The stories of “Bébé” are big, like the gravel-voiced Cajun himself.
They’re bigger than life.
“Outside perception is, ‘That guy can’t be real,’ ” said Doug Ireland, the longtime sports information director at Northwestern State and the chairman of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. "But he is very real.”
The stories of LSU interim football coach Ed Orgeron are real, too — even tales from decades ago that he’d like to forget, the ones that taught him hard lessons and got him to good places.
Did you know about his morning marches through the hallways of the Ole Miss football offices? Orgeron banged against a massive bass drum that was strapped to his wide chest at 7 a.m., at least three cans of Red Bull flowing through his system as he filled his assistant coaches’ offices with ear-piercing booms.
Are you aware of his long-past drinking issues? One summer night in 1992, Orgeron head-butted the manager of a bar in Baton Rouge and was arrested. The charges were dropped, but the incident, and perhaps others, resulted in his resignation as defensive line coach at Miami.
How about when he was a junior at Northwestern State in 1982? Orgeron arrived for his first meeting with his new defensive coordinator in a dirtied, torn, white T-shirt, ripped-up jeans — not the fashionable kind — and no shoes.
Or this one? In his first meeting with the Ole Miss football team, he tore off his shirt. Bare-chested, he then challenged Rebels players to a wrestling match.
How about how much the game means to him? In 2013, Orgeron’s eyes filled with tears during the last meeting with his Southern Cal football team. He wept in an emotional goodbye after the athletic director decided his 6-2 record as interim coach wasn’t good enough for the full-time gig. Outraged and distraught, Orgeron immediately resigned.
"It was devastating," said Kelly Orgeron, Ed's wife. "That was a hurt that goes deep."
If you think Bébé's stories are good, you should hear those from Kelly, his engaging, strong, Arkansas-born bride of 19 years. She was born with scoliosis, has a metal rod down her spine and needs two more neck surgeries. Her father died in a train wreck when she was in college.
"We've got plenty of stories," she said.
Life has grabbed Kelly and Bébé, shaken them, tossed them down its throat and spit them out anew.
All of these stories — the crazy ones, the carefree ones, the sad ones, the joyous ones and the upset ones — made Bébé into the man you see today, the burly guy who will coach his home-state team, LSU, against Missouri at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
He no longer drinks Red Bull, Kelly said. He doesn't drink, either, and he's not tearing off his shirt or pounding drums while assistant coaches are trying to work.
This is the new Bébé.
He’s a breath of fresh air for a wounded, battered Cajun nation — a guy who starred in the movie “The Blind Side," coached Warren Sapp and The Rock (who was then Dwayne Johnson before he became a pro wrestler and a movie star) at Miami and has been on four national championship-winning staffs.
He’s the perfect fit, some have said, a Lafourche Parish product from Larose whose Louisiana roots are as rich as his mama’s gumbo. His friends call him Bébé, a French word meaning "baby" and a nickname handed down from his father. His acquaintances call him "O," and his players called him "Coach O."
This is his time, his moment, after a winding past 35 years. This may be his last chance as a head coach at a major college — his third opportunity after a three-year blunder at Ole Miss and the disappointment at Southern Cal.
This is his “audition,” as LSU athletic director Joe Alleva put it. He’s ready, those who know him said. This is it. He’ll do it.
“There is nobody better to get LSU going based on who he knows and how he would do it than Ed Orgeron,” ex-Auburn and current Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said this week to Cole Cubelic, an Alabama-based radio show host. “I would be shocked if Ed Orgeron didn’t get that job at LSU.”
Bryan Arceneaux, at nose guard, and Orgeron, at defensive tackle, were the bad boys on Northwestern State’s defensive line in the early 1980s.
They also were bad boys off the field.
Before Christmas break in 1982, “They had pretty well trashed their dorm room,” said Sam Goodwin, who in 1983 began what would end up being a 17-year head coaching stay in Natchitoches.
“They must have had a party. The bed was nothing but splinters. Windows were knocked out,” Goodwin said. “From what I understood, it wasn’t the first time.”
One of Goodwin’s first orders of business upon taking over: End the duo’s partying. He sent that message during a meeting with the two that Orgeron remembered.
“It was the best thing to happen — he drew the line,” he said. “Back then, I was living hard, on and off the field. I settled down, became a team captain and (later) a coach for him.”
Orgeron started for four years at tackle, the last one in 1983 for Goodwin and defensive coordinator John Thompson. He helped stuff the line so the guy behind him, linebacker Gary Reasons, could get the tackles.
He did. Reasons, a fourth-round NFL draft pick by the New York Giants, is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
“There was no doubt,” said Reasons, now a Fox Sports college football analyst, “that Bébé knew how to have fun.”
Before his arrival in Natchitoches, Orgeron spent his teenage weekends running the roads with teammates on the South Lafourche High football team. You might recognize one name: Bobby Hebert. They were teenage boys living in the rural toe of Louisiana’s boot, bar-hopping with the best of them.
