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LSU head coach Ed Orgeron leads his team down Victory Hill before kickoff between LSU and Northwestern State, Saturday, September 14, 2019, on LSU's campus in Baton Rouge, La.

It’s time to pay the man.

Ed Orgeron literally gave LSU a hometown deal when it elevated his status from interim to full-time head coach in 2016. At the time he was earning a “mere” $3.5 million per year, but he was so eager to land his dream job he placed a futures’ bet on himself while opening up a bigger pot of gold with which to pay his assistants.

Even last season, LSU was getting Orgeron for the comparative bargain price of $4 million annually. According to USA Today, that salary put him on the same shelf as now fired Arkansas coach Chad Morris and below seven other Southeastern Conference coaches. Heck, even Kentucky’s Mark Stoops made $4.75 million last season and hasn’t even sniffed the SEC Championship Game, much less the College Football Playoff.

But Orgeron, still probably unable to wipe the smile off his face after hoisting the CFP national championship trophy on Jan. 13 in New Orleans, has finally gotten up to the window to cash his ticket.

Details of Ed Orgeron’s massive new six-year, $42 million contract extension were released Friday. It still doesn’t make him the highest-paid coach in the country — the guy he just beat, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, holds that distinction with $9.316 million per year. It doesn’t even make him the highest paid coach in the SEC West. Alabama’s Nick Saban makes $8.857 million, while Texas A&M is paying Jimbo Fisher $7.5 million per. Just try to remember the quaint old days when LSU gave everyone the vapors 20 years ago by luring Saban from Michigan State for $1.3 million a year. That amount is approaching tip money for today’s big-bucks coaches.

But this is elite-level money for an elite-level job of coaching. And it affirms Orgeron’s story as the most rags-to-riches tale you can imagine.

In 2007, Ole Miss paid Orgeron millions to go away after a dreadful 10-25 three-year stint in Oxford. He went back to the assistant coaching route and tried his darndest in 2013 to land the Southern California job after the school sent new Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin packing.

Coach O went 6-2, but USC hired Steve Sarkisian instead. They couldn’t argue the job Orgeron did. One only has to surmise that he wasn’t considered proper material for the private school. One can picture Judge Smails in “Caddyshack” smirking and saying, “Some people just don’t belong.”

USC, by the way, has averaged 4.7 losses per season since picking Sark (who lasted less than two years) over Orgeron.

Orgeron has made no secret of how crushed he was then by the USC snub. LSU may have been his true dream job, but who would turn their nose up at USC? Ed’s wife Kelly tried to console her husband by telling him God had a better plan.

“I said, ‘It better be a good one,’ ” Orgeron has said since.

Turns out it was pretty good.

There were some rough times, like the 2017 loss to Troy. But as he did from his three seasons at Ole Miss, as he did working for Hall of Fame coaches like Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carroll, Orgeron and his team learned. Orgeron is 40-9 at LSU including 25-3 the past two seasons. Even more incredibly, he has led the Tigers to an 11-1 mark in the past 12 games against teams ranked in The Associated Press top 10.

Some said O was on the hot seat going into the 2018 season. Now he’s on easy street.

I guess you could say, he passed what former LSU athletic director Joe Alleva called an “audition.”

Alleva recently told The Advocate when he was in contract negotiations with Orgeron back in 2016 never once did they talk about salary. He said “Ed wanted the job so bad he would have taken it for nothing.”

Well, $3.5 million per year wasn’t nothing. Neither was the $4 million in salary Orgeron was making in 2019.

But this deal, this is really something. Something Orgeron earned many times over for LSU in terms of the boundless publicity the national championship has brought and will continue to bring to the school.

You can certainly debate whether college coaches deserve to be paid so much. Quite frankly, $1 million a year is more than enough to draw up plays and recruit players in football or basketball or baseball.

Alas, there is no NCAA salary cap. Coaches’ salaries are driven ever upward by what the market will bear.

As was the case when LSU started attaching its Tradition Fund fee to season tickets back in the early 2000s, the school is not on the forefront of sticking its hand deeper into the pocket of the ticket-buying public. And LSU went the last couple of seasons without paying Orgeron what the market said he probably deserved.

Now, it’s time for Orgeron to get paid like the championship coach he is.

He’s earned it.


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Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com