Surrounded by four police officers, Ed Orgeron strode into the Rose Bowl on Saturday with his briefcase, his crisp grey suit and his inability to be anyone but himself at all times.
From somewhere up above the tunnel to the visitors’ locker room, Orgeron heard a heckler yelling that UCLA was about to beat Orgeron’s formerly mighty LSU Tigers. Coach O — because he’s always Coach O — couldn’t help himself.
“Hey! Hey! Bring your (expletive) on. ... Bring your (expletive) on in your sissy blue shirt!” he said before letting out a harumph as if that line about the random UCLA fan’s shirt color really told him who was boss.
All in all, it was probably a harmless, good-natured interaction, though the term “sissy” probably isn’t going to show up in the best practices of any HR manual anytime soon. Also, not the best look to then lose to said team wearing those “sissy blues.”
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Still, it’s the kind of thing that you’d never see Nick Saban or Brian Kelly or Kirby Smart do — which makes Orgeron an endearing, everyman hero to some, an absolute clown to others. The ultimate judgment lies in what happens on the field. And at LSU, that judgment can be unsparing.
Just two seasons after the Tigers’ magical run to the national title, Orgeron is in trouble, the magnitude of which came into focus after LSU’s 38-27 loss at the Rose Bowl.
How much trouble? We don’t know yet. When this all shakes out, we might learn Saturday wasn’t actually a terrible loss for the Tigers, who spent the past week coping with the fallout from Hurricane Ida and displacement to Houston for their game preparations.
But with every loss since that night in New Orleans when Orgeron was on top of the world — and there have been six of them in the past 11 games — the 2019 LSU team looks more like a bolt from the sky. Reality looks more like what we saw Saturday night against UCLA, when the Tigers got mediocre quarterback play and averaged 2.0 yards on 25 rushing attempts.
Naturally, as more and more LSU fans, big-money boosters and people in their administration reach that conclusion, Orgeron’s status is going to become the dominant story line of the season. It’s also important to remember that Orgeron has spent the past several months as a defendant in a Title IX lawsuit that addresses LSU's mishandling of sexual assault allegations, including some that involved football players.
Obviously, conflating those two things in whether Orgeron will remain the coach is a crass notion. But college football is sometimes a crass sport, and LSU has certainly shown the propensity to be a crass institution.
You win enough, and these things are merely “distractions.” You lose enough, and they’ll be forced to “turn the page” and “clean up the culture.”
It all hangs in the balance over the next several weeks, which is why LSU takes the top spot on this week’s Misery Index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.