It’s September 25, 2016. Les Miles has just been fired four games into the season. Things are bleak, until a time traveler from the future tells you better days are on the very near horizon. You are told that the 2019 LSU Tigers will go 15-0 behind the best offense in the history of college football. You can’t wait to find out which offensive mastermind will get the keys to this storied program. Likely Tom Herman, maybe Jimbo Fisher, perhaps an outlier like Larry Fedo-
Wait, the defensive line coach? Who went 10-25 at Ole Miss? I’m starting to think you’re not actually from the future?
College football, perhaps more so than any other sport, is built on tradition. Many things change, but lots of things stay the same. The fight songs, the colors, the rivalries, the bowl games, they’re special because they’re historic. Because of this, the sport has a bad habit of being resistant to change. Schedules stay the same, playoff expansion take decades to evolve, and some coaches still run the triple option (no disrespect to you triple option schools, y’all rule, I’m just sayin’). When Ed ORgeron emerged as a serious candidate to be LSU’s full-time coach, it showed evolution in two ways. LSU was obviously ready to evolve after everyone realized the outdated offense could not compete for national championships anymore.
But it also showed the administration’s belief that people could evolve. A lot of people outside the program assumed Orgeron would fail as LSU’s coach because he failed at Ole Miss. Orgeron evolved, like people do. He proved it by turning two 2-2 teams into 8-4 teams. But Orgeron’s doubters always highlighted his failures more than his successes. By their count, O was always playing from behind. Sure his team defeated a top 10 Auburn team that was a game away from the Playoff, but by their count that doesn’t outweigh losing to Troy. Sure his team beat four top 10 teams in 2018, but that didn’t outweigh not scoring against Alabama for the second time in two years.
Those outside Louisiana never seemed to take him seriously. And we all know why.
Ed Orgeron is the embodiment of Louisiana. Everyone knew him from his voice. Not the absurd number of elite coaches he worked under, nor the staggering number of defensive linemen he sent to the NFL (and WWF!), it was the way he talked that shaped every narrative around you.
Being an underdog doesn’t always mean that nobody believes in you. I think it can mean that someone else tried to write your story for you. Everyone thought they knew who Ed Orgeron was: a human can of Red Bull who uses pure energy and a program built on a solid foundation to construct a perfectly decent football team. After 2018, most people bought in that Orgeron was a good coach and an elite recruiter, but very few were talking National Championship prior to the 2019 season. Nobody was talking greatest team ever.
Week after week, blowout after blowout, Orgeron kept the exact same attitude you’d see after any game throughout his LSU tenure, confident, but having fun. Not the militaristic stoicism of Nick Saban or the zany, carefree spirit of Steve Spurrier, two attitudes college football was used to. Ed Orgeron didn’t fit into either of those archetypes. He drives at his own speed. He knows what he’s doing.
On January 13, 2020, LSU caps off their perfect season in New Orleans. ESPN’s first postgame interview is not with the Heisman winner, but with the head coach. Yes, Orgeron is beaming with joy, but his answers to Tom Rinaldi’s questions are still calm and composed. ESPN is seeking the reaction of a coach nobody believed in finally winning a championship. Orgeron doesn’t reflect that. He was an underdog our eyes, but not in his.
Ed Orgeron always knew he would be a championship-winning coach. He was only an underdog because we said he was.