On the internet, Ed Orgeron is something of an amalgam of college football recruiting legend, source of unintentional comedic joy and folk hero. For LSU fans, he represents enthusiasm and a new energy that we all hope will flow through the football program in 2015 and beyond.
For all his exploits on local radio through ESPN Baton Rouge's "Culotta & The Prince" in the last few months, assistant coaches in Les Miles' program are largely seen and not heard from, so when the chance to hear him speak came up via the program's high school coaches clinic, I couldn't pass up the chance.
"One team, one heartbeat."
That was the theme of the speech, which opened the yearly gathering of coaches from around the state, and will feature Dallas Cowboys Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin, among others, over the next day and a half. Orgeron largely recounted his journey through the profession and the lessons learned, starting with the lead quote from Jimmy Johnson, back when Orgeron was a young assistant with the Miami Hurricanes.
There weren't a lot of theatrics really. No shirts ripped off. No wild boys. Although he did mock a chainsaw sound at one point. Still, if there's one thing that's never really necessary with Orgeron, it's a microphone.
"You can't coach everybody like you did Warren Sapp."
That was one of the last things Pete Carroll told Orgeron when he left USC the first time to become Ole Miss' head coach, and the first lesson he learned. Unfortunately, it came after the fact, when he was fired after three seasons.
"I wanted everybody to coach like me, at the speed I coach at," Orgeron said. "That can't work."
"I'm a defensive line coach," he continued. "That's what I do and that's what I love, and a defensive line coach has to be intense because a defensive line has to be full-speed all the time. But that you can't expect every other position and every other coach to coach like that. Coaches have to coach the way they coach."
After he left Oxford, Orgeron said that he dedicated himself to studying as many successful head coaches as he could. What worked for them. What would work for him. A few years later, when things fell apart for Lane Kiffin in Orgeron's second stint at Troy, Coach O knew how he wanted to proceed when AD Pat Haden named him interim head coach.
"We were all separated as a program," he said. "In film sessions, coaches would say ‘well, my unit graded as an A.' A receiver would say ‘I caught 13 passes.' We weren't a team."
It began with a tug-of-war contest in his first meeting after he took over. It progressed to things as simple as cookies in the cafeteria. Movie nights. Music in the locker room. Shorter, less physical practices with clear goals for each day, like "Turnover Tuesday" and "No Repeats Thursday." Guess speakers like Ray Lewis, Marcus Allen and Dr. Dre.
"I don't know who Dr. Dre is!" he proclaimed. "I guess he makes headsets."
Orgeron stressed togetherness for everybody in the program, from coaches and their families through players to trainers, managers and support staff, who were welcome at team functions like dinners and Friday movie excursions to Paramount Studios. Even the marching band.
"I love the music," he said. "I love the band. I love them to come to practice. I love the jock rallies. I love the LSU Tiger Band and the Golden Girls. I love the fight songs," Orgeron said. "Are you kidding me? ‘Hold that Tiger?' Think about it."
In game preparation, he reverted the Trojans to Pete Carroll's "compete every day" philosophy, with an internal focus. The results were a 6-2 run that led many to think he might get the job fulltime.
"Each game is a new challenge -- it ain't about them. It's about us."
Maybe it took simulating the aforementioned chainsaw noise, a common sound in Oregon State's Reser Stadium. Ignoring cold conditions in Colorado. Or maybe just refusing to listen to "trap game" talk for a trip to Cal.
"Trap game...bullshit! It ain't about them!"
Assistant coaches were given autonomy over their substitutions and personnel groupings. Players were given a say in catering for some meals outside of the team cafeteria.
"Not only did the team come together, not only did the coaching staff come together," said Orgeron. "The whole Trojan family came together."
A picture of SC fans storming the L.A. Coliseum turf after USC's 35-14 win over UCLA played in the background.
But, less you think Orgeron's heart is still in Southern California, the love for the colors of his home state punctuated both ends of the talk.
"It means so much to me to wear these colors and coach for this school."
Look, what's an Ed Orgeron story without a few out-of-context quotes that are unmistakably...him?
- "I treat my team like I treat my own sons. They know that if they cross the line, that they're going to face discipline. But they also know that I care about ‘em."
- "I ain't got that parade yet." [on a USC admin who told Orgeron they'd throw him a parade in downtown Los Angeles if the Trojans upset Utah on the road.]
- "They can spring that trap and we'll still score 50 on ‘em." [a Jimmy Johnson saying on trap games.]
- "I'm from South Louisiana. I love to eat and I love to eat everything that's bad for you."
- "One team...ba-dump, ba-dump...One heartbeat."
- "nying nying nying" (like I'm leaving out Orgeron's chainsaw impression.)