BATON ROUGE — In the fall of 1978, Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant had his eyes set on a trio of south Louisiana football stars — quarterback John Fourcade of Shaw High in New Orleans, quarterback Tommy Wilcox of Bonnabel High in Kenner and offensive guard/defensive tackle Ed Orgeron of defending state champion South Lafourche High in Galliano.
Bear lost Fourcade to Ole Miss and never got past Orgeron’s father, the late Ed Sr., who told him point blank his son was going to LSU and not to bother making his way down Bayou Lafourche and Louisiana Highway 1 to Larose, where the Orgerons lived.
“Here’s the deal,” Orgeron, now LSU’s interim head coach, said at the New Orleans Quarterback Club on Monday. “Bear was going to come to my house, but my daddy told him not to. So no, he didn’t come. Dad said, ‘My boy’s going to LSU.’”
An Alabama assistant coach did eventually make the trip to Larose, though, and Bryant did not stop recruiting Orgeron.
“That was a school I was considering,” Orgeron said. “I always got letters and stuff like that. An Alabama coach did come. I forgot who it was. And I got to talk to the Bear on the phone, but no, he didn’t come to my house or to South Lafourche.”
The assistant was the late Bobby Marks, who coached under Bryant from 1971 through 1982 and was a star player at Warren Easton High in New Orleans before playing for Bryant at Texas A&M in the 1950s.
"I remember Bobby talking about Ed Orgeron and how tough he was in high school down there on the bayou," said former Alabama linebacker coach Jeff Rouzie, who was on Bryant's staff with Marks in the late 1970s and later coached under Gene Stallings and Mike Dubose at Alabama. "Bobby was always bragging on him and wanted him bad. We tried to get Ed, Tommy and John Fourcade. Ed was a character in high school, in a good way, is what Bobby said about him."
There have been stories circulating recently that the elder Orgeron actually told Bryant to leave his home, and that a helicopter landed at South Lafourche High before one of the playoff games in 1977, and the Bear got out of it.
“No. No. No sir. That might be legend, but that isn’t true,” Orgeron said. “But I did get recruited by Alabama. That was a school I was thinking about. No question.”
What is true is South Lafourche beat Fourcade and Shaw in the quarterfinals at South Lafourche, 27-23, then defeated Ouachita, 32-26, in the semifinals while Wilcox and Bonnabel beat Acadiana, 27-7, on the same night. South Lafourche then beat Bonnabel and Wilcox, 21-20, for the state title at South Lafourche when Bayou Lafourche was so full of shrimp boats, speed boats and bass boats that folks could walk across the bayou from boat to boat.
In 1978, Alabama was on its way to Bryant’s fifth national championship, which it won 14-7 over Penn State on Jan. 1, 1979, in the Louisiana Superdome. LSU was in the second to last season of Coach Charles McClendon, who played under Bear at Kentucky in 1949-50 and lost his eighth straight to Bryant in 1978.
Orgeron signed with McClendon like his dad said to, but he lasted only a few weeks the next August before transferring to Northwestern State, where his friend and quarterback of the 1977 state champion South Lafourche Tarpons, Bobby Hebert, was. He has often said he should have stayed at LSU.
Orgeron was asked if he had any regrets about not signing with Bryant, who got Wilcox, turned him into an All-American safety and won another national championship in the 1979 season before retiring after the 1982 season. Bryant passed away Jan. 26, 1983.
“No, no,” Orgeron said. “I listened to my dad. My dad said something, I did it.”
Orgeron will host Alabama in his new home away from home on Saturday, Nov. 5, when the No. 1 Crimson Tide (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) visits No. 19 LSU (6-1, 3-1) at 7 p.m. on CBS.
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SEC TV SATURDAY: Kentucky at Missouri, 11 a.m., SEC Network; Samford (6-1) at Mississippi State, 2:30 p.m., SEC Network; No. 12 Florida vs. Georgia, in Jacksonville, Florida, 2:30 p.m., CBS; No. 17 Auburn at Ole Miss, 6:15 p.m., SEC Network; No. 18 Tennessee at South Carolina, 6:15 p.m., ESPN2; New Mexico State (2-5) at No. 10 Texas A&M , 6:30 p.m., ESPNU.
OPEN: No. 1 Alabama, Arkansas, No. 19 LSU and Vanderbilt.
GUILBEAU POLL: 1. Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC). 2. Texas A&M (6-1, 4-1). 3. Tennessee (5-2, 2-2). 4. Auburn (5-2, 3-1). 5. LSU (5-2, 3-1). 6. Florida (5-1, 3-1). 7. Arkansas (5-3, 1-3). 8. Ole Miss (3-4, 1-3). 9. Kentucky (4-3, 3-2). 10. Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-3). 11. Mississippi State (2-5, 1-3). 12. Georgia (4-3, 2-3). 13. South Carolina (3-4, 1-4). 14. Missouri (2-5, 0-3).
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I know these next four weeks are going to pass by very fast. We need to get the most out of the day that we can.” — LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron on the rest of LSU’s season and rest of his audition for the permanent job.