By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Consider me one of the final remaining skeptics when it comes to Ed Orgeron’s long-term future as the head coach of LSU.
That’s not so much an indictment of Coach O – who, I’m certain, cares little for what concerns me – and more of an indictment of myself. I’m cynical by nature. I don’t trust easily. I’m a worrier. That’s why, to quote Will Ferrell, my friends call me whiskers.
So far under Coach O, there’s been little for LSU fans to be worried about. He’s passed his first three tests with flying colors. And sure, the three teams he’s faced couldn’t keep 11 drunk frat guys out of the end zone, much less a well-executed SEC offense. Those tests were more comparable to an open-book pop quiz than the LSATs.
But while the opponents have changed since Orgeron took over, the guys wearing purple and gold haven’t. Fielding the same players as his predecessor, Orgeron has orchestrated a symphony of success that sounds a far cry from the out-of-tune ensemble he inherited. His team has reached its full potential each time out, rather than falling drastically and laughably short of it. With each game and each play within those games, his teams have – what’s the word for it? – ah, yes, improved.
That his offenses have set records in each of his three games in charge and his defenses have increasingly dominated better and better offenses are byproducts of Orgeron’s astute adjustments and effective management style.
The most important of those adjustments? Shortening practices, increasing time in the film room, and delegating more to his staff of assistants, who have proven more than worthy of his trust. As a result, his teams have looked fresher, better prepared, more engaged, and more capable of execution, and his fans are having more fun watching the Tigers than any time in recent memory.
And yet still I remain unconvinced that Coach O is the right man to take LSU football into its next era.
It’s not that I don’t think Coach O loves Louisiana. He clearly does, in ways probably no other coach qualified for the job ever could.
I’m just not sure that matters. When Nick Saban first landed in Baton Rouge to take the LSU job in 2000, he was less than infatuated with the city as he drove, literally, the Scenic route from the airport to campus. That didn’t stop him from becoming the program’s greatest ever coach who ushered the Tigers into their golden age.
And it’s not that I don’t like Coach O. Quite the opposite, in fact. Setting aside the neutrality this job demands, I enjoy covering Orgeron, whose candid nature with the media is a breath of fresh air. Under Miles, whose clock management on the field was reflected off of it by his customary tardiness with the media, press conferences were a chore occasionally accompanied by a quirky quip or two. Orgeron, however, mixes the informative with the entertaining in a way that any journalist would appreciate, all while showing up on time.
I’m just not sure that translates to wins on the football field. It’s one thing to have the answers in press conferences. It’s another thing to have the answers on Saturday nights in the SEC.
And it’s certainly not that I don’t think Coach O is capable of doing the job. In fact, all available evidence from 2016 points to his qualifications. LSU looks fantastic under his watch, albeit in a small sample size.
I’m just not sure he can do the job better than anybody else in the country. There is something to be said for learning from your mistakes, but LSU has never hired a football coach with a 3-21 record as an SEC head coach.
All that said, I’m fairly certain I am in the minority of those who still hold reservations on Coach O’s candidacy. It seems he has won over the majority of LSU fans and a good portion of the media, and based on his successes on and off the field so far, he has earned that affection. Any skepticism is, so far, undeserved.
But on Saturday, Coach O can put those skeptics to rest. He can convincingly win me and the rest of my fellow doubting Thomases over and, far more importantly, stake an undeniable claim on his dream job and set his team on an improbable path back to the College Football Playoff.
All he has to do is beat the most difficult coach to beat in SEC history.
Imagine that: your lifelong goal is within reach, and all you have to do is pull off the most monumental task imaginable. Want to be the editor of Sports Illustrated? All you have to do is win a Pulitzer. Want to be King of the North? All you have to do is defeat an army of the walking dead – and (spoiler alert!) come back to life yourself. Want to be the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees? All you have to do is take Clayton Kershaw yard.
Want to be the head football coach of the LSU Tigers? All you have to do is beat Nick Saban.
If Orgeron can do what his predecessor failed to do in every matchup since 2011 and vanquish arguably the greatest coach in the history of college football, he’ll ostensibly put his signature on a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal to take the interim tag off his current title and lead the program beyond 2016. He’ll also, it should be mentioned, set LSU up for a November to remember, one that, if a few other things go the right way, could extend into a December to remember, too.
And, in the most inconsequential of consequences, the win will silence any doubters that remain as to Coach Ed Orgeron’s credentials as the CEO of LSU Football in more than just initials. Should Coach O beat Saban and the Tide, he’ll all but guarantee he’s the man for the job, and I’ll gladly eat as much crow as he can cook into a gumbo.
I’ll be sure to show up hungry on Saturday night.