Pete Maravich, the greatest LSU sports icon of them all, lost his life 33 Januarys ago at a church gymnasium a few miles from the Rose Bowl. Pete was gone at 40 while playing basketball on a court in Pasadena on Jan. 5, 1988.
The first Pasadena headlines featuring LSU in the 21st century are almost as funereal about the future of embattled Tigers’ head coach Ed Orgeron. He stormed into the Rose Bowl full of bluster as he taunted a UCLA fan. With a phalanx of bodyguards protecting him (from what is uncertain), O implored the heckler to “bring your ass on in your sissy blue shirt.”
Like Les Miles whose aversion to the color red was so intense that he demanded roses be lifted from the lawn of the LSU Journalism School, Orgeron has a fury about the hue of blue after being fired at Oxford in a 10-25 stint at Ole Miss. This blue rage was fueled after Orgeron lost his chance to be the permanent head coach at USC in 2013. His Trojans were hammered 35-14 at the Los Angeles Coliseum by the power blue Bruins.
Orgeron sprinted to Section 27 located near the Tiger locker room minutes before kickoff, flailing his fists at LSU and UCLA fans as though he was Muhammad Ali ready to finish Sonny Liston in round one at Lewiston, Maine. This was not 1965 when O was a 3-year-old. Unlike Ali, his troops got whipped despite the histrionics of the bellicose 60-year-old from Larose.
It is endearing to watch a grown man spewing venom with adolescent fervor. It is less amusing with the outcome as futile as it was when LSU paraded out of Pasadena a 38-27 loser.
In his recap of LSU’s California calamity in the New York Times, Billy Witz, a graduate of Tulane, put it this way: “Now the Tigers look like a mess. They were not just beaten. It looked in their season opener as if last year’s backslide to 5-5 was not an aberration. When the new offensive and defensive coordinators who were supposed to fix broken schemes were not being bamboozled, the players, who were part of three consecutive top-five recruiting classes, were beaten up along the lines of scrimmage by a team that has been historically as soft as its baby blue uniforms.”
With keyboard cowards in full bloom as they anonymously call for Orgeron’s firing, it would be insane for LSU to dismiss him if the Tigers post a winning season. It would take more than $20 million to get rid of Orgeron by himself, not to mention the price of replacing a staff that was revamped at a cost of several million dollars in the offseason.
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward retains the option of canning the coach with cause if Orgeron is found to be untruthful in his accounts of decisions pertaining to former star Derrius Guice, who has been officially excised from the LSU record book.
If a no-cost course of action is unavailable, a 7-6 record should save Coach O. Woodward is on the record as stating that “5 and 5 won’t cut it.” Presumably, LSU must win seven games with three non-conference patsies helping to achieve that goal. Only 20 months separate current uncertainty from the complete nirvana that cascaded through the Superdome on Jan. 13, 2020. LSU pummeled Clemson 42-25 to capture its fourth national football championship of the modern era, and the zealots were parroting their leader who predicted a dynasty after his team edged Alabama 46-41 in Tuscaloosa.
Orgeron has continued to recruit like a champ and retains his infectious zeal for the game. His personality is a winner and a desirable fit in South Louisiana where no translator is required to interpret gravelly-voiced pronouncements from a bombastic coach who sometimes sounds like he is crunching beer glass as he extols his Cajun wisdom.
Orgeron lamented to “60 Minutes” last year that he was not regarded as “worldly enough” or “worthy enough” to lead the Los Angeles-based Trojans, who represent a private university with an affluent and quite proper alumni. USC grads prefer coaches who win games and also attend symphony performances and appreciate the cultural wonders of art galleries and libraries.
Those expectations are not apparent in Baton Rouge where coaches can guzzle suds at NASCAR and professional wrestling events and are admired when photographed shirtless in bed with attractive and much younger companions.
The popularity of LSU football coaches rises and falls almost entirely by the percentage of victories over defeats. Personal shortcomings can be offset by an SEC title. A national crown offers immunity to any firing squad assembled by the LSU Board of Supervisors. That is unless a coach proceeds to lose six of his next 12 games after winning a national title.
It is better to inherit a program that is not predicted to immediately conquer the world. With the triumph over LSU, Chip Kelly of UCLA is 12-21 in four years. His 36.4 winning percentage at Westwood is identical to the 16-28 mark compiled by Curley Hallman in his four battered seasons as LSU coach from 1991 to 1994.
For at least one brief moment, UCLA is feeling the adulation of beating the mighty Bengals and has conveniently discarded 23 years without a Rose Bowl appearance and six seasons with losing records.
LSU is a powerhouse program with a loyal fan base that stayed in place when the Tigers experienced eight losing campaigns in the final eleven years of the 20th century. The devotion of the LSU throng was evident in Pasadena as at least a quarter of the 68,123 fans were decked out in purple and gold. UCLA juiced the blue support by offering free admission to its 44,000 students.
Nick Saban altered the trajectory of the LSU program when he arrived in November of 1999. Les Miles was a capable caretaker for 12 years as he compiled a 114-34 record. His performance was insufficient to keep his job until 2016 when he was fired after the first four games.
His successor is 46-15 at LSU, 25-3 with Joe Burrow and 21-12 without him.
If O is told it’s time to go, he stands to leave LSU an even richer casualty than Miles, whose golden parachute landed in Kansas. It was in Lawrence, home of the Jayhawks, where transgressions in Tigertown sacked Miles coupled with three wins in 21 outings.
In the musical chair game that is college coaching, Orgeron might also find a multi-million dollar shelter at another destination. Do not look for O to take a job as coach at KU under any circumstances. The color scheme at Lawrence would cause the ultimate Alpha dog to hyperventilate when placed in charge of a bunch of sissies.
At last report, UCLA’s official Twitter featured a “sissy blue” T- shirt as its header. Despite Orgeron’s belittling foes who wear blue, Pistol Peter could have informed him that some opponents sporting that color are not sissies.