Inside a Baton Rouge restaurant earlier this week, Ed Orgeron sat down for his radio show. Fans had filled the tables at the front of T.J. Ribs to see the coach, and they lightly clapped as the hour-long event began.
Lines formed for autographs between discussion of LSU’s upcoming game Saturday afternoon against Ole Miss. Two people wore T-shirts printed with an image of Orgeron’s face. At one point, an older woman in a tiger-print shirt approached Orgeron for a picture. She wore earrings depicting his head.
“Hey, Coach O, I just want to tell you, love you, my brother,” said Steve in Denham Springs, who called midway through the curated show.
“Thank you,” Orgeron said.
“You’re such a great representative of Louisiana State University,” Steve said. “But even more than that, you’re a great ambassador of the great state of Louisiana, and forever, we will hold you in our hearts.”
That was the closest the show came to mentioning Orgeron’s future, even though everyone at the restaurant knew he signed a separation agreement with LSU last Sunday. Orgeron will coach through the final game. Then LSU will replace him. In exchange, he received his full $16.9 million buyout, ending a five-year tenure that began in 2016 when he replaced former LSU coach Les Miles.
The LSU Tigers are covering some familiar ground.
Orgeron’s imminent departure thrust LSU into the middle of the coaching carousel this week and sparked speculation about whom LSU may hire next. Athletic director Scott Woodward is expected to pursue some of the most prominent names in the profession — partially because of his approach, but also because LSU can attract successful coaches.
Since the position opened, LSU’s spot among the most coveted places in college football has become fodder for talk shows and fans, especially when compared to USC, the only other school with as much prestige currently looking for a new coach. Many considered LSU to be a slightly better opening.
“It’s a legitimate question,” ESPN commentator Paul Finebaum said this week, “and my answer is very simply LSU.”
So what makes LSU such an attractive destination? The answer boils down its recruiting base, financial support, game day atmosphere and facilities. Three different coaches have won national championships at LSU in the last 20 years for a reason.
With the correct hire, the Tigers have the potential to compete for titles every season.
“I think it’s the best job in the country,” said one staff member at another Southeastern Conference school. “You’re going to get everything you need.”
LSU has a chance to win two straight games over ranked teams Saturday against No. 12 Ole Miss at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. These are staff writer Wilson Alexander's keys to the game.
‘We’re the school’
In early 2012, just days before the BCS championship game between LSU and Alabama, Landon Collins’ college choice came down to those two teams. Collins, the No. 1 safety prospect in the nation and the top player in Louisiana that year, announced his decision on national television at the Under Armour All-America Game.
Collins chose the Crimson Tide, spurning his in-state school. As Collins pulled on Alabama gloves, his mother shook her head.
“My feeling is LSU is the better place for him to be,” said his mother, April Justin. “LSU Tigers, No. 1. Go Tigers.”
Cases like Collins are often anomalies. Alabama and other programs sometimes nab Louisiana recruits, but in the decade since Collins decided to play elsewhere, each of the past 10 top-rated recruits in Louisiana, according to 247Sports, signed with LSU.
During Orgeron’s tenure, 54% (21 of 39) of the top-200 recruits in the state chose LSU. In this current cycle, five-star offensive tackle Will Campbell committed to the school, and the rest of the nine highest-rated prospects in the state are either committed or considered LSU leans, according to 247Sports.
Most schools don’t have such a firm grasp on their state. Auburn and Alabama fight for recruits. Florida, Florida State and Miami compete for the same players. Clemson has competition from South Carolina. Ole Miss and Mississippi State split their state in half.
The Advocate's staff writers predict the outcome of LSU's game against No. 12 Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon in Oxford.
But LSU doesn’t have another in-state Power Five school to compete with, making many recruits automatic LSU fans growing up. The program has become so ingrained within the culture that few highly rated recruits go elsewhere. The pipeline naturally replenishes the roster.
“When you step into that job and you immediately have at least half of your recruiting class figured out and all of those players are really talented guys,” said Adam Gorney, the national recruiting director for Rivals and Yahoo Sports, “that's a tremendous advantage when you're looking at that job from Day 1.”
LSU’s classes always start with Louisiana, which has the most NFL players per capita in the country. Then, to fill out the groups, coaches can pull from across the nation because of the program’s brand.
LSU often finds players in Texas and Mississippi. Orgeron signed five-star cornerback Eli Ricks from California, five-star tight end Arik Gilbert from Georgia and multiple top-200 prospects from the “DMV” (Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia).
