Fair or not, after season-opening loss, LSU football coach Ed Orgeron's job is on the line

John Marcase
Special to The Town Talk

Is it fair for a coach 19 months removed from a national championship to be on the hot seat?

Is it fair he is being judged largely by one COVID-19 pandemic shortened season of 5-5?

Is it fair the temperature on said hot seat is now broiling after a second straight lackluster and highly disappointing season-opening loss?

No, but it is life in the SEC, and there is nothing remotely fair about life in the pressure cooker that is Power 5 college football.

Ed Orgeron is being paid $6 million to coach the LSU football team, and his salary for 2020 – $8.6 million – was second only to Alabama’s Nick Saban after receiving more than $1.7 million in bonuses. Orgeron nearly doubled his salary after guiding the Tigers to the 2019 title in arguably the most impressive season ever by a championship team.

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Orgeron is being paid to produce a better product than what the Tigers have shown in their past 11 games.

It has not helped LSU is on its second offensive coordinator and third passing game coordinator in three seasons, and the Tigers have their third defensive coordinator in as many seasons.

Saturday’s disappointing 38-27 loss to UCLA showed many of the same faults that doomed the 2020 season – an inconsistent offense that could not perform in the clutch and a defense that still does not know how to cover a crossing route.

In truth, aside from the magical 2019 season of Heisman winner Joe Burrow and passing game coordinator Joe Brady, LSU under Orgeron has not had an offensive identity, except for dropped passes. The run game has been inconsistent as well.

During the second quarter against UCLA, LSU had first-and-goal at the 2-yard line following pass interference. Instead of pounding the ball into the end zone, the Tigers, instead, tried three straight pass plays.

It is quite baffling to see an SEC team expected to challenge for second in the SEC West abandon the run game against a Pac-12 program that has not had a winning record in six seasons.

It has not mattered who was calling plays, aside from the Brady-Steve Ensminger collaboration.

The knock on Orgeron during his failed tenure at Ole Miss was he was a micromanager, and a poor one at that. In many ways, that Orgeron has been present during his six seasons in Baton Rouge.

Anyone forget Orgeron’s boast a year ago? He claimed the defense was already better under new coordinator Bo Pelini than it was the previous season under Dave Aranda. LSU’s defense last season finished 13th in the SEC in yards allowed and Pelini was fired.

Should LSU elect to move on from Orgeron after the season, his buyout is $21 million. LSU athletic director Scott Woodward did not hire Orgeron, and Woodward is known for making splashy hires – Chris Petersen at Washington and Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M in football and new LSU women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey. Maybe that is why A&M extended Fisher’s contract a few days ago, bumping his pay to $9 million annually, and counting.

Fisher’s contract does not have a buyout, but any school that would want to hire him is looking at paying at least $10 million a year.

There is also the looming sexual harassment scandal engulfing the football program. Seven current and former LSU students also have filed a federal Title IX lawsuit against the school and Orgeron is named as a defendant. 

Football coaches are notorious for instructing their players to block out the noise, but when the noise is coming from within, it is difficult to do just that.

UCLA defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight defends LSU wide receiver Trey Palmer during the first half at the Rose Bowl.

LSU will rebound Saturday with its buy-a-victory against McNeese. Then comes Central Michigan, Mississippi State, Auburn, Kentucky, Florida and Ole Miss before Alabama.

By all accounts, LSU is as talented if not more talented that each of those teams except for Alabama.

The problem, as LSU showed against UCLA, is whether that talent is receiving the coaching it needs to be victorious on the field.

If not, the blame falls on just one person.

John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.