So, let’s say LSU leads Mississippi State 14-0 with 10 minutes to go at Scott Field this Saturday night. Let’s say the Tigers face fourth down and one yard to go at midfield.
What would Ed Orgeron, the man LSU pays $3.5 million a year to make such decisions, do?
“I’m punting,” Orgeron told reporters Monday in Baton Rouge. “I want to keep this job.”
But that’s not what Orgeron did 10 years ago when he faced the same situation, in the same stadium, as the Ole Miss coach.
Orgeron went for it. The Bulldogs stuffed a predictable run up the middle. They then rallied to score 17 points in the next 10 minutes to win 17-14.
Orgeron was fired the next day.
Thus ended one of the strangest weeks in the history of Ole Miss football – and certainly one of the strangest in my half century of covering Mississippi sports.
Three days before the game I had written that it had become quite obvious that Orgeron had failed miserably as Ole Miss’ coach, and that it was time for a change, no matter what happened in the Egg Bowl.
I cited both on-the-field and off-the-field problems including this: “Since Orgeron’s arrival, Ole Miss has won 10 games and lost 24. The Rebels are 3-20 against SEC teams, 3-23 against teams from BCS conferences. Ole Miss has won one game in three seasons against a team that finished with a winning record. The current Rebels rank last in the SEC in scoring offense, scoring defense, turnover margin, rushing defense, total defense, time of possession, red zone offense and kickoff coverage. They are 11th of 12 teams in rushing offense, passing efficiency, first downs, field goals and allowing third down conversions. They are the only team in the league without an SEC victory and they are one of two that is not bowl-eligible.”
Of all the hundreds of columns I wrote in 33 years at The Clarion-Ledger, none received more reaction, both positive and negative, than that one. Even after all the losing and controversy, Orgeron still had many supporters. I heard from them in emails, snail mail, phone calls and voice messages. (I also heard from people inside the Ole Miss athletic department thanking me for the column.)
So Ole Miss proceeded to kick State around for more than three quarters at Starkville. State could do nothing. Emails continued to pour into my computer in the press box. “What do you think now?” many asked.
And then Ole Miss lined up to go for it. And a Liberty Bowl scout told me, “He’s just trying to pull them off sides.” And I said, “Maybe, but with Ed you never know …”
And they went for it, got stuffed and the rest is history. When I got back to the press box from the locker room interviews, many of the angry e-mailers had emailed again to apologize.
I honestly don’t know whether Ole Miss was going to give Orgeron another year before that snafu. But after it, they could not.
To his credit, Orgeron has advanced back up the ladder, with first the New Orleans Saints, then Tennessee, then Southern Cal and finally LSU.
Is he a better fit at LSU than Ole Miss? No doubt.
Will he succeed at LSU? Let’s see. I am not ready to go there.
He reportedly is doing many things differently at LSU, delegating more to his assistants and easing up in practices so his players are more fresh on game day.
He not only delegates, he says he consults.
When asked about the fateful decision of 10 years ago, Orgeron said, “I should have punted the ball. It was an emotional decision. That’s why I have mentors nowadays, especially when I get emotional and I ask them what do you think. I ask Matt (Canada) what do you think. I ask Pete (Jenkins) what do you think. I ask Dave (Aranda) what do you think. So those are the things I’ve grown in that area.”
Again, we shall see.
Meanwhile, I can’t imagine Nick Saban – or Dan Mullen for that matter – consulting with “mentors” before making such a call. Can you?