K.J. Malone remembers the first time he heard Ed Orgeron’s voice. It is gruff, with a twang only familiar in this part of the country.
Orgeron courted Malone, then at Cedar Creek High School in Ruston, to Southern California when Orgeron was the Trojans recruiting coordinator there under Lane Kiffin.
Orgeron’s pitch to the three-star offensive lineman was similar to the one Malone had heard from LSU, where he now plays left tackle.
But that’s not what stood out from the first time he met Orgeron, one of most respected recruiters in college football and now LSU's interim head coach.
“It was just like how they pitched it here, how they’re a family out there,” Malone said. “I just thought it was funny how he talked, because I wasn’t expecting anybody from Cali to talk like that. But then he reminded me he was from Louisiana.”
Several of LSU commitments from the 2017 class heard that same Louisiana accent Sunday night — this time as a method of damage control.
Immediately after a team meeting to confirm that head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron had been fired, Orgeron and his staff scrambled to convince recruits the sky wasn’t falling.
“We had what we call our power hour,” Orgeron said Monday at his introductory news conference.
Sonny Shipp, an LSU recruiting analyst for 247Sports, surmises the coaches’ message to those 20 Tigers commitments — none of which have publically de-committed — was centered around one thing.
“There's really not a whole lot that they can do, other than just basically sending those messages, talking to them and just reassuring them that, 'Hey, you committed to LSU. You didn't commit to a coach,'” Shipp said.
Orgeron was LSU's recruiting coordinator before his promotion, so he has rapport with many of the players. He knows the family members, and he, along with Miles, handled many of the prospects’ visits to campus.
Combined with his enthusiasm and Louisiana flair, Orgeron is distinct in that he likes recruiting as much as coaching, Shipp said. That's not always common among collegiate coaches.
“There's a lot of coaches out there that don't like the grind that comes with recruiting,” Shipp said. “They want to coach, and that's it. And LSU has had some coaches like that in the past, but Orgeron is just completely different. He loves recruiting as much as he loves coaching.”
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However, there’s only so much Orgeron can do at this point. From practice length to offensive philosophy, Orgeron is putting LSU through a complete overhaul of the way things are done around the program. He is also limited by NCAA contact rules.
And Orgeron knows as well as anyone that none of his tactics will matter if LSU doesn’t win games. Though he has been an interim coach before, propelling USC to a 6-2 record after Kiffin’s ouster, he wasn’t offered the full-time job. It could be even more difficult to solidify his candidacy in Baton Rouge.
And Orgeron can’t make any long-term promises to prospects, many of whom are in wait-and-see mode.
“He's an infectious personality,” said Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals. "The problem that he has is that he's sort of in a lame-duck position right now. … He can say all day long, 'I'm the head coach here. We're building something special. Stick with LSU or commit to LSU.' But he cannot say unequivocally that he's going to be a coach, and that's a big problem."
Farrell wasn’t surprised to see that LSU has kept its commitments to this point; Farrell said he believes most recruits knew Miles could be fired based on how last season ended.
Tigers defensive end commitment Aaron Moffitt, a three-star prospect from Catholic High and the son of strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt, says otherwise.
“I was surprised (by Miles' firing),” said Aaron Moffitt, who is also considering TCU. “I didn’t think they’d ever do it, especially in the middle of the season. … As long as coach O stays and my dad stays, I think I’ll stay. A lot of times they say, ‘Don’t just go for a coach,’ but I want the best coach to coach me.”
Farrell and Shipp agreed that Orgeron’s ability to keep this class together shouldn’t be a determining factor in whether Orgeron should get the full-time job. Shipp said building a program isn’t about one recruiting class but several in a row.
LSU never had a problem with that under Miles.
Regardless of results on the field, Miles’ promise of early playing time and a path to the NFL was appealing to many prospects.
At this point, five-star safety JaCoby Stevens — the Tigers' highest-rated prospect in next year’s class, who said he still plans to enroll at LSU in January — just wants the defensive coaching staff untouched.
“I’d like to see LSU leave the defensive side of the ball alone,” Stevens said. “Keep (defensive coordinator Dave) Aranda, (defensive backs coach Corey) Raymond, even coach Orgeron. Everybody on the defensive side is doing well. … They did a good job promoting my guy (player personnel director) Austin Thomas to general manager, making history. Those things right there, keeping those things the same, that’s something I don’t want to see changed.”