perched at the brink of immortality. Some exceptional coaches like McClendon and Bo Schembechler of Michigan toiled for a generation at top flight schools and did not win NCAA honors. LSU is so good this year that nobody will be stunned if their resilient coach hoists a trophy on Jan. 13, 2020 at the Superdome.

LSU Alums Vying for Governor

Louisiana voters will choose their next governor on Nov. 16 between incumbent John Bel Edwards and challenger Eddie Rispone, both graduates of LSU.

Governors often are seen at LSU games with a few like John McKeithen frequent visitors to the practice field. When LSU wins, Louisiana chief executives are usually there to hear the roar of the crowd. When the Tigers lose, defeat is usually an orphan produced by the beleaguered head coach.

Here are the LSU Records under the last ten Louisiana governors:

Governor                            LSU Record during their term/s                 Years as Governor

Kathleen Blanco               43-9                       82.7 percent                       2004-07

John Bel Edwards             35-11                     76.1 percent                       2016-19

Bobby Jindal                       78-25                     75.7 percent                       2008-15

Jimmy Davis                       31-10-2                 75.6 percent                       1960-63

John McKeithen                    63-22-3                 74.1 percent                       1964-71

Mike Foster                      65-33                     66.3 percent                       1996-2003

Edwin Edwards             114-67-6        63.0 percent     1972-79, 1984-87, 1992-95

Earl Long                            54-37-3           59.3 percent   1939, 1958-51, 1956-59

Dave Treen                         22-21-2                 51.2 percent                       1980-83

Buddy Roemer                  22-23                     48.9 percent                       1988-91

The three NCAA championship governors were Earl Long in 1958, Mike Foster in 2003 and Kathleen Blanco in 2007.

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