Almost overnight, it appears LSU football coach Ed Orgeron is like a former rock star who once sold out football stadiums and is now opening at the Holiday Inn.
LSU (4-4, 2-3 SEC) plays at No. 2 Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) Saturday, and for the first time since 2006, the game is not television’s main event. The Tide is a four-touchdown favorite by FanDuel. CBS passed on the game, choosing No. 13 Auburn (6-2, 3-1 SEC) at No. 14 Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. instead. The Tigers’ mediocre season at 5-5 last year pushed this game to the undercard — 6 p.m. on ESPN.
LSU is no longer a player on the national scene.
Just two years ago Tuesday, it was a much different story. Orgeron — the bayou boy from Larose, Louisiana — was putting together the mightiest season in LSU football history and one of the best in NCAA history as his No. 1 team slayed the ultimate red dragon — Alabama — 45-41 in the No. 2 Crimson Tide’s own pit before 101,821 at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 9, 2019.
The victory broke an eight-game losing streak to Alabama that started with a 21-0 loss in the national championship game on Jan. 9, 2012, in the Superdome in New Orleans. The Tigers went on to finish a perfect storybook season when COVID-19 was barely known with a 42-25 win over Clemson in the same dome.
That December, quarterback Joe Burrow won LSU’s first Heisman Trophy since mythical icon tailback Billy Cannon in 1959 — a year after the 11-0 Tigers won the national title. LSU roared through its remaining six games to win the national championship with a school-best 15-0 mark as it disposed of No. 4 Georgia by four touchdowns in the SEC title game, No. 4 Oklahoma by five touchdowns in the College Football Playoff semifinal and No. 3 Clemson by 17.
Orgeron won the Eddie Robinson, Associated Press and Home Depot national coach of the year awards. But he and his players and fans celebrated the watershed win over hated Alabama as much as anything.
An LSU film crew followed Orgeron from behind as he traversed the field to greet the LSU section in Bryant-Denny, then crossed back to the visitor locker room. So, what you saw was Orgeron’s view. And it was a victory parade that Orgeron will never forget:
“Everybody, everybody, everybody,” Orgeron yells in a high, scratchy, wild voice that he’s about to lose as he gathers up players with his then-wife Kelly on a field still fresh with defeated Alabama bodies. “All right. We’ve been waiting for this moment, man.”
Still pulling people in close for the perfect cheer, he howls. “Right here in the middle of the damn field. Let’s bring it down – Tigers on three, baby!”
A player yells, “Hell yeah!”
And Orgeron’s voice rises even higher and scratchier as the 58-year-old jumps up and down like a kid. “Because this is our house from now on! Tigers on three! One – two – three, ‘TIGERS!'”
The band plays “Hey, Baby.” The fans cheer, and suddenly there are no crimson-colored fans in Bryant-Denny. Orgeron hugs players and fans and poses for pictures. He and Burrow embrace before the band plays the alma mater as everyone pauses, looks up to the purple and gold section that now occupies the statdium as people sway to the music.
Orgeron and Burrow talk briefly. Then he and his entourage reverse course to cross the vanquished field again to the locker room. Derek Ponamsky, Orgeron’s special assistant and close friend for years, enters and embraces him. Then so does defensive line coach Bill Johnson, an old buddy and former teammate at Northwestern State.
And suddenly it looks like a receiving line at a wedding — only Alabama was left at the altar. It would not win a national championship this year. And here comes deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry, a former LSU linebacker, with a bear hug for Orgeron on Bear’s field.
A fan runs up, “Coach, I met you in the Bahamas. Can I get a quick picture?”
Orgeron says to meet him later and keeps moving. Then special teams coach Greg McMahon embraces Orgeron.
The concert afterparty continues in a locker room devoid of cameras — or so Orgeron thought.
“We’re going to beat their ass in recruiting,” Orgeron hollers to his team. “We’re going to beat their ass every time they see us. Understand that? Roll Tide, what? F-YOU!”
A player films that, and it soon goes viral. Then it soon went false.
Alabama beat LSU in recruiting with its 2020 class — No. 3 to No. 4 — and had the No. 1 class in 2021 to LSU’s No. 4 and leads so far for the 2022 class, No. 2 to No. 11. Just last week, Aaron Anderson, the No. 16 receiver in the nation from Karr High in New Orleans, reversed his commitment from LSU held since last December and committed to the Tide.
Alabama beat LSU last season, 55-17, dropping the Tigers to 3-5. Alabama went on to finish 13-0 and win the national championship, handling COVID better than anyone and much better than LSU. The Tigers are 9-9 since the 2020 season, and Orgeron was fired after a 3-3 start this year, effective at the end of the season.
“That was something that was made in the privacy of a locker room,” Orgeron said Wednesday of the viral video on the weekly SEC teleconference. “I wish it wouldn’t have got out. I meant no disrespect to anybody at Alabama. I just wish that wouldn’t have got out. That was not supposed to get out. And it wasn’t intended to.”
Two years later, though, and Alabama does not need much motivation for LSU. The Tigers have had so many injuries — and probably an opt out or two — they couldn’t have a full practice during the open date last week. Orgeron was asked this week if he would have enough players to meet the minimum requirement of 53 for Alabama.
“Oh no,” he said. “Not at all. No. No. We’re fine. If we’re not, we’ll fake it ’til we make it.”
That hasn’t been working for two years.
This is how far and how quickly LSU has fallen. It’s almost as bad as 1999 in coach Gerry DiNardo’s last season when he brought a roster of 50 or so — some injuries, some opt outs back then, too — to Mississippi State and lost. He was fired after a 2-8 start and eventually replaced by Nick Saban.
“We’ve got to play with the guys we have,” Orgeron said.
How can this happen to a team that beat Alabama and Saban more convincingly than the score indicated two years ago and rolled through seven top 10 opponents, an NCAA record?
“Things are different now, but it’s still LSU-Alabama,” Orgeron said. “My job is to get these guys to play as hard as they can.”
Saban was asked how a team could fall so hard so fast.
“You have to try to avoid complacency,” said he of the NCAA record seven national championships with his first at LSU in 2003. “When people have success, sometimes they get a little complacent on doing things right. I don’t know enough about their situation to be commenting on their situation. I’m just talking about circumstances that we’ve gone through here.”
But not like at LSU.
“When you have good leadership, you can avoid some of those pitfalls,” Saban said.
Good coordinators helps, too. Orgeron, in the end, never recovered from the hiring after the 2019 season of of defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, who hadn’t coordinated a defense since 2007 at LSU and produced the worst defense in LSU history in 2020 and one of the worst in the nation. Other poor hires haunted Orgeron, including his pair of rookie coordinator hires after last season – Jake Peetz on offense and Daronte Jones on defense.
“We’re too predictable by formations on offense – too predictable on first down,” Orgeron said after self-scouting his team during the open week and holding nothing back as usual. “We’re very, very predictable on defense. We need to have more of a variety on first down. We’re giving them the same looks over and over again. There’s not much disguise. What we line up in, we were in. We have not been in the right adjustments on defense. We have not been in the right position, according to some formations.”
Great honesty, but it was Orgeron who made the hires.
Orgeron has four games left, and his voice is nothing like it was on Nov. 9, 2019. It’s more weary than wild now.
“We had a very spirited practice,” Orgeron said without a lot of spirit. “We’re ready to go for Alabama.”
He said it quietly with no cuss words.
He did not sound convincing.