cfpclemsonlsu.011420. 2016 bf.jpg

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) hoists the trophy as coach Ed Orgeron claps after LSU's CFP National Championship Game against Clemson at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Monday Jan. 13, 2020, in New Orleans. LSU won 42-25.

Ed Orgeron listened quietly as the caller at the other end of the line poured out her feelings.

“I cried when you got the job,” the woman said Wednesday night on Orgeron’s final weekly radio show. “I cried when you won the national championship. And I’ll cry when they carry you off the field Saturday night.”

Orgeron thanked the caller. Before his show was over and he walked out a side door of T.J. Ribs restaurant on Acadian Thruway, the purple-and-gold-clad faithful who were packed in front of the stage there got to their feet and gave him a standing ovation.

A standing O for Coach O.

Orgeron may or may not be carried off on his players’ shoulders after the Texas A&M game, like his predecessor Les Miles was after beating the Aggies in 2015 when it looked as though he was done at LSU. Such a tribute may depend on whether or not the Tigers can pull off the upset to finish 6-6 to avoid their first losing season since 1999.

LSU needs the win to become bowl eligible, though it now appears unlikely Orgeron would be allowed to coach a bowl game. A terribly modest goal for a program that he led to the national championship two seasons ago, but a significant one nonetheless for a Louisiana man who would like to see his home state’s team out a winner.

Folks who think of Orgeron only as a caricature, as a punchline, as a coach who rose to shockingly amazing heights and fell spectacularly (some would say predictably) as the leader of LSU’s football program, miss the mark. For a sizable slice of Tiger football fandom, Orgeron’s departure will be a sad end for the Louisianians to whom Coach O was a kindred spirit. He was family.

Orgeron was the first one of them to coach the Tigers that any living person could remember. LSU greats Jerry Stovall and Gus Tinsley later returned to coach the Tigers, but they were from north Louisiana. Orgeron was the first south Louisiana man to coach at LSU since Lake Charles native Edmond Chavanne way back in 1898 and 1900.

LSU sports news in your inbox

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

And now, likely after one more game, it’s going to be over.

“I don't think it's going to hit me until the end,” Orgeron said Monday at his final weekly regular-season news conference. “But I am appreciative of the time I had here. A lot of great days.”

The great days were the greatest. Namely LSU’s 25-3 record in 2018-19, capped by arguably the greatest college football season ever. LSU beat seven top 10-ranked teams en route to a perfect 15-0 mark. Joe Burrow, who Orgeron recruited with the help of some crawfish, won the Heisman Trophy in the award’s biggest landslide ever and tearfully thanked his coach afterward.

The bad days were some of the worst. The loss to Troy in 2017. The team protest march across campus in the summer of 2020 that made Orgeron look out of touch with his players. The combined 10-11 record the past two seasons, falling short of the “LSU standard” that Orgeron knows as well as anyone.

Yeah, maybe it was predictable that Orgeron would be sent packing. Packing with nearly $17 million worth of well-heeled LSU boosters’ bucks, one might add. But no one could have predicted the success he had after succeeding Miles. He was committed to changing LSU’s offensive culture and did from the start, telling Steve Ensminger to let it rip in a 42-7 rout of Missouri that featured a then school record 634 yards of offense in a Southeastern Conference game.

What to make of Orgeron’s time here? Does he leave LSU football better or worse than he found it? It’s a surprisingly complicated legacy for a seemingly uncomplicated man. LSU will have to climb the mountain again under its new coach from the bottom of the SEC West. But a lot of schools with a lot more consistent success would take that 2019 championship season and sort things out from there.

As soon as the clock hits zero Saturday night, win or lose, all attention will be on who’s next. Orgeron has expressed support for his old buddy, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, but that doesn’t seem like a possibility at all. There has been a lot of smoke around Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, but not enough wood with which to build a fire. That said, just about every other coach who’s been tied to the LSU opening has gotten a new and bigger contract except Riley.

Orgeron said he will take a year off from coaching, at least. Maybe do some motivational speaking, perhaps attached to a sobriety program of which he is a member. If LSU has a 10-year reunion of its 2019 team eight years from now, maybe Coach O will be back with his boys, on the field where they shook the college football world.

Surely there will be another standing ovation then.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com