Dream Job Comes To An End

Rick Sarro Friday, November 19, 2021 Comments Off on Dream Job Comes To An End
Dream Job Comes To An End

There is an old saying used by those who are fishing on the bayou. “Cut bait.”

Simply put, you cut the line. It doesn’t matter what hook, lure, bait or move is on when it isn’t working.

LSU did just that with Ed Orgeron, and on the other end of that severed line is a $17-million dollar contract buyout.

Ed Orgeron

As his seat got hotter and criticism grew to a crescendo, Orgeron said he doesn’t blink, just keeps grinding and working hard. Obviously athletic director Scott Woodward doesn’t blink either — not when he decided it was time to fire Orgeron after nearly six years as the Tigers’ head coach.

There was no blinking when Woodward considered the fact that Coach O just won the national championship less than two years ago, when LSU went 15-0 over a season, thought by many to be the greatest year of football in the grand history of the college game.

No blinking when Woodward reflected on the glory of 2019 that produced a Heisman Trophy winner, a Biletnikoff winner, awards for the nation’s best offensive line and national coach of the year honors for Orgeron, along with 14 NFL draft picks.

No blinking when Woodward had to give credit where credit was due when Orgeron continued to attract and sign Top 5 recruiting classes to Baton Rouge.

And there was no real hesitation or blinking when the A.D. came to the realization that, yes, he would be the guy who fired a fellow Louisianan from Larose, who became the most recognized and beloved figure in the state.

Woodward cut bait on Coach O, who was living his dream of finally being LSU’s head coach and playing the lead role in a Hollywood type movie starring the raw, gravelly voiced Cajun who grew up in the swamps. He worked hard and paid his dues after getting fired and hired along the way and rose to the top of college football in his home state.

LSU A.D. Scott Woodward

With all that being said, and after seeing the program slip so quickly into mediocrity, with a 9-8 record since that championship season, it probably wasn’t all that difficult of a decision for Woodward.

From Shreveport down to Lake Charles over to Lafourche parish and up to Baton Rouge, anyone who follows LSU closely has heard of rumored off-the-field antics by Oregron. They don’t deserve to be outlined here because they are just rumors, gossip and speculation, and I don’t deal in things I don’t know of first hand as fact or from reliable sources.

What is known is Orgeron has been named as a defendant, along with many others at LSU, in a Title 9 lawsuit stemming from a rape allegation against former LSU running back Derrius Guice. Orgeron was subjected to more questions and criticism after a female security guard working at the SuperDome testified before a Louisiana Legislative committee that Guice sexually harassed her during the state high school playoff games.

Orgeron should have suspended  Guice from a bowl game later that season but didn’t. Along the way he asked the woman if Guice could call her to apologize, stating “he (Guice) is a troubled child.” Coach O was asked to testify before that same committee in Baton Rouge but he refused, as did other LSU officials, and instead submitted a written statement.

In that unusual Sunday night press conference a few weeks ago when Woodward, with Orgeron by his side,  announced the decision that Orgeron would not return as head coach, the A.D. said the firing was due to the “wins and losses on the field and where this program was going” since that championship season.

“Ultimately, we have very high standards for all of our sports programs at LSU, and we will stand proudly behind our expectations of competing for SEC and national championships year in and year out,” Woodward said, with Orgeron sitting tight lipped at his right.

“Our last two seasons have simply not met those standards.”

Did Woodward and the LSU Board of Supervisors take into account these off-the-field issues and allegations when deciding on Coach O’s fate?

It’s a legitimate question that Woodward, board members and LSU officials may one day answer.

The path to Orgeron’s firing is littered with failed staff hires, from Bo Pellini, Scott Linehan, Daronte Jones, Jake Peetz, D.J. Mangas and Brad Davis. Fair or not, the team and its respective position groups did not improve under their watch.

At times, Pellini and Jones’ defense looked confused and inept against the run and pass.

Peetz and Mangas struggled at even getting play calls communicated down to the field on time.

And the offensive line under the late-arriving Davis could neither run block or pass protect with any consistency or competency.

At times during the 2020 season that finished at 5-5, and this year’s 4-4 record to date, it has been downright embarrassing.

To his credit, Orgeron agreed and shouldered the blame of not coaching the Tigers better and not having them prepared physically and mentally.

To that end, you would think everyone would agree with Orgeron’s termination.

I for one don’t.

Since his coaching seat started heating up and calls for his head began late last season, I have called for patience and penance.

Before you diehard LSU fans think I’ve gone completely nuts and soft, let me make my case, starting with the 2020 season.

Over that off-season, as expected, brainiac defensive coordinator Dave Aranda left LSU for the head coach’s job at Baylor. After tempting whiz kid passing game coordinator Joe Brady with a huge raise, he instead followed his passion and calling, returning to the NFL to become the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers.

