LSU head coach Ed Orgeron had nothing to smile about in a 37-7 loss to Mississippi State last month.

Here’s an idea –  at no charge – for Ole Miss Saturday when the Rebels play LSU. Loan the IPF (indoor practice facility) to Ed Orgeron and the LSU Tigers. He knows his way around.

And maybe Coach O will use it like he did in 2006 when he was coaching Ole Miss and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons came to town. Remember? Those 2006 Rebels surely do.

Rick Cleveland

The game was delayed by approximately two hours by thunderstorms, replete with treacherous lightning strikes. Orgeron, perhaps fueled by a couple cases of Red Bull, put his Rebels through a strenuous, physical workout in the IPF. By the time they finally kicked off, Ole Miss was spent.

Wake Forest then pummeled Ole Miss 27-3, out-rushing the Rebels 240-23.

“Man, it was pretty intense,” said former Rebel Shay Hodge of Morton of the pre-game scrimmaging that day 11 years ago.

“There was plenty of hitting involved,” Hodge added.

And that was coming after a week of physically demanding practices, said Hodge, who was an outstanding receiver under Orgeron, then Houston Nutt.

Coach Ed Orgeron with his Ole Miss football team at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2007.

“I liked the guy,” Hodge said of Orgeron. “He was good to me. He gave me a chance. He was a great recruiter and he knew talent. But he had never been a head coach. One of his biggest flaws was during the week he would run us into the ground. We usually were tired on Saturday.”

That Wake Forest episode was just one that came to mind when I heard what Orgeron told ESPN.com’s Chris Lowe earlier this week when discussing his return to Oxford this weekend.

“I can honestly tell you that’s so far in the past that it’s just another game to me, because the truth is the whole time I was there I was wishing I was here (at LSU),” Orgeron said. “I was like, ‘Wow, when I saw LSU, what a great program if I could ever be part of that program.’ Now I’m here so it worked out the way I wanted it to.”

Funny thing: Ole Miss folks wish Orgeron had been at LSU – or anywhere but Oxford – those three years when the Rebels won three games and lost 21 in the SEC, won 10 of 34 games overall and beat one team (Memphis) that had a winning record over those three seasons. (Memphis was 7-5.)

Orgeron’s statement about wishing he was at LSU the whole time he was in Oxford thoroughly ticked off Ole Miss faithful, including guys who played for him at Ole Miss. Said Hodge, “The timing is bad. It was a bad time to say it.”

Mike Espy of Madison, a senior wide receiver on Orgeron’s first Ole Miss team in 2005, says he was angered by Orgeron’s words this week.

“I mean, how is that supposed to make us feel,” Espy said.

Pretty disgusted, I would suppose. You busted your tail for a guy who said he didn’t want to be there and would much rather have been at one of your arch-rivals.

But Espy came to expect the unexpected from Orgeron from Day One.

Espy was in the room when Orgeron held his first team meeting, taking off his shirt, telling the players to take off their shirts, cursing a blue streak and challenging any player who thought they could whip him to come try.

The meeting is detailed in Bruce Feldman’s book Meat Market.

“It’s all very true,” Espy said, chuckling. “It was pretty amazing. I guess it was his way of trying to set the tone and create some energy and atmosphere.”

Did it?

“I would just say that I don’t think we all received it the way he wanted it received,” Espy answered. “Maybe it made an impression on the younger players, the freshmen and sophomores. I know it didn’t with the juniors and seniors.”

Since taking the LSU job, Orgeron has admitted that he wasn’t ready to be a head coach at Ole Miss, and that he has learned from mistakes he made in Oxford, including over-working his players during game-week practices.

Under Orgeron, LSU has experienced some success, mixed with some surprising failure. The 37-7 LSU loss to Mississippi State in Starkville last month was the worst defeat LSU has suffered in the 121 years the two teams have been playing. The current Tigers also lost 24-21 to three-touchdown underdog Troy. To Orgeron’s credit, the Tigers have bounced back to defeat Florida and Auburn in successive weeks since.

The Tigers are a 7-point favorite over the Rebels Saturday night. But as Ole Miss (and LSU) fans know all too well, Orgeron’s teams are no sure thing when favored.

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Rick Cleveland

Rick Cleveland

Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 12 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.