COLLEGE STATION, Texas — They played a football game here Thursday night.
You’d think it would be a pretty consequential one, considering LSU and Texas A&M are bitter rivals and all that. And in some ways it was, LSU winning 54-39 in a surprising offensive romp for both teams.
But the real game appeared to be playing out with a Texas school (or two) and a coach not involved in this one.
Right around kickoff at Kyle Field, someone ran over to the Tom Herman pile of fireworks with a match and set … it … off.
Explosions (figurative ones) surrounding the Houston coach’s candidacy/deal with LSU started mushrooming all over the place.
It looks like silly season has cometh early in Tigertown.
There were reports, from a variety of sources, that LSU was close to striking a deal with Herman, certainly not the biggest name but arguably the hottest name in college coaching this season. They coincided with rumors that Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, believed to be the No. 1 target for LSU, had turned down LSU and was going to remain in Tallahassee.
With little concrete to go on — other than a firm belief in our reporting that a deal had not been struck yet between LSU and Herman as of Thursday night — here are a few off-the-cuff observations:
- Is it truly plausible LSU would have a deal done with Herman before his regular season ends at Houston? (Conveniently, the Cougars play at 11 a.m. Friday at Memphis.)
- Is it plausible Herman would say yes to LSU without figuring out what in the heck is going to be the outcome for Texas coach Charlie Strong? It’s assumed Strong will be fired, but Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman, for one, tweeted Thursday night that Texas may decide not to fire Strong after all. If that’s the case, would Herman continue to bide his time at Houston and see if Strong is indeed fired this year or wait even another season. (Texas hosts TCU at 2:30 p.m. Friday.)
- If Fisher is indeed out of the picture, it is entirely possible he was using LSU as leverage to get more money/enhancements out of Florida State. It’s just as possible Herman could be using LSU to pressure Texas into making a decision and build him his own private cash printing press in Austin.
- While all this was going on, Ed Orgeron was coaching in what for him could turn out to be an incredibly critical decision. If both Fisher and Herman fall through for LSU, does Orgeron emerge as THE most appealing of the rest of LSU’s potential candidates? If LSU isn’t willing to roll the dice on a young up-and-comer like Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente or Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, or an offensive-minded veteran like North Carolina’s Larry Fedora, then he just may move back to the top of the list.
- If LSU keeps Orgeron, and Texas doesn’t fire Strong or somehow scares off Herman, could Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward, an LSU graduate, wind up trying to convince Herman to make the short move from Houston to College Station? It’s not outlandish, considering this is yet another November swoon for Kevin Sumlin.
That Orgeron was still legitimately in the running after last week’s mistake-marred 16-10 loss to Florida instead of his chances dying on the 1-yard line like LSU’s hopes is a remarkable statement. It speaks to the respect accorded the job he has done coaching (and politicking boosters and power brokers) as LSU’s interim coach and the assumption that the school doesn’t have anything hard and fast nailed down with any other more high-profile candidates yet.
LSU’s players certainly weighed in to endorse the incumbent.
“Keep Coach O! Keep Coach O! Keep Coach O!” was the chant from the LSU locker room, tweeted out in a flash by linebacker Duke Riley.
LSU won despite being down four key starters — Leonard Fournette, Kendell Beckwith, Arden Key and Travin Dural — from the Florida game. But with the long odds at becoming LSU’s coach that Orgeron faced when he was handed this job Sept. 25, what’s one more high hurdle to climb?
“I don’t know,” Orgeron said when asked what happens next. “When we started this thing, (LSU athletic director Joe Alleva) asked me to do my best on a daily basis, and that’s all I’ve done.”
Would hiring Orgeron satisfy a deep-seated desire, and a natural human desire by LSU’s decision-makers, to make a big splash with someone like Fisher or Herman? This is a hire not for a year, but for five or 10. On that basis, you’re not doing this very often. And for LSU to reclaim its place among college football’s elite, there isn’t any margin for error.
I imagine a lot of Thanksgiving wishbones across Louisiana were snapped with a fervent wish for one coach or another to be LSU’s darling when this all shakes out in the next few days.
As for Orgeron, he’s heading home to have a little oyster dressing and see what comes next.
“They supported me,” he said. “I’ve been treated like the head coach here on a daily basis by the staff. They gave me full rein. It was a tremendous opportunity.”
For LSU, the on-the-field games may be up — but the really important game is just getting started.