Is Ed Orgeron the next Dabo Swinney?

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

When LSU named Ed Orgeron as its permanent head coach in 2016, there were plenty of reasons to be skeptical. Why would a program that just fired a coach who was 1-1 in national championship games hand the reins over to a guy who won three SEC games in three years at Ole Miss?

Just a few short weeks into Coach O’s first full season in 2017, the skeptics looked to be proven right. Despite making the splashiest coordinator hire of the off-season in Matt Canada, Orgeron was already at odds with his $1.5 million play-caller. The Tigers were 3-2 with a blowout loss to Mississippi State and a stunning loss — at home, no less — to Sun Belt power Troy. Canada’s approach was in serious question, and the Tigers offense remained rudderless throughout the season as they finished 9-4. Canada was fired, and in July of this year Orgeron called it a “mistake” to ever hire him in the first place.

Needless to say, the doubters were getting louder around Baton Rouge.

It would be easy to look at Ed Orgeron and question whether he’s fit for the job at LSU. I’ve even done it myself at times. He’s a lifelong position coach, a masterful motivator who has thrived as an interim coach, and an A-plus recruiter whose passion for his university is so emphatic it becomes a part of who he is.

Sound familiar?

The parallels between Ed Orgeron and Dabo Swinney are eery.

Neither one was ever a coordinator before becoming an interim head coach. They are two of the most visibly emotional coaches in the country. They both made their mark as elite recruiters at their respective schools.

They also both struggled mightily early on as head coaches.

Through 22 games at LSU (including as the interim HC), Ed Oregeron is 16-6. Through 22 games at Clemson, Swinney was 14-8.

In Swinney’s second full year, Clemson finished with a losing record. In 2010 the Tigers won 10 games, and in 2011 they finally broke through and won the ACC Championship. Even after giving the Tigers their first conference title in nearly 20 years, there were still actual questions about his job security. Seriously.

What did Swinney do to change his fortunes at Clemson? He admitted his weaknesses. In subsequent years, he gambled big on hiring Chad Morris to run his offense despite Morris having only coached in college for one year at Tulsa. Then he hired a much more known commodity when he stole Brett Venables from Oklahoma. Since then, Clemson has skyrocketed and Swinney has gone from college football’s highest-paid cheerleader to being mentioned in the same breath as Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. The Tigers are odds-on favorites to reach their fourth straight CFB Playoff. Dabo is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football. Nobody, and I mean nobody would have said that six years ago.

Is it possible that six years from now, we could say the same thing about Coach O?

Orgeron already has a top-five defensive coordinator in Dave Aranda. While it’s seemingly a matter of time before someone gives Aranda a head coaching job, his $2.5 million salary is more than all but 46 FBS head coaches today, so he can be picky about his next stop.

LSU’s offensive coordinator is a lot less of a commodity, but Steve Emsinger isn’t without credentials. In eight games as the interim OC in 20016, Emsinger’s offense averaged 41 points per game. While the Canada hire was universally praised two years ago, it looks like the right man for the job was actually there all along.

LSU’s win total in Vegas for this season was an embarrassing 6 ½. If the Tigers only manage seven or eight wins this fall, Coach O could be Coach 0-for-2. He failed at Ole Miss, and if he failed at LSU, it’s tough to see him ever being more than a D-Line coach the rest of his career.

Yet after stomping Miami on national TV Sunday night, suddenly the future looks a little brighter in Baton Rouge. The offense was far from perfect, but it moved the ball when it needed to and avoided any turnovers against a defense that prided itself on takeaways a year ago.

There’s no secret that the name of the game in this sport is recruiting. If you can recruit your tail off, that’s more than half the battle as a head coach. As long as Orgeron has a staff in place that he can trust, there’s no reason LSU can’t win big under his watch.

Was that win a sign of things to come? It’s tough to say. One game doesn’t overwrite several years’ worth of questionable efforts and too many losses. But it’s a step in the right direction. He’s got a long way to go before we ever think of Orgeron as one of the game’s elite coaches. But to write him off already might just be a bit premature. 

The resources at LSU are beyond even what Clemson has to offer. All Orgeron has to do is prove he can win and win often. A lot of people doubt that day will ever come. Maybe those were the same people who said the same thing about one of the best coaches of this generation, too.


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