Ron Higgins: Coach O tells the truth (gulp) and nothing but the truth (exhale), so help him God

One of LSU football coach Ed Orgeron’s endearing traits is his sometimes bare-his-soul honest responses to direct, often pointed questions.

For the media, it is extremely refreshing because 99.9 percent of football coaches will never admit what Orgeron fessed up during his second weekly spring practice press teleconference with Baton Rouge-area media Tuesday.

The last question on the 14-minute call was basically asking Orgeron some of things he learned from mistakes made in last year’s 5-5 COVID-19 2020 season coming off the perfect 15-0 2019 national championship run.

Most coaches would have first stated the obvious, which in Orgeron’s case would have been the safe, vanilla “We obviously struggled on defense, gave up too many big plays and we had poor communication. . .”

But instead, Coach O said something so shocking that the media were too dumbfounded to sneak in one final follow question which should have been, “Uh, Ed, how. . .how. . .HOW did that exactly happen?”

This is what Orgeron said:

“First of all, I think we did a great job of hiring coaches and doing a great job of interviewing. I hired some coaches I didn’t interview (on the) last staff. I’m never going to do that again.”

What did he say? He didn’t say that, did he? Let’s rewind the video playback.

“I hired some coaches I didn’t interview (on the) last staff. I’m never going to do that again.”

OMG. HE DIDN’T INTERVIEW SOME OF THE COACHES HE HIRED FOR THE 2020 STAFF?

It now makes perfect sense.

Orgeron couldn’t grasp 2020 defensive coordinator hire Bo Pelini schemes not meshing well and stopping modern day no-huddle spread offenses. Maybe Orgeron didn’t ask him on the front end about it when he anointed Pelini with a $2.3 million annual golden parachute out of Youngstown State where Pelini landed as head coach in 2015 after he insulted everyone out the door when he was fired as Nebraska’s head coach in 2015.

Why didn’t Orgeron step in and say to The Great Pelini, “Why do we make every opposing quarterback an SEC Offensive Player of the Week candidate? How come our defensive backs aren’t in the same zip code as opposing receivers? And why in the wide world of sports wasn’t Derek Stingley Jr. guarding DeVonta Smith from the time he got off the Alabama team bus?”

The same thing happened when Orgeron was named the Tigers’ permanent head coach. He didn’t know who to hire as offensive coordinator for his first full-time staff in 2017, but the name of Matt Canada kept popping as the “hot candidate.”

Canada, then O-coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh, was a 2016 finalist for the Broyles Award.

His offensive philosophy with constant shifting and receivers changing directions while in motion, certainly didn’t jibe with the USC-style offense Orgeron wanted from his days on the Trojans’ staff.

Yet, Orgeron hired Canada anyway. Why? Did Orgeron casually interview him? Did he thoroughly vet his background? Was he told by someone he had to hire Canada?

Only once during Canada’s one season with LSU before being fired in January 2018 did Orgeron publicly tinker with Canada’s offense. After LSU was flagged for a load of illegal procedure penalties in its first four games, Orgeron ordered Canada not to use any motion or shifts in game five vs. Troy State. At halftime with LSU trailing 10-0 with less than 150 yards offense, Orgeron told Canada to return to the motion and the shifts and LSU still suffered a 24-21 upset.

When Orgeron was asked afterwards about the no-motion, no-shift/motion, shift offenses in two different halves, he answered the question honestly.

Just as he did last March when he reflected on the hiring of Joe Brady as passing game coordinator in January 2019. Orgeron wanted to change his offense to a mix of spread and run-pass-option plays and he sought someone who had a background both.

“Honestly, Joe Brady was just a quality control guy with the Saints,” Orgeron said. “I wanted the Saints’ offense. I knew he knew the RPOs. Whoever thought Joe Brady would do what he did? Whoa!”

Yep, Orgeron sort of stumbled into the boy wonder savior of LSU football.

