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You Can Always Come Home

On Homecoming night, a native son of Louisiana lived the dream.

Missouri v LSU Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

At the end of Saturday’s beatdown of Missouri, I saw the most perfect moment I have ever witnessed in Death Valley.

I don’t have any photos or videos of it. There was video of it from a different angle shot from field level, but it was missing what made it so special in the first place.

As a personal tradition, my friends and I always stay to sing the alma mater with the band. Not the abridged alma mater they play for the players, but the actual from the heart version that is sung without the aid of instruments. In between playing the watered down version and singing the final version, the band plays Let Us Break Bread Together, an old gospel hymnal. It’s a somber, beautiful song that slowly builds to a crescendo that is pierced by a lone trumpet.

On the field, Ed Orgeron was just fishing with his interview requests and saying hello to recruits, things a coach generally does after a home game. As he jogged off the field at the exact moment the song reached his apex, Orgeron thrust his arms in the air and jogged out of sight into the tunnel. It was an ending lifted from The Breakfast Club, only somehow made better by timing and raw emotion. We’re kind of force fed those kind of moments by movies to the point that most of us roll our eyes when it happens on screen, but when something like that happens in real life, we usually don’t know how to react to it.

When Les Miles was fired, college football mourned one of their single most favorite people inside the sport. Les was wild, unpredictable, and uncanny while being reserved and soft, if not out, spoken. Many feared that college football was made significantly less fun and interesting in the loss of somebody wholly unique.

It’s almost as if they didn’t see who the interim head coach was.

Ed Orgeron is a caricature of what people outside of Louisiana think cajun people are like but more than anything else, it’s a correct depiction. He has a deep, raspy voice and calls his own son “T-Boy.” I’ve heard stories of him not knowing how to program the GPS in his truck and calling staffers whose name he forgets “young man”. Coming out of South Lafourche High School, Orgeron had committed to play football at LSU, but had left after a year to head to Northwestern. He has since expressed regret over the decision.

Orgeron’s coaching career began immediately after his playing career and he quickly rose through the ranks. Miami was his first sustained stop, his first job coaching defensive line. Orgeron was also troubled at the time: he had a restraining order filed against him, and he was involved in a bar fight in Baton Rouge. He took a year off of coaching to focus on his personal life, something that was possibly for the best.

Coach O quickly moved up the ranks once again, landing an assistant head coach job at USC by 2003 after being there since 1998. In 2005, Coach O caught his big break: Ole Miss.

It was a disaster. Coaching at his original school’s rival, Orgeron went 10-25 from 2005-2007, including Ole Miss’ only season without a conference win. He was fired on the spot after blowing a late lead against arch rivals Mississippi State. Coach O’s prowess as a recruiter simply did not translate into success on the field. Once again, Orgeron had fallen from grace.

He took a job in New Orleans working for the Saints before joining former USC colleague Lane Kiffin at Tennessee. When Lane left for USC, so did Orgeron. When Lane was left on the tarmac, Orgeron was handed the reigns for the rest of the season.

In his second stint as head coach, he did the impossible: make the nation of college football root for USC. During his time as interim, Orgeron did nothing the same as he did at Ole Miss. He was less fiery and demanding, instead treating the players like they were his sons, and the players responded. Instead of having a hand in everything, O trusted his position coaches to do their job and move forward as a unit. USC went 6-2 the rest of the way and save for one game against rivals UCLA, were noticeably better.

But it wasn’t good enough. USC passed over Ed Orgeron in favor of Steve Sarkisian. O had turned USC’s season around and was able to rally the team into a unit, and had received nothing for it.

Orgeron resigned from USC and took a year off before coming back home to LSU. We all know the story from there. He was announced on January 15th, 2015 and was named interim head coach on September 26th, 2016. His first game as head coach for LSU, if only interim, was a systematic beatdown of Missouri, and the fact that it was on homecoming made it even sweeter.

But it wasn’t the end. There was no freeze frame ending, no fade to black, no title card shown on screen. The story rages on. Orgeron in all likelihood has already put this game behind him and is looking ahead to Florida. It was just the wayward son coming home once to the family that understands and loves him for who he is. Moving forward, he will be LSU’s head coach for the next two months and anything outside of that is pure speculation. But he will always have that moment of him running into the tunnel victorious, drenched in Gatorade, with his arms held high in the air as the Golden Band From Tigerland played a gospel hymnal. We’ll all have that moment.