On the night of Jan. 13, 2020, LSU football ruled the world as the conquerors departed New Orleans with a 15-0 record that culminated with a 42-25 rout of 14-1 Clemson. The Louisiana Tigers captured the fascination of the nation with a Heisman winning quarterback and their well-traveled leader, who brandishes a back story filled with a myriad of twists and turns to make Agatha Christie proud.
As the Tigers paraded from the Superdome as the best team in college history, the world was their oyster. That colloquialism started with words presented by William Shakespeare in 1602 from “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Ed Orgeron was the comeback saga of the Century for a brief, shining moment as he and his photogenic wife took a victory lap in the House built by LSU superfan, the late Gov. John McKeithen.
Days after a championship bow, the second wife of Coach O became the target of a divorce action a few days before COVID-19 became part of the vernacular. As an unprecedented pandemic threatened the stability of campus life and football programs across the land, the social media world was abuzz with fabricated accounts of the break-up of the first family of LSU football.
Already teetering from the uncertainty of a pandemic, the program had a head coach distracted by the dissolution of his marriage to a not so merry wife in Mandeville. To make matters more surreal, Orgeron was photographed shirtless in bed with a new squeeze. Coach O is in his third head coaching gig. Some are already speculating there will be a third wife in his future.
With shaky wins against Florida and Ole Miss to close a horrid 2020 season, Orgeron saved himself from a firing squad that was growing in numbers at the LSU Board of Supervisors. The Coach retained sufficient mojo to fire and re-assign several members of his staff, and LSU will pay an array of coaches more than $8 million not to work. This is an appalling development heightened by $80 million in coronavirus-related costs and casualties mired in the mediocrity of a 5-5 season.
Orgeron is a street fighter who does not buckle from challenges. He has reinvented himself every few decades and will strive to restructure a staff to manage his stellar recruits. The talent pool from his roster compares favorably with every opponent short of an SEC West rival a couple of states to the east of Louisiana.
Orgeron is a master at the art of making people like him. One of the people to fall sway to the charm of O is the 45th American president. That mutual man crush proved disastrous in late summer when Orgeron in a Fox News appearance all but endorsed Donald Trump in his re-election quest. The Trump tribute was not received positively by most of the LSU team, comprised mostly of African-American kids who are more acquainted with hardscrabble street life than lush golf courses at exclusive country clubs. Orgeron appeared out of touch with the concerns of his athletes and required a wing man to keep the peace.
A turbulent season was partially restored by LSU Board of Supervisors member Collis Temple Jr. He reigns as the first black basketball player at the university and the second African-American scholarship athlete for the Tigers. Fifty years after integrating the basketball team, Temple was summoned to address the LSU football team as a revolt was feared. The 68-year-old graybeard of Tigertown emerged as a sage elder statesman and implored team members to play on despite their aversion to their coach’s devotion to The Donald.
Many players heeded advice from Temple in a way that would not have been possible from a less seasoned messenger. The Tigers improved as the season progressed with hope restored that all will be well for the 2021 opener slated at the Rose Bowl on Sept. 4 against UCLA.
The monthly Tiger Rag Extra debuted in 2016 as Orgeron replaced Les Miles four games into that season. Soon to be 60 years old, Coach O is facing demands of improvement from a restless fan base and faces an investigation into his handling of cases involving alleged sexual misconduct in his program.
It would have been convenient to shove him aside and start a new era with someone else in charge of the crown jewel of the Ole War Skule, but there is optimism the worst is over and 2021 offers a fresh start.
If Coach O rises again from chaos and controversy, he can thank Collis Temple for interceding in a sensitive matter that could have taken his team down. For this reason, Temple gets the nod from this space as the 2020 Tiger of the Year.
Temple joins Joe Alleva in 2016, D-D Breaux in 2017 and Joe Burrow in 2018 and 2019 as the most substantial LSU athlete, coach or supporter for the volatile year of 2020.
Louisiana’s DeVonta Smith Snares Heisman Trophy
Amite native DeVonta Smith of Alabama has become the second Louisiana native to win the Heisman Trophy. Smith follows Texas A&M’s John David Crow, who was the Heisman victor in 1957 for Texas A&M. Crow was born in Marion, La and played for Bear Bryant with the Aggies.
It is with some irony that Louisiana’s lone Heisman winning natives played for Bryant and Nick Saban.Smith has recorded a spectacular season with 105 catches for 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns in 12 games, averaging 15.6 yards per reception.
Smith, who was a pupil of Louisiana First Lady Donna Edwards at Amite High School, entered the championship game against Ohio State with 223 catches for 3750 yards and 43 touchdowns in his college career. The LSU records in those categories are 183 career catches by Wendell Davis, 3001 yards by Josh Reed and 26 touchdowns by Dwayne Bowe.
Smith was the big one to get away from Coach O, but LSU has also boasted a bounty of superb receivers to succeed in the NFL.
The latest NFL receiving superstar from LSU is Justin Jefferson. The brother of Jordan and pride of Destrehan snared 111 passes from Joe Burrow in 2019 for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. In his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings, Jefferson caught 88 passes for a league single-season rookie record 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. He was the 22nd player taken in the 2020 NFL Draft.