SEC Media Days Football

LSU coach Ed Orgeron speaks to reporters during SEC Football Media Days, Monday, July 19, 2021, in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. — Before Ed Orgeron took the podium Monday at SEC Football Media Days, Commissioner Greg Sankey introduced him as the 2019 national coach of the year.

Like so many things in our still COVID-challenged times, that seems like another world ago.

The lazy perception of Orgeron is that he is the guy who got lucky in 2019 with the almost perfect alchemy of Joe Burrow and Joe Brady creating a record-setting offense that carried LSU to 15-0 national championship season. It is a perspective that omits it was Orgeron who convinced Burrow to transfer to LSU from Ohio State and who gave Brady, a supporting cast member on the Saints’ coaching staff, his big shot in the first place.

A season of chaos followed in 2020, with LSU rallying late from a string of embarrassing losses to lesser teams like Mississippi State and Missouri to post a .500 record with a stunning upset win at Florida and a basketball score-like 53-48 victory over Ole Miss. Now entering 2021, Orgeron looks again like a coach on the hot seat, at yet another crossroads in his career.

There was something about Orgeron’s words Monday that said, with subtle defiance, “bring it on. Let’s decide it on the field whether I’m the man to make LSU a contender again or not. I’ll accept my fate.”

You could almost hear the words of Frank Sinatra cutting across a smoke-filled night club in the background:

Regrets, I've had a few

But then again, too few to mention …

Orgeron, to his credit, has never shied away from his mistakes. He said his first head coaching job at Ole Miss taught him to delegate more, not try to coach offense when defense has always been his forte. The hiring in 2017 of former offensive coordinator Matt Canada led to a quick breakup. His admission earlier this year that he didn’t formally interview some of the coaches he hired in 2020, like former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini (another quick breakup) was shocking for both his candor and what it revealed about his process.

Like the entire LSU program, maybe Orgeron was caught up in the post national-title euphoria. The coach of the year awards. The “60 Minutes” and Fox News interviews. The result has been a return to the basics mantra for O and LSU for 2021. Digging deeper. Working harder. Not taking anything for granted.

And, above all, doing it his way.

“That's it,” Orgeron said. “If it's not done the way I want, I'm going to fix it. If I see something broke, I'm fixing it. LSU's standard of performance, the way we have done things.

“This reminds me a lot of the 2018 season. There's a lot of unknowns. There's a lot of noise out there. You've got to block out the noise, a lot of predictions on this and this. That stuff doesn't matter. It's about our football team. It's about me gelling this football team together, us playing together.”

I’ve loved, laughed and cried

I had my fill, my share of losing …

LSU sports news in your inbox

If you're a Tiger fan you won't want to miss this newsletter. Sign up today.

The abject failure of the Pelini Era 2.0 at LSU has weighed on Orgeron’s reputation as much as anything. He reiterated that Pelini didn’t get a formal interview. Instead, Orgeron relied on his wide network of coaching contacts and relationships. It may not have been the right way to make a hire, but there were few if any who voiced concern that bringing back Pelini, who ran top-10 ranked defenses his first time at LSU from 2005-07, was a mistake.

“I believed in him, and it just didn't work,” Orgeron said. “I said I would never do that (hiring process) again. Every one of these (new) guys, I interviewed them in person. I had a long interview with them, specific questions that I asked, things that I maybe should have asked or shouldn't have.

“If I'd have interviewed Bo Pelini face to face, I would have still hired him. There would have been no question about that because of his reputation and because of the guy I knew.”

Interestingly, Orgeron said he conducted the interviews with his new coaches — six of them in all — imagining himself as a player to judge their ability to communicate.

“Coaches are going to know a lot of football, but it's how much that they can get to our players and how much our players will know,” Orgeron said. “Every one of these coaches made an A-plus in communication with our players.”

He was quick to note that the new coaches are, on average, about 20 years younger than their predecessors. Speaking a common generational language is an asset.

Orgeron himself turns 60 next Tuesday. It’s a dizzying time of change in college sports, from NIL to transfer portals to college athletes’ newfound advocacy when it comes to social issues.

Is Orgeron the man to lead LSU into such uncharted waters and again be a national contender? The fact that the Tigers’ fourth-straight top-five recruiting class is currently abuilding — LSU got a commitment from four-star Lake Charles running back TreVonte’ Citizen while Coach O was speaking — says recruits think he is.

“Football's changed, and I'm going to change with it,” Orgeron said. “I want to coach for a long time, and if that's what I have to do, that's what I have to do.”

The record shows I took the blows

And did it my way.

Whatever LSU’s record shows come season’s end, Orgeron seems determined to embody that last lyric. Whether it works or not, there is something admirable in that.

Something tells me Sinatra would have approved.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com