LSU head coach Ed Orgeron was frowning during a 37-7 loss to Mississippi State in 2017, but he has been smiling a lot lately. Credit: Rogelio V. Solis, AP

College football’s silly season — when athletic directors spend money like drunk, rich sailors — is off to an amazingly silly start.

Let’s start in Baton Rouge, where LSU will pay Ed Orgeron $17 million not to be its football coach. That’s silly enough on its own merit. But you must also consider that LSU’s first offer to someone to take Orgeron’s place reportedly went to Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, who turned it down. Yes, and then Fisher’s Aggies finished the regular season playing Orgeron’s Tigers last Saturday night. Of course, Orgeron won.

Rick Cleveland

Color me blind, but I can’t for the life of me see the fascination with Fisher, who was 5-6 in his last season at Florida State before going 34-14 in his first four seasons at Texas A&M. OK, you are right, 34-14 is not terrible, unless you realize the expectations of Aggie fans and how much the Aggies are paying Fisher. Remember, Texas A&M ran off Fisher’s predecessor, Kevin Sumlin, after a 51-26 record over six seasons. Sumlin’s record for his first four seasons at A&M was better than Fisher’s.

You ask me, if you pay a coach $9 million a year at A&M, you should expect to win at least one of two games against your two SEC Western Division foes from Mississippi. Fisher, of course, did not win against either this past season.

LSU, spurned by Fisher, made a run at Lincoln Riley, who was then at Oklahoma. Riley changed jobs all right, but he headed west to Southern Cal, which now leaves the Oklahoma job open, giving LSU still more competition for its head coaching hire. Surely, this isn’t playing well in Baton Rouge, where athletic director Scott Woodward faces mounting pressure to make what is now known as a “splash hire.”

Woodward could have made an easy and wise hire. Woodward could have gone 45 minutes down the road and hired Billy Napier, a Nick Saban disciple who has been marvelously successful at Louisiana-Lafayette. He did not. So Napier took the Florida job, a home run hire for Scott Stricklin, I predict. We’ll see.

Wait! We have breaking news: We interrupt this column about the silly season with this: LSU has just hired Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, agreeing to pay Kelly $95 million over the next 10 years — plus incentives. You read right: Ninety-five million over 10 years. It was just last week that Kelly pooh-poohed the idea he would leave Notre Dame — unless, he said, “a fairy godmother came along with a $250 million check.”

Well, it wasn’t a fairy godmother and it wasn’t 250 mill, but it was Scott Woodward and it was a lot.

I am almost afraid to ask this: What’s next?

The silly season has just begun and already there have been 21 job openings in major college football. Surely, there will be more.

And sooner or later, someone is going to make a run at Ole Miss’s Lane Kiffin and/or Mississippi State’s Mike Leach. 

If not for some incidents in Kiffin’s past (re: Tennessee, USC), some school already would have offered him enough money to buy a Pacific island. He has been prominently mentioned in reports of coach searches at Florida, Oklahoma and LSU — not to mention the search that hasn’t even begun yet (and might not happen) at Miami. The Miami job, currently held by former State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, seems a better fit from this viewpoint. 

And here’s a pertinent question: Would you rather have to beat Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Auburn, Texas and Texas A&M to win your division — or beat Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech? 

You don’t have to answer. It’s obvious. The daunting idea of competing in the SEC Western Division might well have had something to do with Riley bolting for Southern Cal – and why the many rumors of Michigan State’s Mel Tucker or Penn State’s James Franklin moving to LSU never came close to happening.

Leach’s name also has come up at Oklahoma and from no lesser a source than Sooner coaching legend Barry Switzer, who has just come right out and said that Leach is the guy the Sooners should hire. That scenario may have no legs at all, but with all the games Leach has won at places like Texas Tech, Washington State and now State, one must wonder what he might achieve if he ever got a shot at one of college football’s most coveted blue-blood jobs, of which Oklahoma is certainly one. 

Mississippi football fans should also keep an eye on Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders, the newly minted SWAC Coach of the Year. Lebby is an up and coming star, sure to draw some head coaching interest before this silly season is over. Sanders reportedly got an interview with TCU before that school opted for Sonny Dykes. 

For now, just remember the silly season is far from over. In fact, it has only begun.

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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 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.