Less than two years ago, as the Louisiana State football team capped a perfect season in New Orleans early in the morning and the party went on Bourbon Street, Ed Orgeron had gone alone with his wife, Kelly. A Superdome area lined with confetti.
It made for a poignant scene: Orgeron, raised on the bayou, fired as coach by Mississippi and passed over by Southern California, returns to its roots after his team leads Clemson to win the national championship. Returned for the most exhilarating twist that some saw.
This too turned out to be a mirage.
Within a few weeks, Orgron filed for divorce, the first setback in 20 consecutive months of trouble — a raft of sexual assault allegations against players, a rift with the team over the racial justice movement, disastrous coaching hiring, Unfortunate injuries and a plethora of bad losses – which culminated with his firing on Sunday, which was effective at the end of the season.
To make up for his trouble, Orgeron will get $16.9 million to go.
“I’ll have enough money to buy a hamburger,” Orgeron, 60, told an awkward news conference Sunday night, as he sat down with athletic director Scott Woodward, who fired him.
If there were smiles and eye-popping proclamations that began with Woodward calling Orgeron a friend, then there was also a kernel of truth: victory and defeat engulfed Orgeron.
It’s probably true that in most schools, you can’t appear to be drunk at work—as did Steve Sarkeesian at USC before he was fired. Or call the escort service on your school-issued phone—as Hugh Freeze did in Mississippi. Or lead an event with 19 players accused of sexual assault – as Art Brills did at Baylor.
But at LSU, only the unforgivable Pecadillo has failed to win.
And make sure you don’t lose to Auburn. Or Kentucky. or UCLA
Still, Orgeron – who was seen last year in a photo shirtless in bed with a consensual woman – was working much more against him than defeat on the field. Sports Illustrated and The Athletic featured Donald J. Outrage over Trump’s praise has published reports portraying the program in turmoil when he was president.
It all played out amid a series of reports from USA Today, which have prompted an extensive federal investigation into LSU’s sexual assault investigation. In the aftermath of those reports, the university suspended two administrators, its former football coach Les Miles was ousted in Kansas and its former president F. King Alexander resigned from the state of Oregon. Two women have accused Orgeron of failing to report allegations of sexual assault, which they have denied.
When Orgeron was asked on Sunday night about the outrage that black players expressed about their lack of support for anti-racism protests last summer, Woodward cut him off.
“I can clear that up,” Woodward said. “It had nothing to do with this decision. It was a win and a loss on the field and where the program was going.”
Orgeron didn’t offer much introspection. There were no delinquents like him after he was fired in Mississippi, when he admitted he couldn’t run a team like a defensive line coach—all fire and four-letter words. Nor was there any rumor about a culture that had become toxic.
“I’m not one to evaluate myself,” he said, gritting his teeth through a grin. “I’ll let you all do it. Enough of you all. I could care less about it.”
Asked what advice he would give to the next coach, Orgeron said: “It’s not my job.”
But for another two months—at least until November 27, when the Tigers (4-3) will host Texas A&M, and possibly their next coach, former LSU assistant Jimbo Fisher, who was hired by Woodward. Eggs coach. Or maybe up to a bowl game.
The slow decoupling is a confusing coda for talks that began last week after the Tigers, who started the season with a disappointing loss to UCLA and blew a late lead against Auburn, were routed by Kentucky. If Orgeron thought an upset victory over Florida last Saturday might have been enough to turn the tenure of the talks, he quickly learned otherwise.
The first game on his farewell tour would be substantial enough at Ole Miss, where he began his head coaching career and where he would oppose Lane Kiffin, whom he replaced as interim coach at USC. The picture of equanimity – forced or not – was shown on Sunday. When USC hired Sarkeesian, Orgeron left another interim coach, Clay Helton, on the spot to coach a bowl game.
That experience was an early one, he said the night of the championship game.
Stunned by USC’s disapproval, Orgeron returned to his home just north of Lake Pontchartrain, spent years watching his twin boys play high school football, and got a chance to compete in the Southeastern Conference.
For now, Orgeron said, he will cherish the memories of that championship season. Over a pile of crawfish and an XS and OS session on a dry-erase board, he lured Joe Burrow, a castoff quarterback at Ohio State, with a promise to open the offense. Who knew how it would turn out?
Everything that a difference-making quarterback crafted — a record-setting offense, a 15-0 record, a Heisman Trophy and a national title — obscured all the turmoil lurking beneath the surface.
If only Organon had one now.