Forget the hot seat: After saving LSU in 2017, what if Ed Orgeron is entering his prime?

ATLANTA -- Duke Riley played bad cop.

We know this because the LSU players still talk about how the former Tigers linebacker ripped into them during one of the ugliest weeks in the program's history.

Amid the lingering stink from the epic(ally bad) loss to Troy last September, someone had to do something. Riley -- the 2016 LSU MVP in his rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons -- flew to Baton Rouge for an emotional rescue mission.

"He spent the day," coach Ed Orgeron recalled. "He saw the LSU tradition the players weren't carrying on. He went to supper with them on Wednesday night, showed up at the first workout at 6 in the morning on Thursday, followed them, watched them in the meetings, watched the way dressed, watched the way they practiced.

"Then he said, 'Coach, let me have them.' He called them out."

Someone had to. There was more at stake than a really bad loss. LSU was losing its grip on being a college football power. If you were there that week following Troy, it felt like the Tigers were about to lose another coach, too.

All suggestions were being taken.

"Duke has always kind of had a light-hearted kind of funny aura bout him. We all love Duke. He came and he was kind of serious and somber," tight end Foster Moreau recalled Monday at the 2018 SEC Media Days.

"We were trying to get him to be Duke again. … We thought it might be a little inspirational, motivational. But he kind of laid into us. He had all the right to."

You might have heard the Tigers recovered, finished 9-4 last season. More importantly, LSU was able to look itself in the mirror again.

You also might have heard all of it did little to diminish the perception of Orgeron as we enter his second full season.

It has become fashionable to show LSU's coach the door -- or the exit, whatever euphemism you want to use for a firing.

Never mind a ball hasn't been snapped yet on during his Year 2. He's outta here, right?

The schedule is too tough. The division is too tough. The SEC is too tough for good, ol' Coach O. Speculation has run as wild as some of the balls flying out of LSU quarterbacks' hands in recent years.

OK, that's a cheap shot, but you must have noticed during the offseason. Orgeron's plight is a leading indicator of the SEC culture. Championships are the currency. LSU's leader doesn't have one as a head coach. Show any weakness in this conference and keyboard sharks will feed.

Twenty-one games into replacing Les Miles, Coach O has been mostly chum -- a punching bag for those who have a narrow view of how an 'Merican Head Coach should look and act.

"We're expected to win 10-plus game every year, go to a big bowl," defensive end Rashard Lawrence said. "I wouldn't say so much hot seat [for Orgeron], I'd say pressure."

One problem with assuming Orgeron is on a rocket ride to the unemployment line: He is coming off a career year. It marked the first time he finished above .500 in a full season.

Sure, it's a small sample size -- four seasons as a head coach. But here's a thought: What if, at the mature head coaching age of 56, Ed Orgeron is actually hitting his prime?

Outrageous, right? Previously, the man has been the perfect rent-a-coach, going 12-4 combined in interim gigs with USC and LSU. He won championships at USC as an assistant. He failed at Ole Miss as a head coach.

You know the perception: reliable assistant, sketchy head coach, fantastic recruiter, used to rip his shirt off.

In that sense, Orgeron was college football's sort-of loopy uncle. You'd trust him to watch the kids for an afternoon but not into the next day.

With the world crashing in around him, Orgerson went 6-2 after the Troy loss. He was one six SEC coaches to win at least nine games last year. That was a first for him, too.

If Riley was the bad cop, Orgeron provided his own emotional rescue after Troy.

"It was mostly Coach O, along with the players," Lawrence said. "He deserves all the credit in the world. He told us, and we had that meeting Monday, we were going to turn it around.

"Without him, man, it could have got a lot worse."

LSU rebounded dramatically to beat Florida by a point the following week. But we're not going to turn this into a fairy-tale turnaround. Nick Saban isn't going anywhere in the SEC West. Gus Malzahn just got a monster contract. LSU's first choice to replace Les Miles, Jimbo Fisher, has a record guaranteed deal at Texas A&M. Part of his duties will be to torment LSU.

Tigers fans have to know that, if Orgeron doesn't make it, athletic director Joe Alleva will mostly likely be headed out the door with him. At that point, Alleva couldn't possibly be trusted to hire another coach, especially after whiffing on Fisher twice.

But if Joe Burrow transfer works out, LSU will finally have a quarterback. Offensive coordinator drama should be minimized with Steve Ensminger at the helm.

"When you're at LSU, expectations are high," Orgeron told CBS Sports. "We were so close to being 11-2. I think that would have been a very successful season. When you go 9-4 -- although we went 6-2 in SEC play -- that's not the standard. You cannot fall from that."

In that sense, Orgeron gets it. Call it the maturing of a head coach. Anyone consider that a lesser coach could have lost the locker room after the Troy defeat?

"No question," Orgeron said.

But he didn't. Coach O was somewhat a good cop, if only because he didn't rip into his team.

"That Monday he called us in as leaders and wanted to know what was going on, where our minds were at after that game," Moreau recalled. "We poured our hearts out, had a players only team meeting."

If and until Orgeron gets the Tigers back to prominence, none of this will mean much. When Les Miles was fired in 2016, Orgeron stepped in, beat three ranked teams, played Alabama close and beat No. 15 Louisville by 20 in the bowl game.

Maybe Orgeron's expiration date lasts slightly longer than a gallon of milk. Maybe this is Alleva's strike three.

For the first time in a while, there is no go-to tailback at LSU. There is every chance this season's schedule will bring the Tigers to their kneepads -- Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Miami. All that before the final month of the season that starts with Alabama.

And then what?

Sure, perceptions, programs and coaches can change.

If not, LSU is running out of cops to call. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories