Ed Orgeron's surprising success at LSU has Tigers fans, new AD Scott Woodward believing
Woodward's connections to Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher seem less important by the day
DESTIN, Fla. -- Ed Orgeron wasn't supposed to last this long at LSU. Not when his former boss, athletic director Joe Alleva, aimed high (Jimbo Fisher, Tom Herman) and failed miserably in an awkward, rambling effort to replace Les Miles. Not when Orgeron was always available as Alleva's coaching version of a safety school.
No matter how LSU and the recently-fired Alleva couched it, Coach O was a second -- maybe third -- choice when he was elevated from interim coach in late November 2016. And a large portion of the LSU fan base was already weary of second- or third-place finishes. The Tigers play in the SEC West, after all.
In fact, it was -- in part -- because of his handling of the coaching transition that Alleva was canned last month. But when Scott Woodward replaced Alleva as the Tigers' new AD, the coaching buzz ratcheted up another level. Woodward is not only fast friends with Fisher from their time together at LSU, he hired Jimbo at Texas A&M.
You need only a starter kit of connect-the-dots to run to this conclusion: With Woodward in place, Fisher would one day eventually head to LSU where he was offensive coordinator for both Nick Saban and Miles for a total of seven seasons.
Given the noted impatience at both TAMU and LSU, at times, a cynic could even project the circumstances: Fisher and Orgeron could each be a 7-5 season away from their base of support eroding enough so that Fisher could replace Orgeron at LSU. Adding to the narrative: Jimbo doesn't have a buyout if he walks away from his 10-year, $75 million contract.
A funny thing happened on the way to the chopping block. Coach O won 10 games last season, one year after winning nine. Since the unspeakable loss to Troy in September 2017, he is 16-5 with the Tigers. It looks like maybe Coach O can coach little.
That certainly mitigates the buzz, the cynics and the narrative.
"I have a great coach," Woodward said this week during a break in the SEC spring meetings. "It looks like everything is going pretty darn well. It would be like asking me, 'What about Nick? Is he coming back?'"
The difference is that Woodward didn't hire Saban. He was a passenger on the rocket ride that turned around the program at the start of the century. Woodward was LSU's director of external affairs at the same time Saban was the Tigers coach from 2000-04.
It was during that time Woodward forged a relationship with Fisher. The LSU administrator would be invited to film sessions. Woodward -- a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native -- was made a witness to how the turnaround was occurring.
The power couple reunited when Woodward hired Fisher at Texas A&M in December 2017. A year and a half later, Woodward was off to LSU.
"He clearly understood with us having a very close relationship," Woodward said of Fisher. "I kept him informed the whole way."
The speculation has stalled, for now, at the entrance to Tiger Stadium. A calm has settled over the LSU program. Orgeron went out and found a reliable quarterback. Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow has become the face of the team. The 10-win season is the LSU's first since 2013. The Fiesta Bowl win over UCF was the Tigers' first in a BCS/New Year's Six bowl since 2010.
Orgeron was asked if all of it has begun to turn things in his favor.
"I do [think so]. It gave us some confidence," Orgeron said. "It got LSU back on track where we need to be. It helped us in recruiting. Obviously, you win your bowl, you win 10 games, there's a lot of positive things going on. I would say we're an ascending team."
Along the way, Orgeron has become a sympathetic figure, someone for whom you want to root. It became an us-against-the-world mentality at LSU last season when star linebacker Devin White was suspended for a game after being flagged for targeting against Mississippi State.
The seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M sparked LSU fans' indignation not against Orgeron but against an.
Oh, and a rivalry just may have goosed.
"It's going to be one hell of a week when [the Aggies] come into town," Orgeron said.
A hell of a case can be made for Coach O now as an overachiever. He came to the job as a failed Ole Miss coach (10-25 in three seasons). At USC (2013) and LSU (2016), he became the world's best interim coach. Combined interim records at those places, 12-4. Combined head coaching record since Ole Miss, 31-11.
Is a coaching star being born?
For a large portion of his career, Orgeron was a cartoon figure to some. The wild-man assistant who ripped his shirt off at an Ole Miss team meeting and had parody songs made about him.
That gravely voice is always going to be his signature.
"He's doing a hell of a job. He's a hell of a coach," Woodward said. "I had the same relationship with Nick, and I had same relationship with Chris Petersen. You can even throw Steve Sarkisian in there, head coach for me at Washington."
It should be noted Woodward is one hell of an AD. His head coaching hires have been Sarkisian, Petersen (both at Washington) and Fisher.
Jimbo was asked Wednesday what he thought of conversations that he was one day destined to take the LSU job.
"You gotta have something to write about and talk about on the talk shows," Fisher said. "That sells more newspapers that way, doesn't it?
"Listen, I don't ever think of that. I'm happy where I'm at. I'm in a great situation and great place that does everything right."
It's the stuff you don't see that has propped up Orgeron. His first three full recruiting classes finished seventh, 15th and fifth, according to 247Sports. LSU's 2020 class is currently rated third.
"Ed's organization and the way he attacks recruiting is as good as I've seen," Woodward said. "He's structured, but he's nimble."
In March, the coach got a two-year extension through 2022.
"I feel secure, but you know what? I gotta take the next step to do it. I think I have a little time to do it," Orgeron said.
In the past, you would have never heard Coach O break down the Alabama rivalry so honestly. He is 0-3 against the Tide with the Tigers being shut out twice at home (2016, 2018).
The 2016 game was 0-0 going into fourth quarter before Bama emerged with a 10-0 win. The Tide had it easier, 24-10 in 2017. The much-anticipated game at Tiger Stadium fizzled from an LSU perspective, a 29-0 loss. Miles' failing record against Saban contributed to his downfall despite beating Alabama twice in his career.
"To say we're close, not according to last year," Orgeron said. "The other two years I thought we were close."
The takeaway of the man remains that he is Louisiana through and through. The native of Larose started at LSU as a player before transferring to Northwestern State. "Bebe" -- his nickname since childhood -- once stuffed a cooler full of chilled Louisiana shrimp in an airliner overhead on a trip back to USC.
But nothing works better for natives of Louisiana than winning football games. That's where Orgeron and his new boss have to bond.
"He loves recruiting. That's my strength," Orgeron said of Woodward. "We talk about recruiting all the time. He has a fishing camp down near my house. He knows more people than I do.
"I think the love for Louisiana and the love for LSU, we both understand the expectations at LSU."
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