When Ed Orgeron led LSU to a blowout win over Missouri in his first game as interim coach last October, it marked his first SEC coaching victory in nearly 10 years, dating back to Ole Miss' win over Mississippi State in the 2006 Egg Bowl. It was a moment to savor, because second chances like this in the SEC don't happen often.
Orgeron went 3-21 in SEC play in three years at Ole Miss from 2005-07, the last conference win coming in the final game of a frustrating 4-8 second season. The next year, Orgeron failed to win a single SEC game and got fired, casting doubt on whether he'd ever get another head coaching job again, especially in a power conference.
But 10 years after his last appearance at SEC media days, Orgeron found himself back at the podium on Monday in Hoover, Ala., as the coach responsible for following Les Miles, a national championship-winning head coach, at a superior football program to the one he was fired from a decade ago. Orgeron is a Louisiana native with a strong reputation as a recruiter and defensive line coach, but had anyone speculated back in 2007 that he'd one day be LSU's head coach, it would have sounded impossible. The same year that Orgeron went 3-9 and got fired, Miles led the Tigers to a national championship.
After posting a 6-2 record upon replacing Miles, Orgeron joins South Carolina's Will Muschamp as the SEC's two current retread coaches getting their second full-time chance after previously being fired, something that seems to happen a lot more often in the NFL than major college football. Muschamp went 28-21 in four years at Florida and turned that into the South Carolina job with only one year between gigs. Orgeron, meanwhile, had nearly a decade to think about and try to correct what went wrong at Ole Miss, where inexperience outweighed any recruiting success.
"I'm very grateful for my time at Ole Miss," Orgeron said on Monday. "I had a great job, a job in the SEC. Was given a great chance. I wasn't ready. I went there as defensive line coach. I did the things that I did as the defensive line coach and was very successful over the years. It didn't work at Ole Miss, although I recruited well."
Orgeron is one of 16 of the current 65 Power Five head coaches who have previous experience as a Power Five head coach at a different school. Of those 16, Orgeron, Muschamp, Rich Rodriguez, Mark Richt, Bobby Petrino, Mike Leach and David Cutcliffe were fired from their previous gig, although the ousters of Leach and Petrino had nothing to do with on-field results. Orgeron and Rodriguez are the only two who had losing records at their previous full-time stops (Orgeron did go 6-2 as USC's interim coach). Rodriguez, however, won big at West Virginia before the debacle at Michigan, putting Orgeron in a different category, one where Muschamp is the only one who is really comparable after his tumultuous four years in Gainesville.
At Ole Miss, Orgeron replaced David Cutcliffe, who was fired for going 4-7 the season after the loss of Eli Manning. Cutcliffe went 44-29 at Ole Miss and has been a big success at Duke, despite a losing record. Orgeron's winning percentage in Oxford was less than half of Cutcliffe's, putting him in the strange position of trading up for a most prestigious job 10 years later, while Cutcliffe took over the one of the nation's biggest rebuilding jobs.
Orgeron had never been a coordinator before getting the Ole Miss job, and he vowed to treat a future head coaching position more like a CEO, opting to delegate more effectively. Hoping for another chance, Orgeron said he came to two conclusions about how he needed to change if he were to get another job.
"Number one, I was going to treat the team exactly how I treat my sons, no different," Orgeron said. "And I was going to treat every coach on the staff with respect and let him coach his position as he knew it. Ever since those two minor changes, we've been 12-4, so that's the difference."
While LSU lost to Alabama, 10-0, and on a goal-line stand to Florida, there's no question that Orgeron's interim stints have been relative successes. The LSU offense had a few big performances down the stretch, and after he was named full-time coach, Orgeron led the Tigers to a decisive Citrus Bowl win over Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville.
Of course, LSU won't merely be content with winning the Citrus Bowl after the bar was raised by Saban and Miles with two national titles in the 2000s. LSU has lost six straight games to Alabama, failing to score more than 17 points in any of them. It has finished worse in the postseason AP poll than the preseason poll in each of the past five seasons, with no major bowl appearances. The most pressing problem has been quarterback play and a conservative style of offense that got stale by the end of Miles' tenure.
Orgeron will be responsible for fixing all of that as quickly as possible. A 6-2 run after Miles was ousted was a nice start, but the challenges are about to get much bigger as he takes the reigns full-time, coaching as the guy rather than the interim auditioning for the job. Even with the 6-2 interim marks, Orgeron still has a lifetime head coaching record of 22-29, putting him in a prove-it position after landing arguably one of the five best jobs in college football right now, a move met with a healthy dose of skepticism, given his head coaching background.
"I think when you take over for Les Miles -- who did a tremendous job, who hired me, did a tremendous job at LSU -- you have to have some players to lead the way," Orgeron said. "I think the guys that are seniors that were on the team last year that supported me and the team bought into what we were doing, a lot of factors had to happen for me to get the job at LSU. I'm very, very honored to be the head coach here."
With top-10 recruiting classes creating an endless parade of NFL-caliber talent, it's not as if Orgeron doesn't have a foundation to win immediately. He's also surrounded himself with strong assistants in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who worked wonders at Pitt last year. Still, even with All-America type players like tailback Derrius Guice and pass rusher Arden Key leading the way, 2017 presents substantial challenges, including a bizarre five-road-game SEC schedule (because of last year's hurricane-forced scheduling changes) that features trips to Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Tennessee, in addition to a neutral game against BYU and home dates with Auburn, Arkansas and Texas A&M.
Orgeron deserves as much patience as any other new head coach, but the context of the situation -- his struggles at Ole Miss, LSU's talented roster, replacing a national championship coach who won 77 percent of his games -- will mean that patience is in even shorter supply than usual in modern college football.
"I understand the expectations of LSU," Orgeron said. "I was born in Louisiana, and they're very high. But we have the same expectation of our staff and ourselves. I don't feel the pressure, but I do acknowledge that it's out there. And I still need to prove that now I'm the head coach, and we need to win, and I get that."
It would have been easy to believe that Orgeron's 2007 appearance at SEC media days would be his last as head coach. Instead, he's had 10 years to prepare for the second chance at the highest level of college football, one that doesn't come to many ousted coaches. If there's one thing Orgeron knows as well as any head coach, it's that opportunities like this can be fleeting, and he'll sink or swim based on what he's learned from a doomed tenure at Ole Miss and how he applies it to LSU.
Merely being back behind the podium at SEC media days is a huge success for Orgeron in itself, but after 10 years away, now it's Orgeron's job to prove his presence in Hoover should become an annual event.