Not long before I pitched this bi-weekly column, Lamar asked me what my Bayou Brief title should be. I suggested pundit at large. In my blogging life at First Draft as Adrastos, I write about politics 80% of the time but I like to dabble in other areas. I’ve done a lot of dabbling here at the Bayou Brief and I’m about to do so again.
I’m a transplant to the Gret Stet of Louisiana. I met my first wife in San Francisco from whence we bounced to Washington DC eventually landing in Louisiana. She was from old Louisiana families on both sides and wanted to attend LSU law school. That’s how I landed in Baton Rouge for a few years to finish my BA at LSU.
I did not like living in Baton Rouge but there was one thing about it that I loved: LSU football. My mother-in-law grew up in Shreveport with then LSU sports information director Paul Manasseh. He hooked me up with a gig in the press box checking credentials, which I kept after he left LSU. The press box at Tiger Stadium was named in Paul’s honor in 2006. I have fond memories of both it and him.
When I saw my first Tiger football game, I was hooked. The San Francisco Bay Area of my youth had two NFL teams, but the college teams were of little interest to anyone but alumni. I was immediately captivated by the spectacle of Tiger Stadium and SEC football.
Tragically, my first wife died of cancer, and I moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane Law School. I was an odd duck in Red Stick but was a perfect fit in the Crescent City. I also met and married the beautiful and brilliant Dr. A who was studying for her PHD at Tulane Medical School. In fact, my first wife’s brother was instrumental in our meeting. We’re still together and I remain a devoted LSU fan. Geaux, Tigers.
That brings me to LSU Head Football Coach Ed Orgeron who is the ultimate underdog. His appointment to replace Les Miles was widely mocked and derided. Coach O’s picture is in the dictionary next to rough around the edges. His voice is unearthly, it sounds like he swallowed a bullfrog with tonsillitis. Smooth is the last word one would use to describe him; authentic is the first.
I for one was pleased with his selection. I knew his back story and had the feeling he would succeed at LSU, which was his dream job. After many bumps in the road, Coach O came to national prominence as recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach under Pete Carroll at USC. The Trojans won two national championships while Coach O was there leading to his hiring as head coach at Ole Miss in 2005.
Things did not go well in Oxford. The talent cupboard was bare when he took over and nothing went right. His old school coaching style was not right for the times either: he tried to yell and scream his way to success. Orgeron finished his first head coaching tenure with a record of 8-25 and, even worse, 3-21 in the SEC.
After brief stints with the New Orleans Saints and University of Tennessee, Coach O returned to USC as an assistant and became interim head coach in 2013. Coach O adopted a kinder, gentler head coaching style at USC and the players responded. The Trojans did well under Coach O with a 6-2 record but lost to arch-rival UCLA.
The loss to the Bruins was the cover story as to why Ed Orgeron was not hired by USC, but class differences were the real reason. USC alum fancy their school as an Ivy League university only with palm trees. A working-class Cajun was fine as a hired hand but unacceptable as head coach. This is particularly ironic after a series of scandals have damaged USC’s reputation, especially the college admissions bribery mishigas. Karma is a bitch, y’all.
Coach O landed back home in Louisiana as a member of Les Miles’ LSU staff. His reputation seemed set in stone: a good second banana but not head coaching material. When the Mad Hatter was fired after yet another misadventure with the game clock, Orgeron became interim head coach.
The nation’s sporting press assumed that LSU would hire a big-name coach, not the gruff Cajun with the sandpaper voice and heart of gold. Then Athletic Director Joe Alleva had flirtations with Dan Herman and Jimbo Fisher who landed respectively at Texas and Texas A &M. I’ll skip the Aggie jokes for now.
We all know what happened next: Ed Orgeron fought for the job and was hired. Coach O had kicked around the world of college football and was kicked by the media as the wrong man for the job. Many LSU alums thought they’d “settled” but the school hired the coach who was most passionate about the job as opposed to viewing it as a career steppingstone like Nick Saban. Wise choice.
Coach O’s tenure in Tiger Town has been a rousing success thus far, capped by last Saturday’s win in Tuscaloosa. LSU had not beaten Saban’s Crimson Tide since 2011, losing 8 consecutive times. One of the reasons Les Miles was fired was because he could not beat his predecessor. That and a leather-helmet era offense much like the one used by his mentor Bo Schembechler at Michigan in the 1970’s. Coach O brought LSU’s offense into the 21st Century.
It’s an election year in Louisiana and this year’s LSU-Alabama game had a political sub-plot. President* Pennwyise brought his freak show to Tuscaloosa hoping to be greeted with nothing but cheers in a red state. He *was* largely cheered by the crowd, alas, but it was a sideshow to the main event, which was won by a coach who supports the re-election of Democratic Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.
In fact, Coach O introduced the Governor at a fundraiser last April, which had Gret Stet Republicans frothing at the mouth. But LSU coaches and partisan politics are no strangers: Les Miles and Bobby Jindal were quite chummy. The Mad Hatter attended PBJ’s victory celebration in 2011 and even plugged his doomed presidential campaign. Coach O is a piker in comparison
One thing Gret Stet GOPers excel at is hypocrisy: Jindal-Miles, good; Orgeron-Edwards, bad. Repeat after me:
In plain English that means It’s Okay If You Are A Republican; much like Eddie Rispone’s smear of the Governor’s military service or the entire Trump presidency. IOKIYAR.
The reason Ed Orgeron has become such a beloved figure in the Gret Stet is that he’s genuine. What you see is what you get: a tough, tender, and caring man as well as a helluva football coach with a voice like a raspy foghorn.
Remember that IOKIYAR image of Coach O and Governor Edwards when you vote. Tell them Ed Orgeron sent you. Geaux, Tigers.