It was another road game in another world, and a storm of a different kind was swirling.
The LSU Tigers were at Texas A&M to put a wrap on the 2016 regular season. But the game on the field felt secondary to the parlor game concerning the bid to become LSU’s full-time coach.
Ed Orgeron was the incumbent of sorts, but the man tabbed to be LSU’s interim coach after Les Miles was fired four games in looked like he may have blown his chance. His six-game run started well with a 42-7 romp over Missouri — the only meeting between LSU and Mizzou since the latter joined the Southeastern Conference in 2012 before Saturday’s game. But his candidacy appeared to hit an iceberg after a 10-0 loss to Alabama and a 16-10 defeat against Florida.
While Orgeron was directing LSU to a 54-39 win over A&M, the action was focusing on Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Houston coach Tom Herman. Fisher was the prize that seemed to slip through LSU’s fingers at the end of the 2015 season when Miles looked as good as fired but a deal couldn’t be pulled together. Then LSU President F. King Alexander is believed to have balked at Miles’ massive buyout ($15 million) and what it would have taken to lure Fisher away from Florida State. By 2016, Fisher was a prime candidate in name only.
The focus was on Herman. There was, reportedly, an oral agreement in place between him and LSU. But Herman wanted to talk to Texas first, in his words later, his dream job. In a fit of anger, then LSU athletic director Joe Alleva turned on his heel and offered the job to Orgeron, who was of no mind to turn LSU down.
Did LSU really offer Herman the job and was he that close to taking it? Personally, I think all along Herman and his agent were using LSU to drive Texas to the bargaining table. And, it worked for Herman, who is making $6 million this season at Texas and got a contract extension in 2019 that will pay him $6.5 million in 2022 and $6.75 million in 2023.
If he makes it that far, that is. At the moment, things aren’t going swimmingly for Herman or Fisher, who became the coach in 2018 at Texas A&M.
The Longhorns are 2-1 after lucking into a 63-56 overtime win against Texas Tech and falling to TCU 33-30 last week. The Horned Frogs for decades were a Texas punching bag, but TCU is 6-1 in the last seven meetings with the Longhorns, 3-1 against Herman.
“We’re baaack!” Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger famously brayed after the Longhorns beat a disinterested Georgia 28-21 in the 2019 Sugar Bowl.
Hold your horses, cowboy.
Herman is 27-16 at Texas in now his fourth season. That’s a winning percentage of .628. Mack Brown, who has added a surprising new chapter onto his career at resurgent North Carolina, was 26-17 in his last 43 games at Texas before being forced out. And according to ESPN, Herman’s Texas teams are 1-11 when trailing entering the fourth quarter.
Texas is getting what it deserved, methinks, for believing it is the center of the Big 12 universe and blowing up the possibility of a Big 12 Network to have one of its own. Alabama thinks it owns the SEC, but the Crimson Tide would never have dreamt of icing out the rest of the conference for its own TV channel.
Speaking of SEC West teams, things aren’t going much better for Fisher, now at A&M.
The Aggies are 1-1 coming off a 52-24 loss at Alabama that followed an ugly 17-12 opening win at home against Vanderbilt. No sin losing to Bama. Everybody does it. But this is the year A&M is supposed to make the leap into contender status. The Aggies lost all five games they played against regular season ranked teams in 2019, and so far 2020 doesn’t look different.
Overall, Fisher’s teams are 3-8 against the ranked, having only beaten Kentucky in 2018, LSU 74-72 in seven controversial overtimes in 2018 and Oklahoma State in last year’s Texas Bowl.
The Aggies are 2-8 under Fisher against teams that finished ranked (if I had to guess, Alabama will make that 2-9). Overall, Fisher is 10-8 in the SEC and 18-10 overall, a .643 winning percentage. Kevin Sumlin, the man he replaced, got run out of College Station with a .662 winning percentage.
For this so-so-ness, Fisher is getting $7.5 million per year in a 10-year guaranteed contract he received under LSU and former A&M athletic director Scott Woodward.
Woodward is clearly happier where he is now at LSU. He certainly is happier with the coach he’s currently paying $7 million per season.
Yes, Orgeron (41-10 at LSU with that 2019 national title) does have a clunker loss of his own this season, that 44-34 defeat in the Mississippi State opener. A game that so inspired the Bulldogs they promptly went home and lost 21-14 to Arkansas, allowing the Razorbacks to snap their 20-game SEC losing streak.
But that game is likely to prove to be an anomaly as the season wears on. That LSU could have made better defensive adjustments ‘tis true — Arkansas rushed three and dropped eight into coverage to great affect — but the Tigers’ secondary was badly inexperienced and depleted. When the SEC reconfigured the schedule for 10 games because of the pandemic, it looked like LSU was getting a break by opening against the Bulldogs. Turns out playing State on Oct. 24 as originally scheduled would probably have been a better break.
The best break for LSU was, as it turns out, getting to hire Orgeron. It’s third choice behind Fisher and Herman once upon a time. It’s true LSU’s hopes of repeating as SEC champion and returning this year to the College Football Playoff will probably require the unlikely task of running the remaining table. But with currently the No. 5 recruiting class for 2020-21 and the No. 1 class for 2021-22 (it’s early yet), LSU’s future under Orgeron looks bright. Better, by far, than the buyer’s remorse they’re having at Texas and Texas A&M.