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LSU head coach Ed Orgeron coaches against Louisville in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, Dec. 31 in Orlando, Fla.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

Ed Orgeron marched to the podium Wednesday for his first Bayou Bash recruiting party as LSU’s head coach, looking very much like a man who brought home the record catch in the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo.

“Go Tigers!” he bellowed.

Naturally, cheers bounced back at him like a Cajun echo.

Actually, Orgeron did better than land one big fish. He brought home a boatload of them — most of them big ones — making his inaugural recruiting class a successful sojourn that could have so easily turned out to be the fateful trip of the S.S. Minnow.

Orgeron no doubt burnished his reputation as tireless recruiter with this class (more on his tirelessness later), one of the best in recent memory for the program he inherited from Les Miles after the latter was fired in September.

While Miles sat in an ESPN studio helping analyze the day’s catches and misses — and still referring to LSU as “we” — Orgeron was in Miles’ old office, securing the class The Hat helped build and adding some shiny new pieces as well.

It’s always difficult to hold a class of commitments together through signing day without having another school cherry-pick one or two down the stretch. In a year when there is a transition from one coach to the next, the degree of difficulty ratchets up tenfold.

Orgeron handled that test like he handled the eight-game “audition” he had to navigate this past season to earn the head coaching job full time: with a high degree of success.

By one measure, it was unprecedented success. Of the 14 current SEC coaches, Orgeron’s first class at LSU is the highest-ranked of them all, ranking seventh nationally as the day drew to a close. Orgeron, who had the benefit of having joined the LSU staff in 2015, lost only one commitment whom he inherited from Miles. He turned every commitment he kept but one into a signee. That one was former Livonia wide receiver Stephen Guidry, the nation’s top-rated junior college wide receiver prospect, who revealed Wednesday that he would have to spend another year at Hinds (Mississippi) Community College.

To that list of 20 signable commitments, Orgeron and his staff added three highly sought superstars: five-star outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson from the Houston area, four-star safety Todd Harris from Plaquemine and four-star inside linebacker Tyler Taylor from Georgia.

 

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LSU and Florida State had to wait late into the afternoon to find out if they had won the sweepstakes for Houston’s Marvin Wilson, the nation’s top-rated defensive tackle, who picked the Seminoles just before Orgeron addressed the media. It was a sour final chord, perhaps, but one that will get lost in the days and months ahead.

“We missed on a couple of big guys,” Orgeron told the tempered but still festive crowd at the Belle of Baton Rouge Atrium, “but that’s OK. The guys we have are the guys we’re going to win with.”

It wasn’t just Wilson. As is so often the case, these last couple of days leading up to Wednesday were a high-wire act for LSU, with numerous recruits wavering and switching and holding their announcements until the last breathless moment. LSU thought it had Starkville, Mississippi, linebacker Willie Gay, for example. He said Wednesday that he gave the Tigers a silent commitment Sunday night. But Wednesday, he decided to stay home and play for Mississippi State.

There were other disappointments, of course. It’s recruiting. There are always disappointments.

Two players with Baton Rouge ties, linebackers Dylan Moses (once an LSU commitment) and Chris Allen, skipped off to Alabama despite their position being one of dire need for the Tigers. Tuesday’s decision by Neville defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis to also pick the Crimson Tide over the Tigers was a signing day eve gut punch and further symbolized LSU’s recent struggles to keep top talent in state and away from the team it’s trying to catch. Especially players from the Monroe area.

These are critical issues that Oregon and his staff will have to address for the Class of 2018 and beyond if LSU as a program hopes to regain parity with Alabama. The Crimson Tide has beaten the Tigers six straight times and, not coincidentally, has claimed the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class six straight years.

“I know we’ve got work to do,” Orgeron said, “and I promise you we’re going to get it fixed.”

But given the circumstances, LSU’s class was exceptional, filling key needs at quarterback, linebacker and in the secondary. According to 24/7 Sports, even without Wilson this is LSU’s fourth highest-rated class since 2000, when the current “golden age” of Tiger football started with Nick Saban’s arrival.

Credit Orgeron, who had to recruit, revamp LSU’s offensive approach, hire and fire coaches and win enough games — going 6-2, including the Citrus Bowl win over Louisville — to get the job full-time, all at the same time. He and his constantly shifting staff worked doggedly, as illustrated by their pursuit of Chaisson.

Orgeron and defensive coordinator Aranda were in Monroe recruiting Mathis on a Thursday night, then flew to Houston to visit Chaisson on Friday morning and followed him to the airport as he flew out for a weekend visit to Florida. The reasoning? They wanted to be the last school in-home with him before he left for Gainesville and the pre-signing day dead period set in.

The result was another stellar haul for LSU, which notches its sixth straight top seven class.

“The talent here is off the charts,” new offensive coordinator Matt Canada told ESPN. “That’s the appeal of LSU.”

There are plenty of questions ahead for Orgeron: Namely, can he take that talent he inherited and recruited and lead it to championships?

But for now, with the question he could answer — could he deliver a big class on his first try? — the answer for Orgeron was a resounding yes.

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RANKING THE RECRUITING DEBUTS

LSU’s No. 7-ranked class under Ed Orgeron is the best inaugural recruiting class for any current SEC coach at his current school.

SCHOOL COACH YEAR RANK

LSU Ed Orgeron 2017 7th

Alabama Nick Saban 2007 13th

Arkansas Bret Bielema 2013 23rd

Auburn Gus Malzahn 2013 10th

Florida Jim McElwain 2015 21st

Georgia Kirby Smart 2016 8th

Kentucky Mark Stoops 2013 34th

Ole Miss Hugh Freeze 2012 47th

Miss. State Dan Mullen 2009 20th

Missouri Barry Odom 2016 43rd

S.Carolina Will Muschamp 2016 25th

Tennessee Butch Jones 2013 24th

Texas A&M Kevin Sumlin 2012 16th

Vanderbilt Derek Mason 2014 46th

Notes: Orgeron’s first class at Ole Miss in 2005 ranked 30th. Saban’s first class at LSU in 2000 ranked 21st. Muschamp’s first class at Florida in 2011 ranked 11th.

Source: 24/7 Sports

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​