NEW ORLEANS – Cornelia “Coco” Orgeron, sitting in a wheelchair outside LSU’s locker room on Monday night, waited patiently to see the man of the hour: his son, Ed, the head coach of LSU.
It would be a long wait. Cigars were passed around the noisy steam room inside after LSU won the national college football championship by beating Clemson, 42-25.
Ed was giving the team a speech:
“It was hard to hear,” said LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry.
But the message was quite simple, according to Cushenberry. Orgeron told them that they had earned all this after starting offseason training almost a year ago. He said all that work was worth it. He also told his players how proud he was of them.
“We are very blessed to have him as a coach,” Cushenberry said.
After everything that happened, including his battles with alcohol over 20 years ago and after shooting Ole Miss in 2007, this was his great moment: the son of Louisiana who led LSU (15-0) to possibly his Best season, with a victory that ends the season at the Superdome, just 80 miles from campus.
A little over five years ago, he stopped training after being ignored for the job of head coach in Southern California. Then, in January 2015, the then LSU head coach, Les Miles, hired him as an assistant to the LSU defensive line.
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“You know, God had a plan,” Orgeron said Monday after being asked about his trip since then. “I have to say it, and it’s not me. And all I did was follow the plan. And without him, I wouldn’t be here. Without my family, I would not be here. I said it, I am grateful for Coach Miles for giving me a chance. He hired me at LSU. It is where I wanted to go. I knew I was going to train. I didn’t think this was going to happen. When I didn’t get the job at the USC, I said: ‘Hey, maybe you’ll be an assistant for the rest of your life.’ “
He is lucky to have stayed in the coaches business after a series of problems in the last three decades.
Between the low points:
►In 1982, his university coach at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, Louisiana, came dangerously close to throwing him out of the team for allegedly destroying his bedroom. Those who knew him feared he could return home to dig ditches or shovel shrimp if he was forced to leave football.
► In 1992, he hit a man at a bar in Baton Rouge, leading his arrest and losing his job as an assistant coach in Miami. Later he stopped drinking.
► In 2007, he was fired as head coach at Ole Miss after compiling a 10-25 record in three seasons, including only 3-21 in the Southeast Conference game.
► Then, later serving as an interim coach at the USC in 2013, he was not really taken as a candidate for permanent work in Los Angeles. It was said that his abrupt Cajun speech was a factor. So he left training not to return until Miles hired him five years ago.
“I think it’s a combination of being in the right place at the right time,” said Orgeron, 58. “I think it’s also perseverance. Man, people are going to talk and all that, but you can’t let it affect you. I use it as internal motivation. People annoy me by the way I speak, it bothers me by my appearance. And it’s funny, the things I was doing in Ole Miss ridiculed me, and now I hit my jaw and everyone in LSU likes it. So, it just depends on where you are. It has been a great trip. “
The entire state of Louisiana has been taken along with him.
In the French Quarter, gift shops sold purple shirts that said: “Coach Oeaux made the Tigahs great again!”, A reference to their roots and Cajun accent, which come from his hometown of Larose in the southern Louisiana.
In the Superdome after Monday’s victory, a fan held a sign that conveyed an intelligent message about the undefeated LSU record: “15-O” with a photo of coach O instead of the “O”.
In Natchitoches, almost four hours away by car, former teammates and classmates from the university spoke lovingly about the man they called “Bébé,” a nickname of his youth.
“He’s from Louisiana,” Cushenberry said when asked later why his team loves him so much. “He has been a LSU fan all his life. You can’t have a better coach for the program.”
After Miles was fired four games in the 2016 season, Orgeron served as the team’s interim head coach while LSU flirted with more traditional candidates to replace him: younger and polished coaches with winning records, such as Houston coach Tom Herman , now the head coach in Texas. Instead, the Tigers ended up with Orgeron, who then led LSU to finish 9-4 in 2017, 10-3 in 2018 and 15-0 this year.
Next season, he won’t have senior quarterback Joe Burrow, who won the Heisman Trophy for LSU last month and is likely to be one of the best elections in the April NFL Draft. But he started talking about the next season in the locker room later.
He told us to “get ready to go back to work,” said Myles Brennan, Burrow’s backup quarterback this season and an apparent successor this fall.
Orgeron’s mother, meanwhile, did not wait much longer, as a multitude of media filled the hallway outside the LSU locker room. After receiving a kiss from one of Orgeron’s three children, she went to see him on another occasion, realizing that he now shares it as a favorite son of an entire state.
There would be plenty of time to celebrate later, at least until Orgeron decides to charge his beloved energy drinks and put another turn for “the people of Louisiana,” a constituency he talks about as if he were the governor of the state.
With his wife Kelly standing nearby, he said he was “very happy” for them and “proud to represent them.” His last national championship came in January 2008, but it was nothing like this: an explosive season led by a Heisman winner in quarterback and a favorite Cajun son as head coach.
“Everything fit, and we are just beginning,” Orgeron said. “This is not the end. I want to be here in LSU for a long time and win many championships in LSU. And this is just the beginning. “
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email: [email protected]