“We’d party,” said Hebert, the former Saints quarterback and current New Orleans radio personality. “In those days, you could go out if you had your driver’s license. You could go honky-tonking. We had the Safari Night Club.”
“That was a part of growing up back then,” Orgeron said. “Obviously, we don’t live like that anymore. Thank God.”
Orgeron has been sober for 17 years. Kelly knows the date. It's a day before their wedding anniversary: Feb. 19.
His 1992 arrest was a loud wakeup call. He lost his job at Miami, where he had helped coach Dennis Erickson and the Hurricanes win two national titles.
"I lost everything," Orgeron said.
He spent a year out of football getting sober before returning to coaching at Nicholls State in 1994, then moving to Syracuse and landing at Southern Cal under Pete Carroll.
“You just respect a guy who can come back from that,” said Thompson, a close friend to Orgeron who became his defensive coordinator in 2007, Orgeron’s final year at Ole Miss. “He’s still taken that same drive, same intensity and turned it all into being a better coach, better all-around, as a father and all that.
“A lot of people who go through that lose their edge. I promise you, that old Cajun hasn’t lost his edge.”
'You must win'
On Friday's sun-splashed afternoon, Kelly Orgeron steps inside her new eight-story-high home: the head coach’s suite at Tiger Stadium.
"Oh, wow," she said, walking into the 22-seat, plush room.
She’s the new first lady of LSU football, a charming mother of three from a tiny town near Jonesboro, Arkansas. She and Ed met on a blind date in Memphis, Tennessee, during the week of the 1996 Liberty Bowl. Bébé then was an assistant at Syracuse. They were married two months later.
Just two weeks ago, Kathy Miles watched her 80th game from this suite. Kelly will watch her first Saturday. It’s an eerie feeling. She admits that.
Kelly was folding laundry when her husband called Sunday afternoon to deliver the news: LSU had fired Les Miles, and he was named interim coach.
Kelly calls Kathy and Les Miles friends, close friends, whom they bonded with over the past two years. She has not spoken to Kathy since the firing, but she plans to at some point.
"We've had it happen to us," Kelly said. "We know the feeling. When it happened to us, you don't want to talk to those people. You just pull together with your family."
Kelly is staying with her husband on campus at the Cook Hotel. The couple is being moved from a normal suite to the "head coach's suite" this weekend. They’ll remain there for a to-be-determined span of time.
Bébé is no stranger to living out of hotels. He did it for five years.
The family settled in Mandeville during Orgeron's one-year stint with the Saints in 2008. Kelly and the kids never left. They remained there while Orgeron coached one season at Tennessee and then four at Southern Cal.
Back in Mandeville, Kelly raised three sons: Bébé’s stepson, Tyler, and twins Cody and Parker. The twins are now playing football at McNeese State. Tyler is a student assistant for the LSU football team who soon plans to officially take his stepfather's last name.
Bébé and Kelly have commuted back and forth from Mandeville since he joined the Tigers in January 2015. She's mostly in Baton Rouge for good now. Her policy, though, has not changed: Her husband's fiery football persona is not allowed at home.
"You put on a different hat," she told him years ago, "when you come home."
Kelly describes the family’s past five days as a "whirlwind." But now it's Friday, she said. Friday means one thing.
"It's game face now," she said. "You win. You must win."
‘We didn’t make fourth down’
One play doesn’t get a coach fired, right?
In Orgeron’s case, the result of one play did decide his fate as Ole Miss’ head coach in 2007. The Rebels led Mississippi State 14-0 with 10 minutes left in their season-ending rivalry game. They faced fourth-and-1 at midfield.
Orgeron went for it. The Rebels didn’t get it, and the Bulldogs scored the next 17 points to win. Orgeron was fired the next day.
“We didn’t make fourth down,” said Thompson, defensive coordinator on that team. “Fourth-and-1 … we still may all be there if we converted.”
Pete Boone, the Ole Miss athletic director who hired Orgeron, admitted in an interview this week that university leaders entered that game planning to give Orgeron and his staff another season.
“We let go of Ed," Boone said, "and up until the last game of the year, we were hoping that wasn’t going to be the case.”
Orgeron’s problems at Ole Miss stretched beyond that one play, of course. His three teams were 10-25 overall and 3-21 in the SEC.
A position coach and never a coordinator, Orgeron admitted he did not delegate enough. He micromanaged the staff.
“I went full speed ahead,” he said, “and I wanted to do everything: coach the quarterbacks, the receivers and I don't know nothing about 'em, but I wanted to do it my way. And I learned about that.”
Orgeron demanded everyone — assistants and players — match his energy level, Boone said. How in the world are they supposed to match the energy level of a person who downs a half-dozen Red Bulls by noon and marches around the football building banging on a bass drum?
“Not possible,” Thompson said. “There was such tension then. He’s letting people breathe and coach now, not walking on eggshells all the time. He’s learned his management style.”
