Events on and off the field on Thanksgiving night turned the tide in LSU’s coaching search and, ultimately, resulted in university leaders choosing to promote interim coach Ed Orgeron instead of negotiating with Houston coach Tom Herman.
LSU decision-makers used Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher’s talked-about candidacy as a ruse to quietly negotiate with Herman and stay ahead of the University of Texas in the chase for the 41-year-old hotshot, but the potential deal fizzled after reports on Thursday night exposed a plan the Tigers had kept shrouded for days.
Meanwhile, leaders admit that Orgeron was coaching for his job in the season finale against Texas A&M, and the result – a 54-39 drubbing at Kyle Field just five days after a home loss to Florida – pushed his candidacy to another level. LSU officials saw what one person called “powerful” locker room videos of players chanting Orgeron’s name, and they received messages from those who witnessed the emotional scene – more signs of the 55-year-old Cajun coach’s culture-changing ways that athletic director Joe Alleva spoke of Saturday.
“It turned the tide,” one source said of the Thanksgiving night events.
Several athletic department leaders and decision-makers spoke to The Advocate on a condition of anonymity regarding the search.
Ed Orgeron got the job he said he always wanted Saturday, being named LSU’s long-term head coach.
They specifically spoke about the furious final five days, a wild run that ended with the announcement Saturday of Orgeron’s promotion to the top job. So much happened before that celebratory news conference.
For one, a potential deal with Herman collapsed, in part because of the reports that surfaced Thursday night from HornsDigest.com strongly linking Herman to the LSU job. Leaders blamed Herman’s camp for leaking the information.
Angry and frustrated decision-makers, namely Alleva, bullishly ended discussions with Herman and his agent in the wee hours of Saturday morning, refusing to be part of a bidding war with “wealthy and desperate” Texas for a guy whose camp leveraged LSU’s interest into an eventual job with the Longhorns.
“That was all orchestrated by someone, and you can figure that out,” Alleva said Saturday, a not-so-subtle shot at Herman and his agent Trace Armstrong, who most recently began representing former LSU coach Les Miles.
Herman was named Texas’ head coach at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The search didn’t get serious until Saturday night, when leaders met after LSU's loss to Florida.
They narrowed a list of “10-12” vetted coaches to just two candidates: Herman and Orgeron. Missing from that duo is the school’s third finalist, Fisher, reported by many, including The Advocate, to be LSU’s top choice.
Discussions with Fisher’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, unfolded early during the search process, well before the true hunt for Les Miles’ replacement took place this week. LSU officials deny what many have reported – that Fisher turned down an offer. However, they admit that a deal for the coach would have cost more than $50 million in guaranteed money.
LSU officials believed that, if needed, they could have circled back to Fisher, though they knew the lofty asking price. All other vetted coaches were well behind their top three. Just beneath Orgeron, Fisher and Herman were North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre and Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck.
LSU defensive line coach Pete Jenkins will remain on Ed Orgeron’s staff in the same capacity…
Leaders were prepared to name Orgeron the head coach if he were to have beaten Florida and A&M, a result that would have sent the Tigers to the Sugar Bowl. But the 16-10 loss to the Gators didn’t remove him from the picture.
In fact, Alleva phoned Orgeron on the Sunday after that defeat, when the Tigers were stopped short on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
“The phone calls I got from him on Sunday mornings after the loss (were), ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going,’” Orgeron said Saturday. “It gave me the motivation to lead this team. I want to thank him.”
Orgeron “blew away” decision-makers during an interview Friday, when he arrived equipped with two thick binders detailing his long-term plan for the program. He left that meeting feeling as if he would finish second to Herman.
Starting last Sunday, all eyes shifted to Herman, a man who fit the mold in which leaders were after – a young, up-and-coming offensive-minded coach. While multiple reports about Fisher’s candidacy broke Wednesday night, decision-makers were focused on Herman.
“The media was barking up the wrong tree,” one source said.
“All a smokescreen,” said another.
Shortly after having the interim tag removed from his title Saturday, LSU football coach Ed …
LSU and Herman had “intense talks” over the days leading up to LSU’s game against Texas A&M. He appeared to be “extremely interested” in LSU, and Herman shot down any suggestions that he wanted to coach at Texas. At about 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, Herman or his agent told LSU leaders that he was leaning toward the Longhorns and that he’d begin discussions with the school.
Alleva and other decision-makers, set to meet with Herman for the first time Saturday in Texas, ended the negotiations. Alleva called Orgeron, and the coach sped from his Mandeville home to Baton Rouge.
The athletic director told Orgeron he’d gotten the job during a meeting in the coach’s office. Orgeron’s reaction: He picked Alleva up off of his feet.
"I tell you, before I went to bed last night, Kelly said, 'You're going to be the head coach at LSU tomorrow,'" Orgeron said. "I said, ‘Have you been reading the paper.'"