Ed Orgeron: Weekly chats with pal Kiffin on “hiatus” until after LSU/Alabama
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Ed Orgeron would have taken a job at LSU years ago if it weren’t for Lane Kiffin.
Les Miles reached out to Orgeron in 2009 about taking LSU’s vacant defensive line coach gig, a position the Louisiana native had long coveted. Only problem was his flight had already touched down on the tarmac in Knoxville when the offer came in.
Orgeron considered reneging, awkward as it would have been, but stayed at Tennessee and inevitably followed Kiffin out west to USC. There, by strange coincidence, Orgeron got his shot at being the interim coach after his boss was fired on the tarmac at L.A.X.
Despite the opportunities it presented — and the preparation it offered for Orgeron’s current stint as an interim coach, an audition of sorts for the only full-time job he’s ever wanted — Orgeron still regrets not taking that job offer back in 2009.
“Every day I did because my kids are here,” Orgeron said. “My kids were here and I always wanted to coach at LSU, but the reason I went to Tennessee was because Lane and I were good friends and because I wanted to coach under Monte Kiffin’s defense.”
Most people aren’t aware of just how close Orgeron and Lane Kiffin are.
Their relationship began as assistants under Pete Carroll at Southern Cal. Orgeron tried to hire Kiffin during his tenure at Ole Miss, but Carroll kept him on staff at USC. Then Kiffin hired Orgeron on to his staffs at both Tennessee and USC.
The two men are closer away from the gridiron. As Orgeron put it, they’re “personal friends,” not mere colleagues. They’ll talk weekly about each other’s families far more than the fact that two old friends are revitalizing their respective coaching careers in the fire of the SEC West.
However, Orgeron says those talks will be put on hold this week as his red-hot Tigers brace for a visit from Kiffin’s high-powered offense and the rest of the top-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday night at Tiger Stadium.
“You know, I talk to him two or three times per week, but we’re going to take a hiatus the next few weeks,” Orgeron said Tuesday. “I know he’s going to want to talk to me, but I ain’t answering back. I know how he is.”
The work Kiffin has done during three seasons in Tuscaloosa has been nothing short of phenomenal. He’s coordinated offenses to consecutive College Football Playoff appearances — and one national title, of course — with journeyman quarterbacks Blake Sims and Jake Coker.
Kiffin’s modernization of the Alabama offense has reached new heights this season with true freshman Jalen Hurts playing quarterback. He’s accounted for 20 total touchdowns and Alabama leads the SEC in scoring at 44.9 points per game while remaining the nation’s leader in every defensive metric.
Consider that prior to this season, no Nick Saban-coached quarterback had run for 100 yards in a single game. Hurts has done it twice this season — both coming in road victories against Ole Miss and Tennessee — to emerge as a dark horse Heisman candidate.
It’s not the same offense Kiffin ran at previous stops, as Orgeron notes. He’s gone from utilizing primarily two-back sets to a downhill spread attack with a quarterback built like a second tailback. The scheme itself isn’t particularly distinct from the offense LSU has seen over the last month.
What makes him arguably the nation’s best offensive coordinator is his play-calling. Whatever the style of offense, he’s a master of setting up the big play.
“I know what he wants to get done,” Orgeron said. “I know what he’s going to do. I know the film he’s going to look at. He’s going to try to pose us some problems with formations. He always does. But it’s going to come down to him running the football, explosive plays, quarterback runs. He’s a very good play caller.”
Orgeron will pass along some of his own notations on Kiffin from their time together, but for the most part, he’s content to delegate that task to his staff’s own beautiful mind: Dave Aranda.
LSU’s defense has flown under the radar during the three-game winning streak because of the Tigers’ stark turnaround offensively. The unit has allowed just eight touchdowns during its first seven games under Aranda and pitched a second-half shutout of Chad Kelly and high-powered Ole Miss last time out.
It likely won’t get as much press this week as Leonard Fournette’s chance for revenge on the run defense that stifled his Heisman hopes a year ago, but the chess match between Kiffin and Aranda might be the most fascinating matchup heading into Saturday’s top-20 showdown.
“Two of the best in the business,” Orgeron said. “It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Besides success, there’s not much the two coordinators share in common.
Kiffin is the son of an NFL legend who came to Alabama dragging the reputation of a program ruiner. He’s a mixture of volatile, charismatic and controversial.
His 2016 revenge tour has already featured subtweeting USC after a season-opening whopping and firing his trademark visor at a Tennessee fan in the stands after a blowout on Rocky Top.
It takes a special blend of brilliance and arrogance for a play caller to throw his arms in the air at the snap because he knows he just dialed up a long touchdown. That, in essence, is Lane Kiffin.
“Coach Kiffin will catch you sleeping and throw the ball over your head,” LSU cornerback Donte Jackson said.
Aranda is a different kind of prodigy, having worked his way up from obscurity at California Lutheran. In just 10 years he’s elevated from defensive coordinator posts at Hawaii and Utah State to Wisconsin and now LSU.
Aranda doesn’t share his counterpart’s flair for the dramatic. He’s a student of the game, a football nerd even. The defense he’s designed was as intricate and complex to create as it is simple for his players to learn and execute.
On a staff full of prodigious yellers, most of LSU’s defenders claim to have never heard Aranda yell. But when he turns on an opponent’s film in the meeting room and goes to work, everybody shuts up and listens.
“It’s just like a ‘Wow’ moment,” Jackson said. “(Aranda) is very smart. He’s very intelligent. He just knows what’s going on when we’re going over another team’s offense. You just sit back and take your notes because you know for a fact he knows what he’s talking about.”
“He just knows how to dissect things out and knows what to do,” defensive end Lewis Neal said. “And we go out there and do it.”
Given two weeks to prepare, Orgeron expressed total confidence the man nicknamed the “Mad Scientist” can get a gameplan together to slow down Kiffin’s attack. But as is always the case when two gifted minds square off, it comes down to execution.