The next version of LSU football head coach Ed Orgeron is already in Baton Rouge.
LSU football‘s Ed Orgeron isn’t supposed to be a national champion.
In fact, he was supposed to fail in Baton Rouge.
“Never hire the interim coach.”
That’s what the national talking heads said in late 2016 when the Tigers made Orgeron the official successor to Les Miles.
Yesterday a CFB coaches agent called me. All he said was “LSU hired Ed Orgeron.” We laughed for a few minutes.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) October 1, 2017
It’s understandable why folks were skeptical of Coach O at LSU.
His first stint as a head coach at Ole Miss didn’t have a happy ending. Orgeron was fired in 2007 after going 10-25 in three seasons as the Rebels’ head coach.
The reasons that Coach O was fired at Ole Miss were obvious. Orgeron meddled in the offense (he forced offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to run a version of USC’s offense). He was brash and loud. During his time at Ole Miss, Orgeron essentially never learned how to become a head coach. He was still stuck in the mindset of being a defensive line coach.
“He coached the team like he coached the defensive line. That’s all he knew,” said former Ole Miss defensive coordinator John Thompson in 2016.
After Orgeron’s disastrous tenure in Oxford, there were plenty of folks who likely believed he would never be a head coach again.
Which is why when LSU lost to Troy in 2017, it solidified those thoughts for a lot of analysts.
Coach O, however, managed to flip the script. He clearly learned from his past mistakes at Ole Miss and his stops along the way. He learned how to be the CEO of a program. Orgeron started delegating instead of meddling. He stayed out of the way of the offense (after the Matt Canada experience at least) and let the offensive coaches work their magic.
The result was one of the most dominant seasons in college football history in 2019.
Now, everyone is wondering who the next Coach O will be (sports fans love symmetry).
Orgeron has essentially given hope to a group of coaches that don’t get opportunities at elite programs — the coaches who have already failed at top programs.
Typically, after a coach fails at a Power-5 program, they have to go be a coordinator. Or they have to accept a position as a head coach at a lower-tiered school.
Former Florida head coach Jim McElwain is a great example of this.
McElwain was fired at Florida after starting the 2017 season with a 3-4 record. He then went to Michigan to serve as the wide receivers coach in 2018, before taking over as the head coach at Central Michigan.
There’s another example, too. A coach that happens to be on LSU’s staff.
And he’s the coach that I think is positioned to be the next Ed Orgeron.
Tigers defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.
A similar journey
Pelini was fired from Nebraska in 2014 despite going 66-27 over seven seasons.
Part of the reason Pelini was fired was because of his “fiery” personality and tense, almost non-existent relationship with Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst.
Pelini’s results at Nebraska might have been better than Orgeron’s at Ole Miss, but the questions about personality and leadership styles were similar.
Before returning to Baton Rouge in January (where he served as defensive coordinator from 2005-07), Pelini spent five seasons as the head coach at Youngstown State in Ohio.
Those five years at Youngstown State, however, didn’t translate into another opportunity to be a head coach at a Power-5 program.
And that’s where Pelini wants to be.
Sure, he’s happy to be at his “second home” in Baton Rouge. But there’s no doubt that Pelini has his eye on another head coaching gig.
“I don’t think there’s any question I can,” said Pelini recently to Sports Illustrated when asked if he could be a Power-5 head coach again.
“If somebody wants to win, they should call me,” added Pelini.
Pelini’s personality and relationship with the AD weren’t the only reasons he was fired at Nebraska.
He was also fired because the Cornhuskers felt like Pelini couldn’t get over the hump at Nebraska. He couldn’t get past the 9-10 win mark.
There’s no doubt that Pelini has one of the best defensive minds on the planet (it’s why Orgeron brought him back to LSU). He has the knowledge to lead a team to a championship.
But like Orgeron, Pelini needs to learn how to lead a program more efficiently.
Five years at Youngstown State and a stint with Coach O — a man who learned from his mistakes as well as anyone — could make Pelini the next coach that goes from being canned to leading a program to a national championship.
Hopefully for LSU’s sake, he helps bring another title to Baton Rouge before he makes that transition.