When I saw what LSU football coach Ed Orgeron said Tuesday during an on-campus panel discussion featuring Vice President Mike Pence, I cringed.
“We need to play,” Oregron said of the 2020 football season which has been placed in peril by the coronavirus pandemic. “This state needs it. This country needs it.”
If you’ve been around Orgeron enough, you know he wears his passion on his sleeve, like his love for football and life in general. But you also understand how deeply he cares for his players.
It’s why he’s a great recruiter and why he’s developed into one of the best head coaches in college football. He knows every player on his team and their parents or guardian. Ask him about any of his players and he can tell you something about them as a player and a person and something about their families.
And let me tell you, as a sportswriter dealing with college head football coaches for four decades, that is a rare trait.
It’s called truly caring about your players. The players know it. You can’t fake that. They know Orgeron knows they are a name and a human being with thoughts and feelings and dreams and goals, and not a jersey number or a cog in a college football machine.
He’s the ultimate definition of being a “player’s coach.”
Almost two months ago as our country’s racial inequities came to a head because of the unfathomable murder of George Floyd, professional and college athletes raised their voices in protest and demanded change.
There were many college head football coaches who made public statements addressing the issue. Orgeron didn’t do so, because he and his players have always had a trusting relationship to discuss any and all issues.
He’s never had to create an outlet for their input and opinion about their team. His “one team, one heartbeat” mantra is no joke. He lives it, he breathes it.
He respects his players and they respect him because they are cut from the same cloth. Their common bond is neither were born with silver spoons in their mouths.
He still makes a multi-million business fun. Almost all, if not all his players, leave the program whether they graduate, transfer or move on to the pros knowing he has their backs for a lifetime. He feels that way even about players he recruits who sign elsewhere.
Everyone Orgeron touches, he genuinely wants them to succeed and have happy lives. He’s not an act he uses to sell LSU’s program. It’s who he is, a South Louisiana native filled with Cajun blood who lives every day like he has no time to dislike anybody.
This was obvious from the very first day he became LSU’s interim coach in 2016 when Les Miles was fired after four games. At season’s end, the message from every senior on the team was the same: “I wish I could play for more one more season under Coach O.”
The reason I winced about Orgeron’s statement on Tuesday is I knew there would be some media hack somewhere needing an easy target. There was going to be someone who couldn’t wait to nail the coach of college football’s defending national championship team to the cross, someone who doesn’t know Orgeron and was too lazy to research what he’s truly all about.
And so, there was a know-it-all missive from an NBC Sports Northwest website writer named Peter Socotch. He quickly interpreted Orgeron’s comments as the words of an uncaring coach payed a ridiculously high salary sitting in an ivory tower getting rich off his peasant players.
To prove his point, Socotch tried to paint the argument that unpaid college athletes are getting no financial renumeration to put their lives on the line to play during this pandemic.
Socotch even suggested student athletes should make demands.
Among his ideas are college athletes having the choice to sit out the season and have additional eligibility granted maintain their scholarship, having free over the top insurance policy should one contract COVID-19 and have career altered because of it, having a fund to collect dues once eligibility expires or declares for the NFL, having the right to take legal action against the school and NCAA and having college coaches work for free and give money back to universities.
Socotch is so out of touch with reality that he’s criticizing the fact universities want to play football because if they don’t they’ll lose billions of dollars. He must think athletic departments are funded by GoFundMe accounts.
Schools aren’t taking this decision to play or not play a full or abbreviated college football season lightly. They want their athletes safe and healthy.
But they also know scholarships awarded to athletes in all sports are funded by ticket sales, concession and merchandise sales, TV contracts and donations. Scholarships aren’t free. Somebody has to pay for them.
School administrators also know the devastating negative economic impact no football season will have on already suffering college towns.
It’s why colleges are considering every possible plan to play a football season and other fall sports seasons such as soccer, volleyball and cross country. They are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to make a safe return for their athletes to a sport they truly love.
Schools don’t want to cut various sports programs and the chances of paid educations that often go to young men and women who otherwise can’t afford to go to college.
And as far Socotch’s so-called suggested student-athlete demands, the bottom line is nobody is making any college athlete play any sport.
If they want to quit for any reason, then quit. There’s a long line of kids who would love to have a scholarship to play college sports, get an education and maybe change the course of their lives.
One final thing, Socotch.
I’m assuming it was a moron editor and not you who wrote your ignorant story headline that read “Ed Orgeron’s insistence should scare student athletes, should unite against him.”
Either way, it must have been a slow news day to create such embarrassing, unsubstantiated journali. . .
No, it’s not journalism. It’s just click bait garbage. We’ll just put it out on the curb and let it rot.