Truer words were never spoken.
It’s a fact of life in coaching. Even at the highest levels and at the most successful, there’s rarely a happy ending. You work a job long enough to get fired from it. In the last 30 years or so, Tom Osborne and Bo Schembechler stand as maybe the only two successful coaches that went out on top in some form or fashion. Even great coaches that left of their own volition, like Nick Saban here, or Urban Meyer at Florida, left under ignoble circumstance.
Before yesterday’s matchup with Auburn, we joked about it being a “Loser Leaves Town” match, and I said:
An LSU loss wouldn't end things for Les Miles right away, but it would make the four- or five-loss season that WOULD result in his ouster much more of a certainty.
In speaking with a friend later that day, he mentioned that my timeline was a bit off. The fact is, after the Wisconsin game, a lot of the heavy hitters that went to bat for Les Miles last season felt...frankly, betrayed. They took Miles at his word that the passing game would be “fixed,” and that it wouldn’t all be the same problems all over again. I’m told that after that game, LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva essentially considered Miles insubordinate, given that the coach had given him assurances over the offseason.
The wheels were in motion. A second loss before the end of October, when LSU would face its toughest stretch, would almost surely mean a four- or five-loss season. And that’s just not good enough with a preseason top-5 team.
Ultimately, I think that it’s time. There will be more time later to look back over the last 12 years and remember the good and the bad. It was one helluva ride, but rides come to an end. At this point, there just isn’t a reason to believe this will get better anymore.
There will be time later to look back. For now, looking forward, Ed Orgeron will serve as LSU’s interim head coach, a position he knows well after taking over for Lane Kiffin at Southern Cal. He spoke extensively about the experience in a clinic lecture two years ago, that I wrote about here.
His philosophy of “one team, one heartbeat” stood out, especially in these passages:
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."
I have no idea whether that history will hold to this transition — I can tell you that players here are a whole hell of a lot more upset to lose their coach than USC’s players were. But I do believe that Orgeron will bring the focus back to the players, and the team, and try to make these next two months as much fun for them as he can. Because there’s no way to escape the unhappiness except by playing ball.
It is my hope that these final eight games will be viewed as an audition for Coach O, as to whether he deserves a chance to lead the program moving forward. I can’t speak as to whether or not that will be the case, although I do expect a healthy amount of speculation as to a number of candidates, which we will all get into later.
In the meantime, vaya con dios Les. You were everything we deserved, for better and worse, and if nothing else, I hope that LSU’s next head coach is never boring, and never afraid to be anything than himself.