Brady teamed with Ensminger to create the most prolific offense in college football history averaging 48.4 points and 568.4 yards. Shortly after the CFP national title game, Brady moved to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers as offensive coordinator while Tigers’ defensive coordinator Dave Aranda became Baylor’s head coach. Running backs coach Tommie Robinson took a similar position at Texas A&M when his contract wasn’t renewed.

Orgeron had to fill three vacancies.

He hired Kevin Faulk, LSU’s all-time rushing leader, to replace Robinson. Faulk was already on Orgeron’s administrative staff as director of player development, so not much interviewing was required.

That obviously left D-coordinator Pelini and passing game coordinator Scott Linehan as the probable hires that Orgeron said he didn’t interview and both bit him in the rear.

Doubling down on the mistake of not interviewing was the fact Orgeron sat back instead of stepping in and questioning why things weren’t working as the flaming wagon fell off the cliff several times last season.

Why didn’t he?

Maybe partially it dates back to the Canada debacle. Swallow your bad hire, let it play out, fire him and six months later in July 2018 SEC football media days publicly admit you made a mistake, which was the path Orgeron followed.

No matter what happened with LSU’s offense last season, Orgeron wasn’t going to inject himself much into it for an obvious reason.

The Ensminger-Linehan braintrust were doing the best they could figuring out what their freshmen quarterbacks could handle as starters replacing the injured Myles Brennan for the last seven games.

But an underlying possibility why Orgeron stayed out of the offense is he confidently became accustomed to the 2019 Joe Burrow-powered juggernaut being on cruise control and wanted to give Ensminger and Linehan the same leeway and confidence.

Orgeron’s biggest gaffe, one he admitted Tuesday, was not jumping into the middle of LSU’s defensive trainwreck.

“I’ve coached defense for 40 years and last year I stood out of it,” Orgeron said. “This year, I’m not. If I see something I don’t like, we’re not doing it. I’m very hands on.. . .it’s my responsibility. I’m not letting it go. If there is something our players can’t perform, we’re not doing it. I want to keep it simple.”

And it’s not just defense that Orgeron will now eyeball. It’s offense, it’s special teams, it’s the way the managers set up blocking dummies in pass rush drills.

CEO Coach O, the one who inexcusably doesn’t conduct job interviews for key coach staff vacancies, a mistake that can take down a head coach’s career in a heartbeat, is gone.

Kickass Coach O, the guy who had no clue how to be a head coach when he was fired by Ole Miss in 2007 yet clawed his way back up the coaching food chain to guide his native state Ti-gahs to a national championship, is back.

“I said to myself I’m not gonna let things slip by, not one thing,” Orgeron said. “I’m going to identify it. I told the coaches they might think nothing is good enough. I’m going to be hands on. I’m watching every piece of film, I’m marking it down just like I did in the years before.

“They (his staff) are gonna have to explain to me what the, what are we doing – I almost cussed there – what are we doing, how we are doing it, why we doing it and they understand that.”

So does Orgeron, who turns 60 in July. He must know once you win a national championship, the bar is set high and there is no wiggle room to fall far under that standard for more than one season.

He also is at a point in his career that whether keeps succeeding or gets fired, it better not be because he didn’t cross every `t’ and dot every `i.’

There’s a fine line between delegating authority and being a control freak whose antenna stays up 24/7.

If you do much of the former, you’ll be in the unemployment line as “a coach who was great to work for because he let his coaches’ coach.”

If you do much of the latter, you’ll be regarded as a demanding, sometimes brusque and snarling taskmaster who also counts his national championship trophies like Nick Saban. But also, Saban, as the years have passed, has tried to enjoy the moments more and has a kids foundation that has contributed $9 million to numerous causes and organizations in the Tuscaloosa area.

Which one does Coach O want to be?  Universally beloved or universally respected? The challenge is somehow getting a piece of both and maintaining sanity no matter when and if a coaching career ends.

Hopefully, Orgeron can mix both elements, winning championships and still be the guy who believes admitting his mistakes – no matter how head-shaking – that makes him relatable to all of us who aren’t perfect, either.

But O, you gotta interview everyone you hire from now on, like you did for your 2021 staff hires. Charming and relatable can only take you so far.

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