BATON ROUGE – Perhaps never will a certain LSU cheer be more apt than this Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
Hot boudin, cold couche couche
C’mon Tigers, push, push push
True Cajun Ed Orgeron of Larose in deep south Louisiana where the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and Bayou Lafourche intersect, will make his debut as LSU’s head football coach when the Tigers (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) host Missouri (2-2, 0-1 SEC) at 6:30 p.m. in Tiger Stadium on the SEC Network.
Now, if pork fricassee was in the song, it would fit even better. Orgeron is the first Louisiana native to be LSU’s head football coach since Jerry Stovall of West Monroe from 1980-83, but the very first from Larose.
“Hold on, I’m trying to say it in English,” Orgeron’s mother, Cornelia “Coco” Orgeron, said from her home in Larose, where she has lived for 55 years. “He loves fricassee and chicken gumbo and eggplant with shrimp.
"Eh, you don’t know how to live if you haven’t eaten that. And Ed and his younger brother Steve love it when I make shrimp burgers. I grind the shrimp and mix in onions, parsley and garlic. Oh, and down here we do gumbo a little different put boiled eggs in the gumbo. That’s living.”
Mrs. Orgeron will be living large Saturday. Her twin grandsons Parker and Cody Orgeron, who are Ed and Kelly Orgeron’s children, play football at McNeese State. She has been dispatched to McNeese’s game Saturday in Lake Charles when the Cowboys host Nicholls State at 6 p.m. with Kelly headed to the LSU game to watch her husband’s debut and her other son Tyler, who has been a member of the support staff with the LSU football team.
“I won’t be at Ed’s game, but I’ll be watching on a TV that’s on a telephone,” she said. “When Kelly can’t make the twins’ games, I’m there. I hope to be at one of LSU’s games soon. If they make the national championship game, I want a seat on the 50-yard line. I think Ed could take care of that for me. I think I could get on the sidelines if I wanted to.”
Orgeron, who signed with LSU out of South Lafourche High in 1979 as a highly recruited offensive and defensive lineman but quit out of homesickness and later transferred to Northwestern State, came back to LSU in 2015 as defensive line coach and then had recruiting coordinator added to his duties. But being LSU’s head coach, albeit on an interim basis, has been his lifelong dream and closes a wide swath of path that included assistant coaching stops at McNeese, Arkansas, Miami, Nicholls, Syracuse, USC, Tennessee and the New Orleans Saints, a head coaching job at Ole Miss from 2005-07 and a previous interim head coaching stint at USC in 2013. He took a troubled 3-2 USC team that had just seen its coach, Lane Kiffin, fired almost immediately after a 62-41 loss at Arizona State, and he won six of eight games.
Now he is LSU’s coach in the wake of Les Miles’ firing not much more than 12 hours after an 18-13 loss at Auburn for a 2-2 start.
“I’m so proud of the state of Louisiana for honoring my son with this opportunity,” Mrs. Orgeron said. “He’s a good man, and he’s earned it. I don’t think there’s a harder working man anywhere. I’m very proud of him.”
Orgeron may glance to his left before kickoff Saturday and look at the Interstate 10 bridge over the Mississippi River.
“I passed Tiger Stadium on that bridge many times wishing I was there,” Orgeron, 55, said on his LSU coach’s statewide radio show debut that included him speaking French with callers and discussing crawfish etouffe.
“Saturday night is going to be very special for me. Yeah, I’ll probably be nervous. It’s going to be crazy. I’m most excited about seeing the players and seeing the look in their eyes and experiencing the magic of Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.”
He may pause before kickoff and think about what and who brought him to this dramatic life intersection.
“No question. There have been a lot of people in my life,” he said. “I think about my father (Ed Orgeron), who has passed. All the coaches that I’ve had – coach Ralph Pere (an LSU offensive tackle from 1961-63) at South Lafourche High School. A young man named Henry LaFont (an attorney in Larose), a good friend of mine that helped me get my job at Nicholls State when I was out of coaching (in 1993).”
And former USC coach Pete Carroll, former Miami coach Jimmy Johnson and former Arkansas coach Lou Holtz.
“And I thank Les Miles. Les Miles brought me back into coaching when I didn’t have a job,” said Orgeron, who took 2014 off after not getting the USC permanent job and lived in Mandeville, where he bought a home when he coached for the Saints in 2008. “He gave me an opportunity to come to a school I always meant to come to.”
When Orgeron quit the LSU team and left school after just two weeks in August of 1979, he went home, and his dad sentenced him to hard labor.
“Baton Rouge was a far place from Larose. I left, and I regretted it ever since,” he said.
“It was a sad moment,” his mother said. “I thought he had made a big mistake. But he was homesick. Well, you know, kids then didn’t travel as much as they do now. He only knew the bayou. We went to New Orleans once and didn’t know where to turn. But God had a plan for Ed.”
It wasn't in construction.
“The next day my daddy put me on the side of the road on a construction job, and people were passing by, making comments to me,” he said. “It was kind of the worst day of my life. I regretted it ever since. You know, I’d pass by Tiger Stadium, and I wondered what it would’ve been like to play there. And I said to myself, ‘One day, I will be back.’”
This time it will be as head coach.
“And the second time around is going to be a better time for me,” he said.
“It’s such a great moment for him,” his mother said. “The hardest thing is that his daddy can’t be here. He would’ve been so proud. He was such an LSU fan.”
Mr. Orgeron passed away five years ago this month when Ed was coaching at USC. The “Bebe (pronounced Bay Bay)” nickname for his son came about because Ed was the baby of the two Ed Orgerons.
“Yeah, I'd say Ed's dad loved LSU a lot," said Mike Detillier of WWL Radio. "When Bear Bryant came to recruit Ed out of South Lafourche High, Mr. Orgeron asked him to leave. His boy wasn't going to no Alabama."
Orgeron went through a period of his life when he said he did not like LSU as he was passed over for jobs there over the years, but his mother knew differently.
"Ed always loved LSU," she said. "It’s home to him.”
This was apparent at a dinner last winter at the Orgeron family home in which Coco cooked for some 60 people.
“Oh everyone was there, family, friends,” she said. “We were all outside and cooking and eating and visiting. That’s what Cajuns do. Ed was so relaxed and not worried about anything. It was his first year at LSU at the time, and it was great because I’ve hardly got to see him over the years because he’s always been coaching so far away.”
Orgeron has come home to the top job at LSU.
“In the back of his mind,” mom said, “he always wanted to end up there at LSU.”