Why beating Alabama doesn’t guarantee Ed Orgeron will be hired as LSU’s next head coach
For those of us who cover sports for a living, we’re not supposed to root for favorites, for teams, players, or coaches. But when it comes to current LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron, it’s hard not to root for him. The big, gruff, larger than life “Coach O” is impossible not to like, like your unmarried uncle who shows up at Thanksgiving dinner in a Hawaiian shirt, and spends the whole night doing magic tricks.
It’s also why many in college football are rooting for Coach O to get the LSU job. In a sport where coaches seemingly roll off the same conveyor belt, boring, and full of the same handful of clichés (“we’re just taking it one week at a time”) he’s an original. Virtually everyone would agree that the sport of college football would be better with Orgeron as a head coach somewhere, but especially at a high-profile job like LSU.
That’s also what’s led to a fun narrative heading into Saturday’s mega-showdown between No. 1 Alabama and 13th ranked LSU: If the Tigers knock off Alabama, is Coach O guaranteed the full-time job in Baton Rouge?
Obviously this is a great narrative, but the disappointing thing is, I don’t think it’s true. Beating Alabama would be a major, MAJOR step towards Coach O getting the full-time job at LSU. But truthfully, the road is just beginning.
That’s because while Alabama is the biggest game left on the schedule, it’s hardly the only big game remaining. As a matter of fact, the Tigers’ schedule is back-loaded like few in recent memory. After playing Alabama this weekend, LSU then has to play a road game at a solid 5-3 Arkansas team the following week, and then follow it up with a game against Florida, and a road trip to Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night, just four days later. It’s a brutal gauntlet, meaning Coach O’s future is just now beginning to be decided.
Ironically, outside of Alabama, a case could be made that Arkansas is the toughest remaining game on LSU’s schedule. The Hogs are the only unranked team LSU will play from here on out, but also the one which has given LSU the most trouble in years past. They’ve won the last two games against the Tigers overall, and three of the last four when played in Arkansas. The combined score of those two games was 48-14 in favor of the Razorbacks (for the record, part of that should be attributed to the “body blow” theory, the idea that LSU is beat up going into the Arkansas game, after facing Alabama the previous week).
And beyond that Arkansas game are Florida and Texas A&M, as mentioned, two teams currently ranked in the Top 15.
Now historically, the Tigers have had success against both, beating Florida three straight times, with a 4-0 record against Texas A&M since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012. At the same time, the stakes have also never been higher against either of those teams as they’ll be this year
For Florida, they could be playing for the SEC East title against LSU (depending on what happens this week at Arkansas), and a win over the Tigers could clinch the division. The Texas A&M game meanwhile could be the Aggies’ last chance to make a strong impression on the playoff committee for an at-large berth. As big as the Alabama game is this weekend, those two are huge as well.
And it’s because of that brutal back-loaded schedule, that Coach O’s current run at LSU actually reminds me a lot of the year he took over USC mid-season after Lane Kiffin was fired as head coach. If you’ll remember, Orgeron led the Trojans to six wins in his first seven games as a head coach – highlighted by a victory over No. 5 Stanford at the LA Coliseum – and heading into the final regular season game against UCLA, it seemed he was in good position to get the full-time job. Then USC went out and lost an ugly game to their biggest rival (final score 35-14) and the job instead went to Steve Sarkisian.
So could the same thing happen to Orgeron this year? Could a hot start cost him the full-time job if he doesn’t finish strong? It seems possible.
It’s also why beating Alabama is just part of what will land Coach O the job – not the only thing.