BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Ed Orgeron, the burly, boisterous Cajun who energized LSU’s football program in the wake of coach Les Miles’ dismissal, briefly and uncharacteristically struggled to speak.
The 55-year-old from the small bayou town of Larose, Louisiana, was trying to publicly thank his mother and late father when his distinctive, raspy, baritone voice fell silent and he paused to keep from sobbing. The significance of the moment had fully set in.
On Saturday, LSU formally named Orgeron the permanent head coach of the flagship college football program in the state where he was raised before venturing out on a career that took him from coast-to-coast and back again.
“Growing up in the state of Louisiana, watching the Tigers play, we get it,” said Orgeron, who is only the third Louisiana native to coach the Tigers since LSU joined the Southeastern Conference in 1933. “We understand what you gave to us and the accountability that we have to the people of the state of Louisiana, to LSU, and everybody that played here.”
The announcement by athletic director Joe Alleva came two days after the No. 25 Tigers defeated No. 22 Texas A&M 54-39 . Following Thursday night’s game, players’ raucous chants of “Keep coach O” could be heard from LSU’s locker room.
“We’ve got our man. He’s been here all along,” Alleva said. “We know where coach O’s heart is. We know where his love is. We know where his passion is. … It’s part of his DNA.”
Orgeron has gone 5-2 since taking over for Miles, who was fired Sept. 26 after LSU, which entered the season ranked No. 5 in the AP preseason poll, started 2-2. LSU’s two losses since Orgeron was promoted came against No. 1 Alabama and 13th-ranked Florida , the Southeastern Conference East Division champion — and the loss to the Gators came down to the final play.
It was the second winning interim stint at a major program for Orgeron, who went 6-2 at USC after Lane Kiffin was fired in 2013.
Now Orgeron has his second full-time head coaching job at the Division I, FBS level. The first also was in the SEC — at Mississippi from 2005 to 2007. But he never had a winning season with the Rebels, going 10-25.
Alleva asserted that there is ample evidence that Orgeron has grown since then.
“He is a mature, veteran coach that has learned over the course of time from numerous great mentors and has taken the good qualities from mentors and assembled them into what he wants to do,” Alleva said. “He knows now what his strengths are and he knows what his weaknesses are, and he highlights those strengths and he will fortify his weaknesses with people that he hires.”
Alleva divulged that one of Orgeron’s mentors, current Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, called LSU to stump for his former USC assistant.
Orgeron said he’d hit the recruiting trail immediately. After players take final exams, he’ll start preparing the team for a bowl game that has yet to be determined and then round his staff through the offseason.
“My plan is to take my time and assemble the best staff in America,” Orgeron said, adding that defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has committed to remaining at LSU. “I just know this: I’m trained, ready to do this. … I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’m ready to build a championship program.”
Orgeron said he expects to lure an elite offensive coordinator who’ll be adept at running a spread offense, which he sees as a requirement in the modern game. He declined to mention candidates, even when specifically asked about Kiffen, an old friend who is currently the offensive coordinator at Alabama.
With his Cajun accent, friendly disposition and what his sons describe as a prodigious appetite for gumbo, Orgeron is relatable to Louisiana football fans. His grass-roots support has been evident since his first walk into Tiger Stadium as interim coach.
He’s been a household name in his home state for decades, having won a state championship at South Lafourche High School, where his teammates included quarterback Bobby Hebert, who would go on to an NFL career, notably with the New Orleans Saints. Orgeron was recruited by LSU and initially committed there, but later decided to follow Hebert to Northwestern State.
He has coached with several major programs, including Miami, Syracuse and Tennessee, as an assistant — often serving as a defensive line coach and leading recruiter. He also spent a season as a defensive line coach with the Saints. He arrived at LSU as a defensive line coach under Miles in 2015.
During his interim stint at Southern Cal, Orgeron was also quite popular with players, but USC passed over him to hire then-Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who has since been fired.
USC’s post-Orgeron experience became a cautionary tale for LSU, which also figures to save money because it won’t have to buy out another coach’s contract. The university is paying a $9.6 million buyout to Miles.
Had LSU gone all-in for an up-an-coming coach like Tom Herman, who was hired away from Houston by Texas on Saturday, it could have been much more expensive.
Alleva said LSU’s coaching search was “never going to come down to a bidding war,” adding “we knew that coach O was never going to play games with us.”
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