LSU's Orgeron aims to keep players focused amid uncertainty
LSU linebacker Donnie Alexander (48) and fullback Trey Gallman (33) celebrate a defensive stop on a punt in the first half an NCAA college football game against Florida in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron smiled patiently while fielding questions about his long-term future at LSU, and politely tried to steer the conversation toward Thursday's regular season finale at Texas A&M.
''We said in the beginning, let the chips fall where they may,'' Orgeron said Monday. ''It's getting close. We understand that. But we need to finish this job first.''
Orgeron added that he and LSU athletic director Joe Alleva ''haven't discussed anything yet,'' but probably will after the game.
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Support for Orgeron, a Louisiana native raised in a heavily Cajun community southwest of New Orleans, grew considerably after LSU won the first three games of his tenure by lopsided margins. A 10-0 loss to Alabama hurt, but the Tigers were not widely expected to win that game and bounced back with a rout of Arkansas on the road.
Yet Saturday's 16-10 loss to Florida was different. Odds makers had listed LSU as a two-touchdown favorite and the Tigers entered the game as a potential front-runner for the Southeastern Conference's Sugar Bowl bid. The Gators had a handful of starters injured, but took a tenuous lead in the second half and held on with a goal-line stand in the final seconds.
Since then, several LSU players have taken it upon themselves to go into damage-control mode on behalf of the man they affectionately call ''Coach O,'' blaming the loss on their own mistakes and touting Orgeron's credentials.
''Coach O will tell you it was all his fault on Saturday, but really it wasn't. It wasn't any one person's fault,'' said fullback J.D. Moore, who was stopped on a third-and-goal play from the 1 in the final minute, one play before Florida clinched the victory – and the SEC East crown- by stopping running back Derrius Guice from the same distance.
''We are just as responsible as he is,'' Moore said. ''A lot of the plays we had called were the right plays and we just didn't execute it well. So for that to just be chalked up for him as a loss isn't fair.''
Moore and linebacker Donnie Alexander said they understood that the decision is out of their hands, so they're trying to heed Orgeron's call to focus on playing the Aggies. But Alexander added, ''We're all for coach O.''
''If we had the choice, we would want to keep him here,'' continued Alexander, a junior middle linebacker who is slated to start in place of injured senior Kendell Beckwith. ''We only took two losses under Coach O and it wasn't like big losses to where we got blown out. It was like, missed keys or missed plays and stuff like that. It's not like he's doing anything wrong.''
LSU (6-4, 4-3 SEC) was 2-2 when Orgeron took over for Les Miles, who was fired following a loss at Auburn in late September.
Alleva, who usually attends the head football coach's Monday luncheons, was not present this time. On Saturday, he said on an LSU Radio Network interview that there are ''a lot of great people interested'' in the LSU coaching job.
Orgeron has been through this before, having taken over when Lane Kiffen was fired at Southern California in 2013 and coaching the Trojans to a 6-2 record, including a bowl victory, only to see USC hire someone else to replace him.
The LSU coaching job is seen as one of the most desirable in college football, given the university's ability to pay top dollar, its top-flight facilities, rabid fan base and the fact that it has no true in-state rival in the recruiting hotbed that is Louisiana.
In recent months, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Houston coach Tom Herman have been bombarded with questions about their interest in LSU. Other coaches who fit the mold of fielding modern, high-scoring offenses include West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen and North Carolina's Larry Fedora.
Fisher has a history at LSU, having served as Tigers offensive coordinator. But on Monday, Florida State President John Thrasher predicted that Fisher ''is going to stay at Florida State,'' adding, ''I know my coach.''
''If there's something he wants, we'll look for it, but he hasn't given me any indication he's unhappy with anything,'' Thrasher added.
Fisher meanwhile, said he was ''extremely happy at Florida State,'' when he was asked about how rumors of LSU's interest in him have affected his recruiting efforts.
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Gary Fineout and Joe Reedy of The Associated Press contributed to this report from Tallahassee, Florida.