Orgeron, who built his reputation as an elite recruiter, understood the advantage. None of his previous schools ruled their state quite like LSU, and he spent the past five years trying to keep other coaches from poaching local players. Orgeron assembled three consecutive Top 5 classes. All of them started with Louisiana prospects.
“It's a huge advantage,” Orgeron said. “I mean, that's what makes LSU, LSU. We're the school.”
The former high school quarterback and college walk-on stood on the edge of the offensive line. Jack Mashburn needed to provide a lead block, …
‘You’ve got everything in place’
When Mike Archer grew up in State College, Pennsylvania, he could listen to SEC games on the radio. Archer envisioned the packed stadiums. The early exposure to the league stuck in his mind.
Archer played and then coached at Miami (Florida) for eight years. After helping win the 1983 national championship, he wanted to go somewhere football felt more important to the local community. He had remembered playing in front of a home sellout crowd once at Miami.
So Archer accepted an offer from Bill Arnsparger to become LSU’s defensive backs coach in 1984.
“That was the biggest reason, I think,” Archer said. “The opportunity to coach in front of 80,000 people every single week — no matter who you played.”
Since then, Tiger Stadium has only grown. The venue underwent periodical renovations over the years. It now seats 102,321 people after an expansion project was completed in 2014, making it the eighth-largest stadium in the world (not counting race tracks).
With such a large venue, few other schools can match LSU’s game day atmosphere. The school also boasts raucous pregame tailgates and passionate fans. Though the COVID-19 pandemic affected capacity the past two years, noise can still shake Tiger Stadium. Orgeron credited the crowd for LSU’s 42-28 win over Florida in 2019.
LSU's next coach will have to conduct some internal recruiting to keep players from transferring, but if the staff retains the bulk of the roster, the team has a talented foundation.
In addition to the stadium, LSU has poured money into its facilities and coaching staff — and while that sparks debate about what matters most on campus, it makes LSU a competitive football program.
Three years ago, the school unveiled renovations to its football operations building. The project included a new locker room with sleeping pods, a players lounge, an expanded athletic training area and a nutrition center. Funded through donations to the Tiger Athletic Foundation, the renovations cost $28 million.
“You've got everything in place to be a national championship contender every year,” said Archer, who became LSU’s head coach from 1987-90. “And the expectations have become that.”
That’s ultimately why Orgeron found himself seated next to Woodward underneath Tiger Stadium for a news conference about the separation agreement last Sunday. Orgeron, the second-highest paid coach in the country the past two years, was 9-8 since winning the national title with an undefeated team.
LSU had terminated his contract with four years remaining on the deal.
“I understand the expectations at LSU,” Orgeron said. “And I invite them myself, but we did not meet them the last two years.”
On the same day coach Ed Orgeron sat next to athletic director Scott Woodward to announce the end of his tenure at LSU, he had called two recr…
‘We’re going to be OK’
Before the news conference, Orgeron held a brief team meeting. Most of the players had already heard what happened. Orgeron talked to them for about five minutes, they said, expressing how he had no regrets from his tenure.
“He wouldn't want us to be sad,” senior linebacker Damone Clark said. “They broke the news so we can focus on football now, and that's the only thing that we can do.”
Since then, Orgeron has pointed focus toward the rest of the season, which continues at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against No. 12 Ole Miss. The 4-3 Tigers can still reach a bowl game. Orgeron will coach as far as they go. Then he’ll step away as LSU fills the position with his successor.
It will be a critical hire. Plenty of other schools have fallen out of annual championship contention after changing coaches, such as Tennessee, Texas, USC and Michigan. All four schools have similar resources to LSU, but they have struggled to find the right coach to lead their programs back to the top of college football.
The situation ultimately creates uncertainty. Track records don’t always translate. Coaches need to understand how to harness everything at their disposal. Whenever someone new takes over, there must be a transition of power, and until LSU hires its next coach, the future will look murky.
Even though Ed Orgeron is on his way out as LSU at season’s end, his “Sissy blue shirt” jab at a UCLA fan from the Tigers’ season opener is th…
But Glen Logan has seen this play out before. During his six-year career, the defensive lineman has witnessed the midseason switch from Miles to Orgeron, the 2019 national championship and now the end of Orgeron’s tenure.
Asked earlier this week what advice he would give to younger players who haven’t experienced coaching turnover, Logan shifted his weight and delivered a calm message.
“Stay humble, and believe in the process,” Logan said. “Things are going to get ugly before they get better. (But) we're in a good situation. We're at a great program. And this program is not going to die down.”
“I just feel like we're going to be OK,” he said. “Through everything, LSU is still going to be a dominant program. We're still going to be great. We're still going to go to bowl games, go to championships (and) do everything that everyone expects us to do.”