ATLANTA — If you had your mind made up about LSU football coach Ed Orgeron, pro or con, what he said Monday at Southeastern Conference Media Days probably didn’t change your feelings much.
Whether Orgeron is the man to lead LSU back to championship glory, a program that has known its triumphs as well as its struggles through the ages, is a story that remains to be written. But say this about Orgeron: He knows what the issues are and what he and LSU need to do to overcome them.
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It was a much more comfortable Ed Orgeron who addressed the media here this year as compared to the one on display in 2017 in Hoover, Alabama. That version of Coach O spent 20 or so minutes making a painstaking (make that painful) dissertation out of his team’s depth chart.
This Ed Orgeron was still quite serious, draped in a business-like gray suit, like he was shuffling on up to midtown Atlanta for a meeting at the Coca-Cola headquarters afterward. But as his royal purple tie suggested, he was a bit more willing to let that gregarious personality fill the room, even a room as big as the atrium in the College Football Hall of Fame where he took his turn at the podium Monday afternoon.
Orgeron took on some weighty issues head on: the failed Matt Canada experiment, who his quarterback will be this fall and the gulf between his program and reigning national champion Alabama that needs to be crossed for anyone to ever regard his tenure at LSU as a success.
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As for Canada, his long-gone offensive coordinator, Orgeron admitted hiring him away from the University of Pittsburgh and trying to install (make that put up with) his whirling-dervish offense was a colossal blunder.
“It's tough when you make a mistake,” Orgeron said, “but it's even tougher not to admit you made a mistake, and it's just not a good fit. And I had to do what I thought was best for the LSU program.”
That was to send Canada packing (he is now at Maryland) and install loyal soldier Steve Ensminger as his play-caller.
It is easy, and probably fitting, to say Orgeron played the familiarity card when he tabbed Ensminger, the once-upon-a-time LSU quarterback who was Coach O’s coordinator during his interim head coaching stint in 2016. Orgeron said Ensminger will spread the ball around out of three-, four-, sometimes five-receiver sets (if I ever see LSU do that, I might fall out of the press box) with a pass-heavy mentality.
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“I have complete confidence in the direction in which he is going to lead our offense,” Coach O said of Coach E. “We’re on the same page.”
As for who will be leading the offense on the field that Ensminger will guide from the coaches' booth, Orgeron somewhat surprisingly dangled the prospect of using two quarterbacks if necessary, though it clearly did not sound like his preference.
“We would like to have had a starting quarterback by the end of the spring,” Orgeron said. “It didn’t work out that way.”
The assumption, and Orgeron said nothing to change that, is that it will work out with Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow. But whoever wins the derby, Orgeron wants a victory that is sharply defined.
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“I want it to be clear to our coaches and to our players,” he said.
The ease with which Orgeron handled himself with the media Monday compared to his ironing board-stiff demeanor in 2017 is a good indication Orgeron has his man. It would not take the deductive skills of Hercule Poirot to deduce that man is Jeaux Burreaux.
But it also says that he has the kind of staff in place around him that suits him best. It is worth questioning whether Orgeron made the best choices in picking familiar and comfortable friends like Ensminger, special teams coach Greg McMahon and Jerry Sullivan, who returned to LSU to coach wide receivers, but a head coach deserves to sink or swim with the people of his own choosing.
Asked about changing offensive coordinators after just one season, LSU coach Ed Orgeron seemed to own the failed Matt Canada experiment at SEC…
Finding the most productive quarterback to run Ensminger’s offense is the first step in an offensive strategy of, someday, taking the measure of Alabama once again. The Tigers’ losing streak against the Crimson Tide runs to seven straight games dating back to the January 2012 BCS championship. Orgeron didn’t start it, but it is his supreme task to end it. To his credit, he has no illusions about how big an elephant in the room of his coaching career Alabama is.
“Almost is not good enough against Alabama,” Orgeron said, referring specifically to LSU’s 10-0 loss to Alabama two years ago in Tiger Stadium, a game that was scoreless entering the fourth quarter. “I understand as the coach at LSU, you have to beat Alabama. That’s the benchmark.”
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