A head coach who's just over a year removed from a national championship parade would normally be considered to avoid questions about his job security.
Ed Orgeron is quick to remind people of LSU's dream season in 2019, a record-breaking year that produced the program's fourth national title, second Heisman Trophy and established the Tigers as, Orgeron says, "the best team in the world."
"But it seems like some people have forgotten that," Orgeron said Tuesday, the first day of LSU's spring football program, "and I understand that."
Yes, there have been enough issues in the past 14 months to cast the feel-good memories to the nosebleeds of an LSU fan's memory.
In the middle of a global pandemic that swept up sports, LSU became the sixth team in the 85 years The Associated Press has named a national champions in college football to have lost at least five games in the year immediately after winning the title.
There were myriad factors that produced LSU's 5-5 season, one of the major ones being a turbulent environment inside LSU's football operations building following Orgeron's public support of former President Donald Trump in the middle of polarizing national protests against police brutality and racial inequality.
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward told WRKF's "Talk Louisiana" host Jim Engster on Monday that Orgeron's statement was not "a smart thing to do."
Orgeron had made multiple appearances on Fox News, and, in August, Orgeron said, "I love President Trump. He treated us very well when we went to the White House. I think he's doing a fantastic job."
Engster specifically asked if Orgeron's support was a bad move.
"Yes," Woodward said. "And he owns it and he admits it. He needs to stay out of politics. That's not a good thing to do. I want all of our staff and all of our coaches to be involved with it, but they understand they have a platform that they can't use except for LSU and for doing the right thing. And politics is not where it is. I want you to vote. I want you to be involved in the process. But I don't think it's for us to do those types of things."
Orgeron and Trump had already developed an association by the time of his controversial interview.
Trump attended two football games in 2019, met the team during its White House visit and called Orgeron multiple times — once to discuss the interest of playing college football amid coronavirus concerns. Orgeron also joined former Vice President Mike Pence in promoting returning college students to campus and playing football when the White House's coronavirus task force visited Baton Rouge in mid-July.
Meanwhile, Orgeron backed former safety JaCoby Stevens, who, in July, organized a campaign that resulted in every player on the team registering to vote.
But team morale continued to turn south before the season began, when a large group of players felt Orgeron mishandled a team meeting regarding the team's player-led march in August. Sources said some players felt the situation could've been handled better by all sides, and others left feeling Orgeron wasn't supportive.
Subsequently, seven players, including star wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, opted out either before or during the season, contributing to a substantial roster management problem that left the Tigers with 69 of 85 possible scholarship players in its season finale against Ole Miss.
In the time since, Orgeron was counseled from the top down about his involvement in politics. Engster asked Woodward if he's instructed LSU's coaches to not make similar statements.
"Yes," Woodward said. "But they have First Amendment rights. I just made it clear that I think it's poorly advised."
Woodward, who was hired in 2019, is now ultimately responsible for guiding an athletic department through one of its most tumultuous periods in history.
Along with a Title IX scandal that has already resulted in the temporary suspensions of two high profile athletic officials, as well as a separate NCAA infractions case that has so far produced a self-imposed bowl ban and scholarship reductions, LSU is still recovering from an $80 million shortfall due to the pandemic that forced the elimination of at least 20 jobs.
Football remains LSU's bell cow, the main revenue generator that produced a net income of $53.66 million during its national championship season in 2019.
Orgeron was awarded a six-year contract extension for that title, a $6 million per year deal in base salary that includes a $5 million split-dollar life insurance policy. The 59-year-old Larose native is entering the second year of that deal, which expires following the 2025 season.
While not directly stating Orgeron is on the proverbial hot seat, Woodward indicated there is a sense of urgency for a football program that can't afford another dismal season.
"Coach O is from Lafourche Parish and understands the expectations of Louisiana State University football," Woodward told WRKF. "And he understands what's at stake and he knows 5-5 is not good enough."
There were also some "obvious" explanations for LSU's "falloff," Woodward added. The Tigers lost 17 starters from its championship team, and a young group of players that lost starting quarterback Myles Brennan to a season-ending abdominal injury in Week 3 "stepped up" with comeback wins against Florida and Ole Miss to finish the season.
Orgeron was given the chance to overhaul his coaching staff, adding five new coaches, including offensive coordinator Jake Peetz, who's installing LSU's spread system from 2019, and defensive coordinator Daronte Jones, who's rebuilding a defense that ranked its lowest in team defense and scoring defense in school history.
"I think this new batch of coaches have a sense of urgency of what needs to be done for expectations at LSU because we all have them," Woodward said.
Yes, this year is about expectations. And about whether they'll be met.
"Nobody has to tell me about LSU's expectations," Orgeron said. "I know exactly what LSU's expectations are, and I invite them... 5-5 doesn't cut it, and there's no excuse. We've got to get better."