Edwards and Orgeron

LSU coach Ed Orgeron and Gov. John Bel Edwards in their getagameplan.org PSA.

Some Louisiana Republicans have taken issue with LSU Coach Ed Orgeron taking part in a recent fundraiser for Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ re-election campaign.

“I don’t want to watch LSU football and have to wonder if the coach is a Democrat or Republican. I’m so angry at this,” U.S. Sen. John Kennedy said during a five-minute diatribe on Baton Rouge radio Friday morning – a day after Orgeron introduced Edwards during a breakfast fundraising event. “It is a horrible mistake to politicize LSU and LSU football. I’m stunned that the candidate would even entertain, much less accept, the endorsement.”

Kennedy didn’t directly name Orgeron or Edwards but gave plenty of hints toward the incident that had angered him, which The Advocate reported a day earlier.

“Something happened this week in Louisiana politics that really disturbed me,” Kennedy said, noting he had seen an Advocate report. “One of the coaches of our LSU Fighting Tigers football team endorsed a candidate for governor and I was appalled.”

Edwards, who was quarterback of his high school football team and remains an avid LSU fan, and Lafourche Parish-native Orgeron have frequently appeared alongside each other at events promoting Louisiana and LSU.

On Thursday, Orgeron introduced Edwards at the fundraiser calling the incumbent “a man of great character, great integrity.”

Edwards faces two Republicans in his bid for re-election: Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto.

The election is Oct. 12, with a Nov. 16 runoff if no candidate gets more than 50 percent in the primary.

“I’m really, really offended – I’m offended at the coach, I’m offended by (LSU President F. King Alexander) letting it happen, and I’m offended by the candidate," Kennedy continued. “This is horrible. Does politics have to invade everything?”

He went on to call Orgeron “a fine coach” and “a good man.”

“He is the face of LSU,” Kennedy said. “People know him more than they know the president of the university.”

LSU athletics wouldn't comment on Kennedy's remarks. The university's administration backed Orgeron. “While LSU takes no official positions in elections, neither does it deny the rights of its employees to express their personal opinions. Coach Orgeron chose to exercise his First Amendment right to participate in a political activity, and shared his intent to do so with the administration out of respect to the University,” Jason Droddy, interim vice president for LSU communications, said in an emailed statement.

An Edwards campaign spokesman dismissed Kennedy's remarks.

“With all the problems facing our country, it’s downright embarrassing that this is what John Kennedy is worried about," spokesman Eric Holl said. "It’s also troubling that a United States Senator and attorney believes that college coaches should be denied their First Amendment rights. There’s a long record of coaches supporting candidates for elected office in Louisiana and other states, and they have the right to do so. Senator Kennedy needs to stop fussing about other people’s political preferences and do his job."

It’s not entirely unheard of for college coaches to wander into the political realm. Alabama football coach Nick Saban was featured in a campaign ad last fall for his long-time friend, West Virginia U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who was facing a tough re-election bid. Former LSU coach Les Miles attended an event in honor of then-Gov. Bobby Jindal’s presidential campaign in 2015 and celebrated at Jindal’s re-election victory party in 2011. Several coaches backed candidates in the 2016 presidential election cycle.

But Republican gubernatorial candidate Abraham backed up Kennedy’s comments and insinuated that he has deeper concerns about the university's leaders.

“Sen. Kennedy’s correct," he said. "This is very disturbing. We have a leadership problem in Louisiana, and it extends further than the governor’s office.”

He also questioned Edwards’ role in allowing Orgeron to give an apparent seal of approval in the governor’s race. Shortly after taking office in 2016, Edwards gave an address that was televised across the state, in which he invoked a threat to LSU football, if the state didn't shore up its finances. LSU also has backed the governor's budget agenda over the past three years as the state passed a sales tax hike to stave off a predicted shortfall.

"Let's be real here - John Bel is (Orgeron's) boss. It's beyond inappropriate,” Abraham said. “It's selfish and shows poor leadership for the governor to co-opt LSU football for personal political gains. He just threw our flagship university into another PR nightmare and isolated half the fanbase. It's shows poor leadership for everyone involved.”

Rispone’s campaign hasn’t commented.

Listen to Kennedy's remarks here.


Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.