There were humongous coordinator holes to fill and an equally humongous talent drain on the coaching staff.

I know it was the worst record for any football team following a national championship season. But I would bet no defending national championship team ever had to replace 14 NFL draft picks from its starting roster, including a Heisman-winning quarterback in Joe Burrow and the Bilentnikoff award winner in Ja’marr Chase.

(If you are wondering just how elite Burrow and Chase are, check out their stats and performance with the Cincinnati Bengals.)

Key defensive starters Tyler Shelvin, Neil Farrell and Kary Vincent opted out of the season days before the regular season was to begin. Starting tight end Arik Gilbert said he was homesick and left the team a few games in.

Then, to add insult to injury, Terrace Marshall, the best returning receiver from the national championship team, decided he had had enough and declared for the NFL draft with three huge games remaining on the 2020 schedule.

His decision and defection came days after his locker room speech imploring the team to stick together and hang tough and all that rah rah stuff.  As you would expect, Marshall’s action split the locker room, sank morale and forced Orgeron into damage control. 

The 2020 offense lost its starting quarterback when Myles Brennan went down to injury in the third game of the season. This resulted in a game of musical chairs between true freshmen quarterbacks T.J. Finley and eventual starter Max Johnson.

Throw in a global pandemic and then stir. A first time ever all SEC schedule that ended at 5-5 doesn’t look that awful in hindsight.

Onward to 2021.  

Coach O decided to clean house and hire six new assistant coaches.

It was needed, but they had to be spot on hires with no wiggle room for failure.

From the season-opening loss at UCLA, it was clear Jones and Peetz in particular, and a few of the other new coaches, were in over their heads.

That’s on Orgeron. He may have put too much stock in Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s opinion of Jones and young Brady’s recommendation on Peetz and Mangas, who worked under Joe Brady on the Carolina offense.

Then the injuries mounted and multiplied weekly.

The Tigers lost their best, and at times only, offensive weapon in receiver Kayshon Boutte for the season.

Starting running back John Emery was sidelined on academic issues.

The offensive line was shuffled more times than cards on a blackjack table.

And at one point, the defense lost seven starters to injury, including the country’s best cornerback in All-American Derek Stingley, Jr., and fellow All-American cornerback Eli Ricks.

The team’s best pass rushers, and No. 1 defensive ends Ali Gaye and Andre Anthony were out with season ending injuries.

I am pretty sure no other Power 5 team has had the extent of injuries and loss of starters LSU did this year. And if they did, their record would be similar to or worse than the Tigers’.

I know what you’re thinking. Every team on every level of football has to deal with injuries. This is LSU, and they should have reserve players ready to step up and step into the fray with no appreciable drop off.

Well, that next man up cliché sounds great from a press conference podium. But most players are back-ups for a reason. 

There is always a drop-off in talent and execution.

So that’s my case and argument that the 60-year-old Orgeron should have been given a mulligan for one more season to see if he could rectify those coordinator hires or get them better equipped and prepared for the rigors of the SEC.

Another year to recover from all those crippling injuries.

One more campaign to clean up his coaching act and prove that this was not just a feel-good, homegrown story about a native son who got lucky with Burrow and Brady and caught lightning in a bottle in 2019.

Woodward is not in the business of luck. 

He didn’t like having to fire Orgeron, a man he calls a friend and one he hopes will spend time with him on the bayou down the line.

But the A.D. didn’t see things improving with Coach O despite its being only 20 months since the team captured LSU’s third national championship in 18 years. “Based on our on field results and our evaluation of the potential for future immediate success, it is time for a new direction,” proclaimed Woodward. “The search for LSU football’s next championship coach begins now.”

The LSU A.D. hired Jimbo Fisher while at Texas A&M and made headlines when he lured women’s national championship basketball coach Kim Mulkey from Baylor to LSU.

There is no better athletic director to make this gigantic hire for LSU at this time than Woodward. But if he doesn’t get this decision right, then LSU runs the risk of a revolving door scenario, and might end up in the same boat as Tennessee, Florida State and Southern Cal — once national powers in college football but now off the national stage and seemingly always in search of their next championship coach.

Orgeron, who has four national championships as an assistant with Miami and USC and one as LSU’s head coach, says he will finish this season with the Tigers. It will be difficult with Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&M still looming and his team failing to muster up an inspired performance against Ole Miss in game one of Orgeron’s farewell tour as a lame duck coach.

He says he won’t coach next season. Instead he will spend time with his three sons and family.

Orgeron has earned that wish.

I hope down the road, wherever Coach O ends up, either pacing a sideline again or at home in Larose near his beloved mom Coco, he can still crack that sly smile of his when he remembers just how memorable and special his dream job was despite how it ended.

Even the best of times go by in a blink of an eye.


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