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Building a Program In His Own Image: How Ed Orgeron is Flexing Pete Carroll’s Philosophies at LSU

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How has Coach O modeled his work since taking over for Les Miles?

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NCAA Football: Missouri at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

I like Pete Carroll. I realize that makes me an anathema around these parts, but I’m an admirer of his work. And look, however you feel of him personally, there’s no arguing his track record. He’s one of the best, most successful coaches of his era. Carroll, more than a lot of other coaches, has a very philosophical approach to football. Every coach has a strategic preference and core set of fundamentals, but Carroll takes that to the next level in terms of mentality, attitude and translating that into how he and his coaches teach, conduct practice and so forth. If you know anything about Carroll, he’s a pretty spiritual guy that enjoys talking philosophy. Dismiss it as hokey or whatever, it works for him.

Ultimately, I think what Carroll has found most successful is staying true to himself. He was fired twice as an NFL head coach. In many ways he looked to be yet another great coordinator that would fail as a Head Coach. Carroll took the failures and made them productive pivot points of his life. From then out he decided he was going to do it his way. He took the USC job and the rest is history.

It’s early yet to make any real determinations, but in many ways, Carroll is the spiritual godfather to Ed Orgeron. Now we are watching Orgeron meld pieces of his past into building his own program in his home state.

Always Compete

Among the forefront of Carroll ideals is “Always Compete.” As detailed here, Carroll’s mantra of “Always Compete” is less so about one on one competition or even football games on the field. It’s a mentality. It’s about dedicating oneself to continual self improvement. It’s important to understand Carroll doesn’t just preach these things; he practices them.

After Carroll got fired from New England, he took an entire year off from football.

Like Carroll, Orgeron took his own odyssey away from coaching for a year. After USC opted to not pursue him for their vacancy, he decided to set out. Even before then, he began doing his own self-scouting.

“When you have five years to think about what you would do as a head coach again, there are a lot of thoughts that you write down,” Orgeron said. “I told myself that when I got my chance again, these are the things I wanted to do. So I did them.”

Just take a look at a few quotes from Orgeron’s opening press conference when announced as the Interim Head Coach.

Q. Can you talk about your growth between your Ole Miss job and your USC job and how much you changed at USC from when you were at Ole Miss?

ED ORGERON: Ron, you were there when I was at Ole Miss as a D-line coach, and that's how I coached the team and you can't coach a team that way. I went full speed ahead and I wanted to do everything, coach the quarterbacks, the receivers and I don't know nothing about 'em but I wanted to do it my way. And I learned about that.

When I went to USC, I delegated authority. I got guys that were very experienced in what they did, but I played to my strengths. I got that team to play the way I got my defensive lines to play. So I played to my strengths, allowed guys to coach, gave the team some freedom to be themselves, express themselves, have some team leadership and we won football games. I plan to do the same.

Q. You talked about the rough nature of this transition but you being on staff helps. What do you think this team needs, not maybe on the field but off the field right now?

ED ORGERON: You know, I just think a change. I just think a change in the way we do things. Some freshness, some energy, things that -- they love Coach Miles and we all loved him, but when things don't work you gotta change 'em. And you gotta change things. We're going to flip the script, and we're going to come closer as a team. We're going to play for each other and play with energy. Be less time on the practice field, more time in the meeting room, and hopefully we're fresh. And hopefully we will see some excitement on the sidelines. I know one guy that's going to be excited!

O relates his failures at Ole Miss and the work he did to correct them. These aren’t just empty platitude about change. This is a man adopting his football philosophy of “always compete” into real life. Orgeron is continually working to better himself.

That extends into his practice style. Carroll stated it in this way at a Nike Coaches Clinic:

Any phase of practice I can get players to compete against each other, I’m doing it. They stay on task for every drill we do. I want our practices to be uplifting, challenging, and physical. I want something at stake on every snap. If something isn’t at stake he is not going to do his best. So why would you ever have practice where players are not trying their best.

Much has been reported about Orgeron’s changing of practice since taking the reigns. This is a shift away from the reportedly long, grueling on-field sessions Miles orchestrated to more time studying and less time on the field. However, when players hit the field, it’s high energy and competitive. The practice field isn’t for teaching or correction, it’s for repetition and competition. Pete Carroll says you “play like you practice.” Here’s how Carroll was running practices leading up to the Super Bowl:

Carroll’s Seahawks practice to the constant and very loud drone of music, hip-hop and rap mostly...

Among what was played, I’m guessing at about 90 decibels, for the entirety of Friday’s practice: "Fast Lane," by Bad Meets Evil, "More Bounce to the Ounce," by Zapp, "We Own It," by 2 Chainz, "Last of a Dying Breed," by Ludacris, "We Ready," by Archie Eversole, "Ambitionz Az a Ridah," by Tupac, and "Hold Me Back," by Rick Ross.

