HOOVER, Ala. — The star of the first day of SEC Media Days took the podium at around 2:30 p.m. Central Time and the fact that he was the star of opening day tells you a lot about where the SEC is these days.
The media masses cupped their ears and hushed the hang-arounders, mentally elbowing the bloggers from Grandma’sBasement.com to get in line for questions in the chilly main ballroom.
Ed Orgeron was speaking and demanded the attention of all eyes, recorders and mini-cams. In a league that used to be able to brag about having five national championship coaches just seven years ago now parades around coaches at its annual clambake who have already failed in this league.
It was a mere 10 years ago that Orgeron stood up on the same stage and told us how good his Ole Miss team was.
He was wrong.
And for that, he was fired a few months after his last appearance at the Wynfrey Hotel.
“At Ole Miss, I wasn’t ready,” Orgeron said. “It didn’t work at Ole Miss.”
No, it did not, but only in the SEC could you work your way back up the ladder and into a plum job like LSU.
Now, he believes he is ready. He has the experience of being in more bowl games than most ESPN cameramen. He has had two successful stints as an interim head coach. He has the Cajun pedigree that endears him to his fan base.
And on Monday, sandwiched in between the glowing new father Bret Bielema and the droning Butch Jones, we were ready for the guy we remembered 10 years ago.
Instead, we got a guy who sounded an awful lot like a head coach.
For example, I asked him about the unenviable task of playing five road games in the SEC because of the position his athletic director took last fall.
“It is what it is. We take it one day at a time,” Orgeron said. “We look at it as a chance to compete. We accept that challenge.”
He was asked about Florida scheduling LSU for homecoming. Forget that the Tigers will be playing at UF’s homecoming for the sixth time. Certainly, this will be juicy.
“People are going to do what they gonna do,” he said. “Florida is a great rivalry for us. We’re going to be ready to play no matter what it is.”
Of course you are.
The truth is we got Ed Orgeron the head coach when we were hoping for Ed Orgeron the Red Bull-swigging, T-shirt ripping assistant that inspired so many You Tube video parodies.
“I don’t take my shirt off anymore,” he said.
He’s gone corporate.
So much so that he channeled his best Les Miles (and a little bit of former Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill) and filibustered the first 15 minutes of his presentation with a position-by-position, coach-by-coach breakdown.
Left standing at the altar by his first choices, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva made a decision that split a Tiger Nation where some thought it deserved better and others were thrilled to have one of their own.
Orgeron’s story is still compelling no matter how dry he was Monday. Who would have thought a year ago that we’d be watching him standing up there as the LSU head coach in 2017?
Sure, he did a fine job as interim coach at USC and again last year at LSU. And yet, anyone who has been around this league for very long can’t get the taste of the Ole Miss debacle (3-21 in SEC play) out of their mouths.
But this is a different dude.
“The day my coaching career changed was when I started treating all my players like my own sons,” he said. “After Ole Miss, I reached out to my mentors. I knew I was going to be a head coach again and I needed to find out why I wasn’t successful.”
Maybe he has found the answer. He certainly has inherited a loaded team.
“He’s the same way he was as the defensive line coach and the interim coach,” said wide receiver D.J. Chark. “He didn’t sell us on a dream that now he’s the head coach and now we’re going to do this. So I really respect him for that.”
The question isn’t whether or not he can win. In his two interim stints, he went 12-4 with some important victories.
The question is whether he can win big and whether he can beat Alabama. And the pressure is much different when the interim is yanked from one’s title.
“I think that’s put there,” he said. “To me, we did it we went 6-2 at USC and played pretty good last year. I feel I’m ready to be the head coach at LSU. My players feel that.
“I don’t feel the pressure, but I do acknowledge its out there that I still need to prove it as the head coach.”
For a day, anyway, he passed the test.
For a day, he was just like any other coach in this conference.
Boring as heck.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.