Across America on Sunday, dads received doubtless heartfelt but ultimately forgettable gifts.
Two years ago, Tyler Spotts gave his stepfather a gift that will last a lifetime, which has a value can’t be calculated. He added the name of that man to his own.
And now, thanks to one of those twists of fate that are part of the coaching profession, Tyler Spotts-Orgeron is working alongside the man he’s called “Dad” since he can remember: LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.
Since 2010, Tyler has been a volunteer student assistant for the Tigers. Ed could have used him as a reference.
“We knew we wanted to work together someday,” Tyler said. “We just didn’t think it would happen quite this soon, though.”
It happened because Ed — who married Tyler’s mother, Kelly, in 1997, when Tyler was 5 — was in the right spot at the right time.
Ed had spent 2014 out of coaching after not being named head coach at Southern California despite going 6-2 as interim coach following the midseason firing of Lane Kiffin in 2013.
The year off was a chance to make up for lost time with Kelly, Tyler and twin sons Parker and Cody, senior football players at Mandeville High this fall. The family wanted to remain in Mandeville, where they’d moved to in 2008, Ed’s lone season as an assistant with the Saints.
It essentially became a five-year separation: one year with Kiffin at Tennessee and four more at USC.
“It was like a hole in my heart being away from them,” Ed said. “We blew up Skype and everything else on the Internet to talk every day.”
Added Kelly: “Not everybody can live like that. It was very hard.”
But since Ed missed coaching so much, he called 2014 “the hardest year of my life” and knew that he’d be back at work somewhere in 2015.
That meant, when the offer came from Les Miles, he didn’t have to think about it long. Not only was he coaching again, but it meant the family was reunited, even though Ed maintains a condo in Baton Rouge to avoid the hourlong commute.
And the fact that Tyler’s a Tiger too, well, that’s just some very special lagniappe for the 51-year-old Larose native whose meandering coaching career has taken him from his home state to Arkansas to Florida, back to Louisiana, to New York, to California to Mississippi, back to Louisiana, to Tennessee and back to California before finally landing him at LSU.
“Some days, when I’m working in my office and Tyler’s on the couch studying for school, I’ll think about how I get to work with my son,” Ed said. “That’s pretty cool.”
“I’ve always kind of had to watch Dad coach from a distance,” he said. “Now I’m getting to see first-hand how he gets to know everything he can about recruits and he makes sure the parents know their sons are now part of the LSU family. I’m learning from the best, and I’m learning something new every day.”
Growing up around a coach whose passion for the game is legendary certainly put Tyler on his career path. After all, when Dwayne Johnson — also known as The Rock, who was a defensive lineman at Miami when Orgeron was an assistant there in the early 1990s before starring in wrestling and acting — cites your dad as his strongest influence, who else would you emulate?
Tyler’s playing days ended in 2009 after his senior season at Mandeville because of scoliosis. But by then, he knew he wanted to coach.
Tyler considered going to USC, where Ed was then in his first year as defensive coordinator, but the family decided he was better off close to home, so he could keep an eye on Kelly and the twins.
And with the help of Frank Wilson, who had been on Orgeron’s staff at Ole Miss and whom Tyler considers his godfather, he was able to secure a student assistant position at LSU.
The fact that Tyler, who’s 23, is still two semesters from graduating five years later isn’t a family record. Ed jokes it took him seven years to get his degree from Northwestern State.
Unlike Ed, Tyler’s interest is on offense. But he also realizes that, to coach on the college level, he has to overcome his natural shyness — something Ed has never had a problem with — when it comes to recruiting.
“My dad has been able to open some doors for me,” Tyler said. “But I can’t rely on his name for everything I do. I love being known as Ed Orgeron’s son, but I also want it to be known I’m a hard worker just like he is.”
The Ed and Tyler football bond was forged early.
In their first outing without Kelly, they went to Walmart, where Ed purchased a Dallas Cowboys junior-sized football that they started throwing around in the backyard.
“I think he pretty much stole my heart that day,” said Tyler, who has yet to change his name legally, although he intends to eventually. “We just connected.”
Of course, when Ed met Kelly on a blind date during the week of the 1996 Liberty Bowl, when he was an assistant at Syracuse, she made it clear that Tyler was part of the deal.
“Ed has always treated Tyler as his own, even after the twins were born,” she said. “I don’t think we even think about there being any difference any more.”
That goes for the rest of the Orgerons.
“I wanted to change my name because of what the whole Orgeron family has done for me,” Tyler said. “(Ed’s parents), my Uncle Steve and all of my cousins — and my brothers, who are my brothers. I just wanted all of them to know how much I appreciate and love them for what they’ve done for my mom and me by maybe giving a little back to them.”
It’s safe to say he has.