Rick Cleveland

LSU’s promotion of Ed Orgeron brings back plenty of memories

FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2015, file photo, LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron speaks during a news conference in Baton Rouge, La. Orgeron says that as a Louisiana native, it is a dream to have the opportunity to be LSU’s head coach. He was formally introduced as Les Miles’ interim replacement on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.
FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2015, file photo, LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron speaks during a news conference in Baton Rouge, La. Orgeron says that as a Louisiana native, it is a dream to have the opportunity to be LSU’s head coach. He was formally introduced as Les Miles’ interim replacement on Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. AP

So, LSU fired Les Miles Sunday and elevated Ed Orgeron to the position of interim head football coach in Baton Rouge.

We can argue the wisdom of the first of those two moves all day. LSU, a school famously strapped for cash these days, will pay Miles $10 million not to coach. But in my opinion the decision to elevate Orgeron, the former Ole Miss head coach, makes sense. Orgeron’s job will be to keep the seat warm and to make sure recruiting stays on course. He can do that. He proved it at Southern Cal.

Orgeron also proved at Ole Miss he is not a long-term solution. We here in Mississippi are reminded of his short, remarkably interesting tenure in Oxford.

I am especially reminded of the way that tenure ended.

Orgeron essentially fired himself on Nov. 23, 2007. Remember? The Egg Bowl was played on that Friday at Starkville. A couple of days earlier I had written a column in The Clarion-Ledger saying it was time for a change at Ole Miss. That Orgeron, completing the third year of a four-year contract, clearly wasn’t getting the job done.

I could have based that opinion strictly on his record. Ole Miss entered that Egg Bowl having won 10 games and lost 24 under Orgeron. The Rebels were 3-20 against SEC teams, 3-23 against teams from BCS conferences. Ole Miss had won one game in three seasons against a team that finished with a winning record. Those Rebels ranked last in the SEC in scoring offense, scoring defense, turnover margin, rushing defense, total defense, time of possession, red zone offense and kickoff coverage. They were 11th of 12 teams in rushing offense, passing efficiency, first downs, field goals and allowing third down conversions. They were the only team in the league without an SEC victory.

But there was so much more. As I wrote: “There has never seemed any rhyme or reason to Orgeron’s decision-making — on or off the field. It is almost as if he makes his decisions based on tea leaves, the flipping of coins or which way the wind is blowing.”

Of all the columns I ever wrote for the Jackson newspaper, that one touched the biggest nerve. My email blew up, both pro and con. My office phone rang incessantly. I wish I had saved some of the voicemail. Rebel fans, amazingly, were sharply divided on the issue. Some thanked me for the column. Others hoped I would die a slow, agonizing death.

I do remember one voicemail from a State fan who was angry as Hades because he thought I had written the column to purposely fire up Ole Miss. “You have guaranteed Ole Miss a victory,” the guy said.

So of course Ole Miss dominated the first 50 minutes of playing time and led 14-0 with 10 minutes remaining. In the press box, I was still getting email from Ole Miss fans decrying my column earlier in the week.

And then it happened. Facing fourth and one at midfield and leading 14-0, Orgeron left his offense on the field. A Liberty Bowl official said to me, “He’s just going to try to pull them offsides.”

“Maybe, but with Ed, you never know...” I replied, and then Ole Miss snapped the ball and was stuffed, effectively giving State a chance.

You do know what happened next. The State crowd, virtually silent until that moment, went crazy. State rallied and won the game 17-14.

I asked Sylvester Croom afterward what he thought when Ole Miss lined up to go for it on fourth and one. Replied Croom, “I thought Christmas had come early.”

It had.

By the time I got back to the press box, my email was blowing up again. This time, many of the emails were from Ole Miss fans apologizing for earlier emails.

That has never happened before or since.

Reach syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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