Orgeron’s biggest challenge at LSU is to win while rebuilding
LSU coach Ed Orgeron is facing the dilemma that often confronts coaches at major programs such as the one he oversees.
That is how to balance the interests of the current team and those of the future of the program when certain decisions don’t serve those two things equally.
Orgeron was named interim head coach barely a year ago when Les Miles was dismissed after a 2-2 start. The Tigers went 6-2 under Orgeron and he was named full-time head coach and given the security of a five-year contract.
But security can be a relative term.
With a first-year buyout of $12 million and facing a multi-year rebuilding challenge, Orgeron should be able to make decisions that are in the best interests of the program even when they might be to the detriment of the 2017 won-lost record.
But sometimes having a long-term contract isn’t that much different from being an interim coach, at least in terms of job security.
Consider the quarterback position.
Orgeron wisely chose fifth-year senior Danny Etling over first-year freshman Myles Brennan as his starting quarterback in the preseason. Etling’s experience and lesser likelihood of making routine mistakes provided the better option for a team that was harboring hopes of being in the thick of the SEC West race.
Once the season got under way, Orgeron was also judicious in getting Brennan game experience in easy wins against BYU and Chattanooga, sparing him a hopeless task in the 37-7 debacle at Mississippi State, and getting him higher quality reps in a win against Syracuse and a loss to Troy.
It’s clear that Etling doesn’t have the talent to elevate significantly those around him. Brennan seemingly has the talent to do so, but starting him would require absorbing some lumps borne of his inexperience.
LSU’s deteriorating performance has changed the dynamics of choosing the primary quarterback to guide this team through the seven SEC games that remain from what they were when Orgeron made his initial choice in August.
Still, Orgeron says, Etling remains the starter and the plan is for him to play the entire game when the Tigers (3-2) play at No. 21 Florida on Saturday.
Orgeron still believes Etling gives the team the better chance of success this season, even though the gauge of success — at least from the outside — has had to be altered. It’s no longer contending in the SEC West, but rather getting bowl eligible.
The case can be made to start Brennan now in preparation for him starting the next two or three seasons. Even though such a move might negatively impact this year’s record, it presumably would accelerate Brennan’s development and potentially have a positive effect on future won-lost records.
Though Orgeron said Monday that his plan is to spare Brennan the challenge of SEC play this season, the temptation to make the switch will be there on a weekly basis, particularly if the won-lost record remains as pedestrian as recent performances suggest it will.
It remains to be seen whether the best interests of this team and the program’s future intersect at the quarterback position.
Now consider the Tigers’ biggest deficiencies — the offensive and defensive lines.
Orgeron already is on record saying he will scour junior colleges to upgrade them. A coach who’s confident that he’ll have five years to rebuild could afford to stick with high-school recruits and develop them over three or four years and avoid having to replace JUCO recruits after two seasons.
But already there are grumblings among Tigers supporters that the university should consider firing Orgeron if things don’t improve significantly this season.
Job security for someone in Orgeron’s position isn’t determined exclusively by the terms of a buyout. In fact, primarily it’s determined by the willingness or unwillingness of those who will have to finance the buyout to pony up.
So Orgeron shouldn’t have the expectation that he’ll be judged after five years — or four, or three or even two.
He has to orchestrate a multi-year rebuilding project while producing enough wins in the short term to satisfy an impatient base of supporters sufficiently to be able to see that project through.
Good luck with that.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…