In 2005, then-Athletics Director Pete Boone had just parted ways with head football coach David Cutcliffe, who had the Rebels at 4-7 in 2004, just one year after a 10-3 campaign with Eli Manning. Cutcliffe’s recruiting had gone stale, and leadership thought it was time for a change.
This led them to Ed Orgeron, the defensive line coach at the University of Southern California.
Orgeron was an aggressive coach with no prior head-coaching experience, but he was with what was the greatest college football program at the time. The Trojans had just won back-to-back national titles under head coach Pete Carroll, so the thought of Ole Miss gaining a coach from this successful staff was appealing to Rebel fans. Orgeron was also an accomplished recruiter, an area where Ole Miss needed vast improvement.
Ed Orgeron’s time as head coach at Ole Miss was defined by a 10-25 record, a full-pad scrimmage during halftime of a game and daytime fireworks that knocked out electricity in half of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Needless to say, times in Oxford were tumultuous, albeit interesting, under Coach O.
Orgeron will lead the No. 1-ranked LSU Tigers into Vaught-Hemingway on Saturday after knocking off Alabama in Tuscaloosa last week. It’s obvious that his coaching methods have evolved since his time in Oxford, but what exactly has changed for Coach O since he was fired from Ole Miss in 2007?
For starters, Orgeron’s time at Ole Miss was his first experience as a head coach. Coach O kept his hand in every aspect of his program, being very reluctant to delegate responsibility to his assistant coaches.
Not only does that sound maddening, but it simply doesn’t work in college athletics. The head coach is, essentially, the CEO of a college football program, the one who handles the big picture and is the face of a program. Orgeron, a defensive line coach by trade, being obscenely involved with every aspect of the program helped lead to his demise.
After jobs as the defensive line coach for the New Orleans Saints and the University of Tennessee, Orgeron returned to USC in 2010 and was named interim head coach in 2013 after Lane Kiffen was fired. According to an article written by USA Today’s Dan Wolken at the time, once Orgeron was named as USC’s interim head coach, Orgeron “(thought) about how he would have done something at Ole Miss and then (stopped) and (went in) the opposite direction.” It seemed like Orgeron learned his lesson in Oxford and knew not to pursue the same aggressive, program-wrecking tactics that he employed at Ole Miss.
After leading the Trojans to a 6-2 record under his watch (finishing the regular season at 9-4), Orgeron was passed over for the permanent head coaching job in favor of Steve Sarkisian. Orgeron resigned and found his way to Baton Rouge, once again as a defensive line coach.
This wasn’t his first time in purple and gold. He played his first year of college ball at LSU in 1979 before leaving to finish his career at Northwestern State. This time, in 2015, Orgeron was back coaching his position in Baton Rouge until Les Miles was fired in 2016.
After Miles’ firing, Orgeron once again found himself leading a program with an interim tag. Like repeating history, he led LSU to a 6-2 record under his watch, but this time, he earned the permanent gig.
Although he has had spats with coordinators since taking over at LSU, this year, the Tigers have a new offensive identity under offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. Led by Heisman frontrunner Joe Burrow, the Tigers have a dynamic passing attack, a far cry from their previous identity as a run-heavy offense. Orgeron has let his assistants coach, and he has used his personality as a Louisiana native to earn the trust of the Tiger fanbase.
LSU is a national title contender under head Coach O. What Ole Miss hoped it would get when it hired Orgeron before the 2005 season has come to fruition in Baton Rouge. If it weren’t for his failures in Oxford, it’s likely that Orgeron would not have reached this point in his career. For that, LSU fans should send letters of thanks to former Chancellor Robert Khayat and Boone for giving Orgeron a chance at the Ole Miss job.