When "Hold Me Back" came on, the team was practicing red zone plays. Important tuneup for the biggest game of their lives, and the last time they’d go full speed before the game. Between snaps, the entire defensive line was dancing on the field. Quarterback coach Carl Smith, 65 and with a bum hip, was even swaying. Carroll saw that, and smiled. Then the ball was snapped, and backup running back Christine Michael pivoted left out of the backfield and went down. A couple of defenders, Clinton McDonald and Bobby Wagner, hustled over to Michael, who was slow getting up, and each took a hand as all three laughed about something. This is what I saw during the week: a team having fun at practice, like it was some dance party, and a team that really gets along. And works at a fast pace.

Sound familiar? Again, this is Orgeron in his initial PC:

Q. Ed, you mentioned needing to increase the energy. Why was the energy not there before? Why do you think that needs a boost?

ED ORGERON: I'm not going to say that. Just everybody has their own style. That's my style is it's going to come up. The teams that we've had in the past win championships. We wanted energy. I think the game is still one of emotion and it's an emotional game. It's college football and the guys want to get fired up. They want to get jacked up. They listen to music before the game now. They want to dance around. They want to have fun, and that's just the guys that we are coaching now. It is the approach that we will take.

Again, Carroll:

Ultimately he formulated a blueprint that was heavy on fun and competition and taking advantage of the uniqueness of each individual. He would have themes for each day of the week—Tell the Truth Monday, Competition Wednesday, Turnover Thursday. He would have the first-string offense and defense face off in brief unscripted scrimmages so they would be ready for things they hadn’t prepared for. He would blare music throughout practice to raise the energy level and force his players to focus and refocus amid distractions.

And now Orgeron:

“It’s something that, when I had the opportunity to do it (at USC), I believe that it works,” Orgeron said. “There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat, but this is the way that I have seen work, the methods I’ve learned under some great coaches, so I always said, ‘When I get my opportunity to do it, that’s what I wanted to do, and the guys are going to enjoy it.’

“It’s a fun, exciting system. I think it lets the guys play under their own personalities, have some fun and (is) not-so-strict on every little thing. The bottom line is, these guys, I think these football players are the most important people that walk in the building. You know? They are the ones that play the game.”

Three weeks in, Orgeron has outright taken Carroll’s practice philosophies and implemented them on his own.

Always compete.

On Field Style and Philosophies

Pete Carroll is an aggressive coach. He believes in possessing the football.

Defensively we do a lot of different things. However we play defense not just to stop people or make them go three and out. We play defense to get the football. Every time the ball is snapped the defense tries to take the ball away from the offense. If the defense can take the ball away from the offense they are going to give it to the offense which is going to keep it until they can score. The offense can not score without the football. For that matter the defense can score if they get possession of the football.

Orgeron, too, brings a similar mentality. Here’s a video him when he was first hired to LSU:

...the ability to make plays in the backfield, attacking with the front four, rush the passer, skills to rush the passer, get after ‘em all, being ball hawks, being physical, having fun...

Here’s a brief interview where he talks about being more aggressive and multiple at USC:

This goes beyond the defensive side of the football. Offensively vintage USC football is a pro-style passing attack with a vaunted running game to accompany. The best USC offenses tended to feature a dominant stable of running backs and a QB who operated the machine without making mistakes.

Orgeron was clear that he’s a pro-style coach from the get-go. He’s dialed into parts of the playbook that were previously lesser utilized. Philosophically it’s not awfully different from what we ran under Miles, but cosmetically it sure is. Here’s a nice breakdown of the creative use of formations. And here’s Billy on the change up in blocking schemes.

And again, here’s Carroll:

My philosophy about our football team is really simple. It is all about the ball. In all areas of football game if you don’t have the ball you are nothing.

On offense, we want to take care of the football for as long as we can until we score. That doesn’t sound like there is much to that statement. Every phase of our offense has to be geared to taking care of the ball. Obviously I’m talking about not turning the ball over. We want to keep making first downs and keep the ball until we score. We want to guard the ball with our lives. If we can do that on offense then we have a chance.

We want to constantly remind the team of possessing the ball. When our players are standing around with a ball in their hands a coach will walk over and try to knock the ball out of his hands. We do it on the sidelines at a game, in practice, or anywhere to remind them of how important it is. There has to be a conscious mind set of taking care of the ball.