Everything Orgeron did wrong at Ole Miss he scribbled in a notebook, filling the pages with as many as “100 things.”
“I spent five years writing down what I needed to do as a head coach,” he said for a story that appeared in Inside Northside Magazine in 2015. “When I became the interim head coach (at Southern Cal), I took that book out and said, ‘Here’s the things you said you were going to do. Let’s go.’ I put them down, and I read them every morning.”
Coco Orgeron still calls her son “Junior.”
Add that to the list of nicknames for Edward Orgeron Jr.
Edward Orgeron Sr. died of cancer four years ago. He was the youngest of 13 children, so they called him the baby. Years later, they began calling his eldest son “Bébé Jr.”
Orgeron described his father’s death with a word that fits the man himself: "tough."
“He taught hard work,” Orgeron said. “He pushed me into sports. He didn’t want me to stay down there and get a job (offshore) on the (oil) rig. Wanted me to go to college.”
Bébé’s college career began at LSU. It lasted two weeks. After one camp practice, the homesick freshman returned to his dorm room and then drove back to Larose.
His father, employed by the phone company, put him to work installing telephone poles along the roadways.
“People were passing by, making comments to me. It was kind of the worst day of my life,” he said. “I regretted it ever since. I passed through Tiger Stadium, and I wondered what it would have been like and said to myself, ‘One day I will be back.’ Second time around is going to be a better time for me.”
It took a phone call from Hebert to get Orgeron to Northwestern State.
Hebert and Orgeron are distant cousins who grew up just a few miles from one another — Hebert in Cut Off, Orgeron in Larose. They helped South Lafourche win the state championship in 1977, a stunning title run that still lingers with both players. Hebert frequented the Orgeron home as a child.
He called Bébé a “clone” of Coco, who stands about 5-foot-10. She towered over Ed Sr.
“I get my size,” Orgeron said, “from my grandpa.”
In a phone conversation in 1980, Hebert convinced Orgeron to join him in Natchitoches a year after he quit at LSU. It’s one of so many opportunity-springing phone calls Orgeron has made or received in a career that has taken him from coast to coast.
Tuberville helped get him to Miami. A strength coach at Arkansas then, Orgeron randomly called the Miami football office in 1987. A secretary sent the call to Tuberville, who scribbled Orgeron’s name onto a sheet of paper.
“We just happened to go into a staff meeting an hour later,” Tuberville said for a story published in 2007.
He was working under Hurricanes coach Jimmy Johnson at the time.
Said Tuberville: “Jimmy asked, ‘Does anyone know of a defensive line type of guy to come in as a graduate assistant?’ ”
A few weeks later, Orgeron moved into Tuberville’s two-bedroom apartment.
‘There was devastation’
Orgeron is leading LSU into “a new season,” he said.
He has instituted sweeping change in the program. Practices are shorter, and meetings are restructured. Reporters are allowed to watch some drills, and coaches are tweaking the offense.
That troubling young, bar-hopping assistant coach is no more. That struggling head coach at Ole Miss is nowhere to be found. This Ed Orgeron is a media and fan darling, a CEO who is opening up his program while slowly installing “his system.”
“I saw that same thing happen when he took the team over here,” said Clancy Pendergast, the defensive coordinator at Southern Cal.
Pendergast was in that post in 2013, when the Trojans fired Lane Kiffin and replaced him with Orgeron after the fifth game of the season. Orgeron went 6-2, including a 20-17 win over then-No. 5 Stanford.
“It built daily as the season went on,” Pendergast said of Orgeron’s system, molded from Carroll's and Johnson’s philosophies.
Orgeron trimmed on-field practice time at Southern Cal, made meetings more important and focused on fundamentals. The Trojans were productive under him and “fresher,” Pendergast said.
“He brought everybody together and made everybody accountable and had a strong message about what it took to win,” Pendergast said. “The players believed in him, and the staff rallied around him. It was one of my most enjoyable seasons as an assistant."
Orgeron rallied his team so much that many in the program believed he deserved the full-time job. Athletic director Pat Haden disagreed. He hired then-Washington coach Steve Sarkisian.
Orgeron was “outraged,” according to reports at the time. He immediately resigned, rebuffing Haden’s handsome offer to remain as an assistant.
“He was disappointed,” Pendergast said. “There was some devastation in the program, people inside the building, the players and coaches throughout the building.”
Sarkisian lasted 18 games. He was fired midway through his second season after arriving for practice and meetings intoxicated.
Orgeron moved back to Mandeville, took 2014 off and then joined LSU last season. Now, here he is: the head man, for now. He is past his alcohol issues, overcome a debacle of a head coaching stint in Oxford and learned from the eight-game gig in Los Angeles.
Most agreed, of course, that Orgeron must win — and potentially win big — to keep the job with the Tigers. And what if that happens?
"I don’t know how he can’t be the head coach," Hebert said. "You can’t get more LSU and Louisiana than him.”