Ed Orgeron characterizes himself as an eternal optimist, a man who after years of crisscrossing the nation in his football coaching career (including a stint many years ago as an assistant strength coach at Arkansas) landed his dream job as head coach at LSU. He told Sandra Bullock’s Leigh Anne Tuohy in 2009’s “The Blind Side” that Ole Miss was his dream job, but this really is it.
Orgeron reached the pinnacle at LSU in January as his Tigers completed a dream 15-0 season with a national championship victory over Clemson. Then came a huge new contract that made him one of the highest-paid coaches in the nation at just over $8.9 million.
But since then, a series of nightmares.
There has of course been the coronavirus pandemic and a disappointing first half of a season threading games around COVID-19 outbreaks at LSU and elsewhere. There was an impermissible recruiting contact that got Orgeron briefly pulled off the road earlier this year. And, not to cry too much for a guy making nearly $9 million a year, but he, like all LSU athletic department employees making over $80,000 per year, was tagged with a 5% COVID-related pay cut last month.
Then Monday brought the most disturbing news: A report from USA Today alleging LSU has had nine football players since Orgeron became coach in 2016 accused of sexual misconduct and dating violence.
Coaches survive mostly based on their win-loss record, but not entirely. Scandals, especially of this type, can also pull you down. Just call former Baylor coach Art Briles at the Texas high school where he’s now working and ask him.
In fact, a Yahoo! Sports columnist Monday immediately called for Orgeron to be fired after the USA Today report was released. CBSSports.com college football writer Dennis Dodd hardly went that far Wednesday when he released his latest coaching hot seat ratings. But on a scale of 0 (untouchable) to 5 (win or be fired), Dodd pegged the warmth of Orgeron’s desk chair as a 3 (pressure is mounting), the same as that of Orgeron’s former LSU boss Les Miles, now 3-15 at perennial football doormat Kansas.
When an LSU football player admitted to hitting his girlfriend in a text he sent to executive deputy director of athletics Verge Ausberry, bot…
“It’s hard to remember,” Dodd wrote, “Coach O is the reigning national coach of the year.”
It’s probably getting hard for Orgeron to remember as well.
It is premature for anyone to be calling for Orgeron’s job as it relates to details from the USA Today report, but suffice to say these are the most serious of matters that have fallen on his watch. The university, its athletic department and its football program are accused, in a wide-number of cases involving both student-athletes and regular students, of failing to properly investigate charges of sexual misconduct. Of failing to properly protect female students from their alleged abusers in multiple instances.
And these are just the reported cases that have come to light. Often when a woman or women find the courage to tell their stories, they inspire others with similar experiences. To stand up for themselves when, as in LSU’s case, no one did to anything close to a sufficient degree. The independent law firm LSU said it has hired to review the school’s Title IX policies and procedures needs to be allowed to do its work, but one is left with the sense that this story is far from its final chapter. What implications it may have for Orgeron and others at LSU is anyone’s guess, but the truth needs to come out.
In the meantime, Orgeron could use a win. A win Saturday at Arkansas (11 a.m., SEC Network) to even this year’s record at 3-3 and a win in the court of public opinion as it comes to the USA Today allegations.
He could certainly use a better 2021 than he’s had a 2020 … at least 2020 he’s had since lifting the gold CFP national championship trophy in the Merecedes-Benz Superdome the night of Jan. 13.
LSU mishandled sexual misconduct complaints against students, including top athletes, according to an investigation by USA Today.
I think Dodd’s assessment of where Orgeron’s job status is right now is right about on the mark. Even before this report came out, the way LSU has played so poorly on defense under his new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini have at least fanned the flames of the always simmering questions about Orgeron. Namely, whether he’s a Gene Chizik-like flash in the pan (the coach who led Auburn to the 2010 national title behind a generational quarterback talent in Cam Newton and was fired two years later) or whether he can be LSU’s version of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, a former position coach who came to power and elevated his program to national power along with him.
Though it theoretically is only half over, this LSU season looks like a lost cause. If that’s a one-off for Orgeron, if he can coalesce the Tigers’ strong string of recruiting campaigns into a rapid return to national prominence, then the patented Coach O optimism can return.
But the USA Today report does heighten the pressure to win big again, and win under bigger scrutiny.