Congratulations to Ed Orgeron, College Football's Champion Failure
On Thanksgiving Day in 2016 ESPN scrolled news of the “Breaking” variety about LSU’s soon-to-be head football coach. The school was said to be completing an agreement to hire University of Houston head football coach Tom Herman to fill its open spot.
One of college football’s most prestigious jobs was open on account of Ed Orgeron carrying the “interim” head coach tag at the time. Orgeron had been promoted to the interim job after Les Miles had been dismissed earlier in the season. The problem was that few wanted Orgeron to retain the top job at season’s conclusion; hence the breaking news about Herman.
Herman was the hot coach of the moment after two successful years at the University of Houston. The first concluded with a 13-1 record, a Peach Bowl win over Florida State, and a #8 ranking. The second, while less successful from a wins and losses (9-3) perspective, included wins over Oklahoma and Louisville.
The news turned out to be incorrect. Perhaps because LSU seemed so close on Herman, Texas enhanced its pursuit of 2016’s must-have coach. Three days later, on November 27th, Herman was announced as the new head coach of the Longhorns.
LSU, having missed on then-Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Herman, seemingly had no choice but to remove the interim tag from Orgeron’s title. To the chagrin of a certain majority of LSU fans, and surely most college football pundits, Orgeron would get to lead one of college football’s greatest programs.
As was made plain at the time, this wasn’t the plan. It wasn’t because Orgeron was no longer seen as head coach material. His past weighed him down.
Like so many of Pete Carroll’s assistants during Carroll’s glorious stint as head man at USC, Orgeron was hired away by the University of Mississippi based on the hope he could bring some of the USC magic elsewhere. The problem was that over three seasons from 2005-2007, Orgeron’s teams only won ten times. He was fired at the end of season three, after a loss to rival Mississippi State.
About all this, understand that ‘Ole Miss is ‘Ole Miss and LSU is LSU. While both are football prominent in the way that any SEC school (save perhaps Vanderbilt) is, LSU is football royalty. And while it’s a myth that Everybody’s All American is about LSU Heisman winner Billy Cannon, LSU football was and is the stuff of books and movies. Mississippi football not as much. In football terms, it’s the academic equivalent of comparing Harvard and Cornell. Both are Ivy League, but there’s a prestige difference between the two.
And so is there one between Mississippi and LSU. Stated plainly, LSU does not hire the leavings of Mississippi. And it should also be said that LSU doesn’t hire coaches passed over by other programs.
In Orgeron’s case, he returned to USC as an assistant in 2010 after Lane Kiffin was hired to replace Pete Carroll. When Kiffin was fired in 2013 Orgeron replaced him as “interim” head coach, and compiled a 6-2 record. The obvious problem for Orgeron was that if LSU doesn’t take Mississippi’s leavings, USC certainly doesn’t. Or at least it didn't. But that's a digression. Also, rumors have more recently surfaced from Fox Sports college football analyst Bruce Feldman that the USC athletic department hierarchy didn’t like what Orgeron “sounded like.” Still, the main thing is that is that USC, like LSU, wasn’t going to hire someone deemed unworthy by Mississippi.
Orgeron resigned after being passed over at USC, only to return to college football as LSU’s defensive line coach in 2015. As readers now know, his promotion to head coach in late 2016 had fans up in arms. Worse was that early in his first full season minus the interim tag, his Tigers lost at home to Troy. LSU doesn’t lose to Troy at home, away, or anywhere. And then like his predecessor in Miles, Orgeron couldn’t solve Alabama and Nick Saban.
At the same time, there was slow improvement. A 9-4 season in 2017 was followed by 10-3 in 2018, and then this season Orgeron’s Tigers beat Texas, Texas A&M, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and Oklahoma on the way to an undefeated season. Notable among his wins is that Orgeron beat the two coaches – Herman and Fisher – whom LSU’s fans and athletic department would have preferred as head coach of LSU.
Now, after a resounding win over Clemson, Orgeron is a national champion coach, and it’s safe to say he’s won over all of his detractors. There’s an economic lesson here.
Orgeron’s rise from college football’s proverbial scrap-heap is a reminder of just how important failure is to eventual success. Orgeron’s many mistakes surely informed his rise to national champion. The latter is a statement of the obvious, but it’s also confirmed by his own acknowledgment that after being fired at Mississippi, and the “devastating” feeling that came with being passed over at USC, he wrote down his many errors as a way of teaching himself how not to fail in the future if given another chance to succeed.
In the bigger picture it’s a reminder that politicians do the economy no favors when, fearful of recession, they use the money of others to save individuals and businesses from their errors. No doubt they delay the pain in the near-term, but failure to realize mistakes is the path to stagnation.
In Orgeron’s case, imagine where he would be today absent facing up to mistakes made, and improving as a result. He might still be in college football, he might still be a great recruiter, but it’s unlikely he’s a national champion head coach simply because Orgeron sans the realization of very real errors wasn’t a national champion head coach. Now he is. His mistakes made him.
Congratulations to Ed Orgeron. College football’s champion failure.