Peruse YouTube for a few videos of USC’s offense in the early 2000s under Carroll. Here’s their offense dismantling what was the nation’s no. 12 defense that season:

Looks pretty familiar, eh? Philosophically, I think you can expect more of the same at LSU. Offensively there will be an emphasis on running the ball, distributing it to the various playmakers and limiting turnovers and mistakes. Defensively, LSU will focus on being disciplined, focused and creating turnovers.

Energy and Positivity

Orgeron’s high energy nature is well noted. It’s a trait shared by Pete Carroll, who seems to be a constant flow of energy, despite being 65 years old. His teams mirror that. The style of practice is one element, but it’s at the core of his beliefs:

He approaches coaching as a philosophy. The music and high-energy focus is just one aspect of it. He wants his players to be loose because when you're loose, you're not nervous. When you're not nervous, you can focus, and when you can focus, you can perform at your peak levels.

Carroll is also a firm believer in self-affirmation philosophies and endless positivity. He always believes something good is about to happen to him.

Here’s Orgeron when he got promoted to Interim at USC:

“This is my shot,” Orgeron said. “One of the things after my previous head-coaching stint, I said, you know what, if I get my chance again, I have to do it the way I want to do it.

Remember Carroll earlier detailing how he would do it his way after being fired from New England. And now here’s Orgeron again:

“I do believe I will be a head coach again. I do believe that,” Orgeron said. “When that’s going to happen, I don’t know. Maybe it will be next year, maybe not. We’re going to keep all options open.”

This quote comes after being fired at Ole Miss and not being retained at USC. He kept the faith. He kept believing. Here he is, just announced as LSU’s interim head coach:

Q. On the field what are the most glaring weaknesses? What does this team need to improve upon the most going forward?

ED ORGERON: It's easy to look backwards. Everybody, hindsight is 20/20. Monday morning quarterbacks, we all got that. Here is our chance and I don't want to talk about the past. I want to talk about the future. Here is our chance to have and are we going to make mistakes? Yeah, but we're going to make 'em going full speed with a lot energy and we're going to fix 'em as soon as we make 'em.

Caring

Like I mentioned above, Carroll takes a lot of grief for his belief system, and he’s often made fun of for being hokey and the like. But after they destroyed the Denver Broncos and their record breaking offense in the Super Bowl, here’s Carroll espousing why his philosophies work in the NFL:

I’m really proud philosophically. We thought we captured something in the years at SC. You know, I just wanted to see what would happen if you really took care of people, you looked out after them, you helped them be the best they could be... and just see what the result would be. So that’s exactly what we did. And so, as we go through this process, we count on a different relationship with our players. By respecting them and helping them in every way we can, we can ask them to do everything to the hilt.

When Orgeron got the nod, he noted this to SB Nation’s Stephen Godfrey:

Before, I didn’t let them know I cared. I was the D-line coach. You can’t coach a receiver like a D-lineman. I just realized, here are some of the things I’ve got to change. I started writing, and I came to a realization: If I treat these boys like I treat my sons, I think we’re gonna be fine. How do you treat your kids? When my boys come home, I cook ’em a steak.

That’s my motto now: Treat ’em like you would your sons. And hey, I’m Cajun. We eat a lot.

“Treat ‘em like my sons” is an adoption of this world view. Orgeron repeatedly says things like the players are the most important part. He emphasizes that this is not about him, but them. Repeatedly. It’s a carefully crafted message, but an important one. This is how you orchestrate buy in. He’s got the team believing in him through believing in themselves. He continues:

They’re the most important people that walk into this building. And if you treat them like your own sons, they’ll do anything for you. First thing a player needs is to know you love and care for them.

And this isn’t an LSU thing. He echoed the same sentiment at USC:

These guys, it's for them. I watched them hurt. I just wanted a change for them. To see them happy and see the celebrating and see them feeling good about themselves and walking with a pep in their steps, that's all I wanted. I told the guys I'd treat them like my son and when you see your son hurting, you hurt for them, and I just wanted them to feel good.

This is as Pete Carroll as you can get. And it worked. When USC opted not to hold on to him following his stint as their Interim Head Coach, the players were displeased. They wrote on their armbands to voice support. O’s mantra of “One Team, One Heartbeat” starts with him.

Win Forever

Carroll penned a book called “Win Forever” that tidily summarizes his belief system. Here is the Win Forever pyramid:

This is really the tying together of everything. Winning Forever requires Always Competing and each tier is built upon these principles.

It’s clear Orgeron is adopting these principles as his own. But what makes it work is not the Orgeron is simply copying a successful model. It’s that these are now his core beliefs. LSU is not Pete Carroll’s program. This is Ed Orgeron’s. He’s building it in his image. His way. Just like he said he would.

The question is, how much longer will he be allowed?