LSU coaching search

LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron brings out his team for the first half of the LSU-Arkansas game Saturday.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

The time is growing short.

Soon, a choice is going to be made.

Who will be the man who will be LSU’s football coach, not for a few weeks or a couple of months, but for five or 10 years down the road?

Right now, a day before LSU faces off with Florida on Saturday, the percentages say it’s going to be interim coach Ed Orgeron or Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. Coach O or Jimbo. The symbiosis of it is magnetic.

There are a lot of reports and theories flying around out there, but this appears to remain a situation with several moving parts and players. Still, when in doubt, you have to lean to the incumbent.

If the LSU job is a prize, no doubt Orgeron has to feel he has one hand on it. For all the speculation about the LSU coaching search since the late September sacking of Les Miles (is his next stop really Baylor? I just can’t imagine it), Orgeron has thrived in the job. And, it’s important to note, he’s the one who has the job right now. Someone has to beat him out for it, and that someone, whether it’s Fisher or Houston coach Tom Herman or some other candidate, will probably need a little help.

Orgeron is 4-1 as coach, probably the most scrutinized five-game stretch anyone who sits behind the desk in the LSU head coach’s office has had to deal with (and, yes, Orgeron did move in after Miles moved out). While Miles was a prisoner of his own conservative offensive tactics, Orgeron has unshackled the playbook and given interim offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger a fairly free rein, among a host of other changes.

The results have been startling. In LSU’s first four games, the Tigers averaged 21 points and 339.5 yards per contest. In the last five, LSU has averaged 32.6 points and 456 yards per game. And this counting no points and 125 yards in the Alabama game, the only one under Orgeron when LSU looked like it was taking part in some sort of Mannequin Challenge.

That loss looked like it might deep six Orgeron’s hopes. Then the Arkansas game came along like a life preserver. LSU was pancake flat the past two years against the Razorbacks coming off losses to Alabama. The results were a pair of listless 17-point defeats against Arkansas.

This time, LSU regrouped after yet another Bama disappointment and basted the Hogs from the opening kick, jumping out to a 21-0 early second-quarter lead en route to an impressive 38-10 victory. Florida fans will surely note this came a week after Arkansas chopped up the Gators 31-10 in Fayetteville. LSU fans will note the delineation between the Miles era and the Orgeron regime couldn’t be more stark.

But Orgeron walks a tightrope with no margin for error at any turn. Slip up with a loss to Florida or at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving and it may be the dreaded lovely parting gift for Coach O while Fisher or some other candidate moves in to “his” office.

For now though, the chatter surrounding the LSU coaching job remains speculative and relatively directionless. The view from here is there is little information slipping out because there is little information to be had. The assumption can be made that LSU’s administration is letting the Orgeron experiment play out before making a move.

If, ultimately, Orgeron completes what athletic director Joe Alleva termed at the outset an “audition” with a 6-1 record and an invitation to the Sugar Bowl, the question will be whether Orgeron gets the first offer or whether it’s made to someone else. At that point, in a scenario that you have to believe will begin shortly after the regular season ends, if the first offer is made to Orgeron there will surely be no chance to go with Plan B.

Money isn’t supposed to be an issue for LSU, but money is always an issue in everything. The lure of landing a big fish like Fisher (or, possibly, Herman) has to be a factor. But so is the prospect of not having to pay Orgeron the king’s ransom to be the coach. Just the prince’s ransom, perhaps, with lots of zeroes left to lavish on defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to convince him to stay and a big-name offensive coordinator to call the plays.

What’s the best way to play the game? It’s to own the game. That’s where Orgeron is right now, though renting to own may be more on the mark. As time for a decision draws near his position is anything but a certainty, but it has to be better than the position anyone else is in right now.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​