Sandra Bullock opens the door and in steps Ed Orgeron, sporting an Ole Miss pin on his lapel.
“Congratulations on getting hired,” says Bullock, playing the Academy Award-winning role of Leigh Anne Tuohy in “The Blind Side.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Orgeron replies with his now familiar Cajun burr. “Ole Miss is my dream job.”
Coach O is a pretty fair actor (maybe it’s the years at USC) and an even better sport. The movie, about the Tuohy family taking in and nurturing future Ole Miss and NFL left tackle Michael Oher, was filmed in early 2009, more than a year after Orgeron had been fired at Ole Miss.
It may have been a dream job for Orgeron at the time, but it turned out to be more of a nightmare. After rocky seasons of 3-8, 4-8 and 3-9, Orgeron was fired, only to return as a celluloid version of himself, a version that is practically a love letter to Ole Miss. At the end of the movie, Orgeron leads the Rebels through a recreation of the walk through The Grove to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, his trademark enthusiasm bubbling to the surface.
“I had more success in ‘The Blind Side’ than my coaching,” Orgeron joked Monday.
Seven years later, Orgeron has his eyes on another dream job, one truly close to heart and home. He’s the interim coach at LSU, and Saturday he leads his team into Tiger Stadium against his old team, now his old nemesis, and into what may be the biggest game of his head coaching life — or, more accurately, the start of the biggest five-game stretch of his head coaching life.
Not that Orgeron made any attempt this week to play that card.
“Never, never,” he said with emphasis. “It's all about (the players). I won't mention it. That's the furthest from my mind. This is about the LSU Tigers. This is about this football team. That was a long time ago. That's far from my memory, I promise you.”
Orgeron has done exceptional work since taking over for the deposed Les Miles, engaging fans and media and former and current players alike.
The Tigers are now 2-0 in what LSU’s game notes trumpet as “the Season of Orgeron” with wins over Missouri (42-7) and Southern Miss (45-10), setting school offensive records in both games.
“It’s not easy,” senior wide receiver Travin Dural said. “He’s doing a great job.”
But let’s be honest. Miles would almost certainly have beaten Mizzou and Southern Miss as well, although maybe not as impressively. The true test is what begins Saturday night in, what is appropriately nicknamed, Death Valley.
The path to permanence for Orgeron is like a crumbling and rocky trail on the side of a mountain, laced with hidden Tiger traps along the way just to make things even more sporting. LSU’s final five opponents — Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M — have a combined record of 26-6. ESPN rates it as the toughest finishing schedule in America.
To try to complete it — intact, unscathed — seems like a pipe dream. But Orgeron can’t help but try to go forward. Not now. Not when this dream job, to quote “The Great Gatsby,” “must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.”
He may succeed or he may not. Bear Bryant with Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi as his coordinators might not have made it through this gauntlet.
But one thing is certain: Orgeron is better prepared today to take on the challenge than he was when he stepped into the Touhy’s home to recruit Oher back then.
“He tried to run it like Pete Carroll did at USC,” said David Brandt, an Associated Press sportswriter in Mississippi who covered Orgeron’s last season for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. “(But) the losses kept mounting, (and) he put a lot of pressure on himself. He thought he could outwork the problem. No one ever doubted his effort. There’s no doubt he’s learned some things. At the end, at Ole Miss, he tried to one-man show it, and he learned you can’t do it all yourself.”
One thing Orgeron realized was that he couldn’t bring the same mindset as a highly respected defensive line coach to the head coach’s office.
“I didn't do well, and I didn't like it,” he said. “I was mad at myself. So, in the five years that I became assistant coach, I said, 'These are the things that I need to change.' These are the things that they didn't work, to be honest. You've got to look at yourself in the mirror. So I had to get out of that mode and get more into the head coach and delegate, and not be the hard butt on the staff.”
Orgeron has done what he knows to be right with this job. Still, it’s no guarantee of results, but his players are being won over. They know his history and where he hopes to go.
“I knew he’d been in ‘The Blind Side,’ ” Dural said. “He wasn’t successful (at Ole Miss), but he’s a great coach. It would mean a lot to get a win for him.”
A win even Sandra Bullock would applaud.
So we meet again
When LSU hosts Ole Miss on Saturday, Ed Orgeron will become the fifth Tigers coach to lead them against a school he used to coach:
Coach Year Former school Result
Ed Orgeron 2016 Ole Miss Saturday, 8 p.m.
Gerry DiNardo 1996 Vanderbilt LSU, 35-0*
Curley Hallman 1994 Southern Miss USM, 20-18
Bernie Moore 1940 Mercer LSU, 20-0
Mike Donahue 1926 Auburn LSU, 10-0#
* — DiNardo also coached LSU to 7-6 win over Vandy in 1997
# — Donahue also coached LSU to a 9-0 win over Auburn in 1927