Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times.
NO. 13 LSU AT ARKANSAS:
LSU’s ragin’ Cajun: Orgeron adds extra seasoning to interim role
LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron works the sideline in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Alabama won 10-0.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Thirty years after Ed Orgeron got his NCAA Division I level coaching break at Arkansas, he'll lead LSU's football team into Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Orgeron was a graduate assistant on Arkansas' weight room staff in 1986 and 1987. Now he's the interim head coach at LSU (5-3, 3-2 SEC), which plays Arkansas (6-3, 2-3) at 6 p.m. Saturday.
"It's a wonderful place," Orgeron said of Fayetteville. "In fact, I loved it.
"It was one of my favorite places I ever coached, but it's not easy to recruit up there. They're doing a good job of recruiting two- and three-star players and developing them into guys that are playing like five-star players."
Orgeron, 55, began the season as LSU's defensive line coach, but he took over as head coach Sept. 25 when Les Miles was fired after the Tigers' 18-13 loss at Auburn dropped them to 2-2.
LSU beat Missouri 42-7, Southern Mississippi 45-10 and Ole Miss 38-21 before losing to No. 1 Alabama 10-0 at Tiger Stadium last Saturday night.
"I think Coach O has done a tremendous job," Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said. "They're almost kind of a different team.
"I love Les and everything he brought to the table, but you can definitely see a difference in the way the kids are playing, intensity and attitude really in all three phases. Just a tremendous football team with a lot of talent."
Orgeron visited Arkansas' practice in 2014 -- Bielema's second season with the Razorbacks -- when he was between coaching jobs after being USC's interim coach the final eight games of the 2013 season and leading the Trojans to a 6-2 record.
"I love the way he runs his football team," Orgeron said of Bielema. "I like his physical-style approach. He's a player's coach and a good recruiter. I think he's done a fantastic job."
Bielema and Orgeron ran into each other recruiting two weeks ago when the Razorbacks and Tigers each had open dates.
"O said something to me that night that was kind of funny, but it's the truth," Bielema said. "He said, 'Bret, this is the first job I've been at where I haven't had an accent.' All he was saying is that he fits in great there."
Orgeron, a Louisiana native who speaks with a heavy Cajun accent, has coached all over the country, including stops at Miami, USC, Tennessee, Syracuse and Ole Miss.
Bielema recalled first meeting Orgeron while recruiting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the 1990s when both were assistant coaches.
"I remember I was at St. Thomas Aquinas High and here's a guy that came in and just overpowered the room," Bielema said. "Just a very dynamic guy."
Orgeron was defensive line coach at USC when the Trojans went 13-0 to win the 2004 national championship, which helped him land the Ole Miss head coaching job.
It didn't go well.
The Rebels were 10-25 in Orgeron's three seasons from 2005-2007, including 3-21 in SEC games. On Orgeron's one trip to Arkansas with Ole Miss, the Razorbacks beat the Rebels 38-3 in 2006.
"I learned how not to do it at Ole Miss for sure and came away with some things I needed to fix," Ogeron said. "I implemented those things when I went back to USC, and they worked.
"Now I do believe in my third time around [as a head coach], the players can feel more of a confident football coach. Our coaching staff can feel more of a confident football coach."
Orgeron said that when got the Ole Miss job, he tried to coach every player in the fiery style he used with his defensive lineman.
"Those techniques that I used to create some of the best defensive lines in the country, did not work as a head coach," he said. "I had to get out of that mode and get more into being the head coach and delegate, and not be the hard butt on the staff."
Orgeron said as the interim coach at USC and now at LSU, he delegates more responsibility to his assistants and looks after his players with shorter practices.
"There's not doubt in talking to him that his approach is totally different than it was," said Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze, who was on Orgeron's staff at Ole Miss. "What he's doing now obviously is working for him.
"I think any time a man stands up and says, 'I've learned from the way I did things and I'm doing it differently now,' you've got to respect that. He's owned it."
No one ever has questioned Orgeron's recruiting skills.
Houston Nutt left Arkansas after the 2007 season to become Ole Miss' coach, and he led the Rebels to 9-4 records in 2008 and 2009 with players Orgeron had signed.
"I really think that we had recruited well under Ed here and it was close to turning a corner," Freeze said. "I don't know that I have ever been around a coach that is more passionate. He was driven as much as anyone I've ever seen."
Orgeron was a graduate assistant at Northwestern (La.) State, where he played, and at McNeese State before getting a job at Arkansas in 1986 as a weight room graduate assistant.
"Ed was very conscientious," said Ken Hatfield, Arkansas' head coach from 1984-1989. "I thought he was a good role model in the weight room around the kids. That's what you're looking for, somebody that's an encourager and has a positive outlook and is always trying to help people be their best, and he was doing all those things.
"Certainly since he left Arkansas he's proven that he's a heck of recruiter and a heck of a coach, too."
Orgeron said he's grateful for the opportunity Hatfield gave him at Arkansas and that he learned a lot from Hatfield and Arkansas defensive coordinator Fred Goldsmith.
"That time at Arkansas was very instrumental in my career," he said. "I'm very appreciative of it."
Orgeron said he tries not to think about what he needs to do to be retained as LSU's coach after this season.
"My mindset is to block it out," he said. "Obviously, the natural thing is to think about it, but I'm trying to take each day as it is.
"Whatever is going to happen in the next few weeks is going to happen anyway. I can't worry about that today.
"But we're going to get after it as a football team. That's all I can control."
Hatfield said he's pulling for Orgeron to keep the LSU job.
"Ed's had a lot of experience now as a head coach and you could see how hard his guys played for him at USC and now at LSU," Hatfield said. "He's did a heck of job at USC and is doing a heck of job at LSU keeping those teams together in very, very difficult situations.
"I hope it works for Ed at LSU, but if it doesn't, I think he'd be somebody that should be in line to be considered for several other jobs."
Bielema said he's hoping Orgeron can get the LSU job on a long-term basis, too, though not at Arkansas' expense.
"I just really wish him -- obviously, other than this weekend -- all the best," Bielema said. "Because I think he's good for us, good for the conference.
"When I say 'us,' I just mean the profession. He's got a lot of personality. People love him and you can see the players play for him."
Sports on 11/08/2016
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