LSU’s Orgeron, Georgia’s Smart use similar playbooks to reach Atlanta

Head coach Ed Orgeron (L) of the LSU Tigers and head coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs meet on the field before a game at Tiger Stadium on October 13, 2018 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Head coach Ed Orgeron (L) of the LSU Tigers and head coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs meet on the field before a game at Tiger Stadium on October 13, 2018 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

When Ed Orgeron was promoted from interim to real deal coach at LSU in November of 2016, he laid out some specific plans. Now, as to whether anyone immediately understood them was the question. You really need an ear for the bull gator-crossed-with-a-cement-mixer variety of Cajun that Orgeron speaks.

The Tigers radio man seemed to get it, and he filed it all away.

“When Ed was hired, going on three years ago as full-time head coach, in that press conference what he said was his vision has all culminated in 2019,” said LSU radio voice Chris Blair.

“He was going to improve the facilities – which is done.” The new football operations center includes a “state-of-the-art, proprietary pod-style lockers” which may be more suited for the first-class cabin on a flight to Singapore than a college locker room.

“Recruiting had to get better on an overall level it had slipped from top classes to seventh, to 12th, that kind of thing,” Blair continued. “And the offensive and defensive lines, those were the main things.”

“The one that really stands out, the media and the fans were all about what is the offense going to be? He said I want it similar to what he had when Coach (Pete) Carroll was at USC: I want an offense that can pass when it wants to, pass when it has to, run when it wants to and run when it has to. Last year was a team that couldn’t pass when it wanted to, it passed when it had to. That’s different now.”

If part of that sounds familiar to the blueprint of another SEC head coach who got his title a little earlier in 2016, then you have really been paying attention, haven’t you?

They are building all kinds of shiny new things for Kirby Smart at Georgia – completing the indoor practice facility, a new west endzone renovation and a planned expansion of the Butts-Mehre nerve center of the program.

Smart, too, made it his sacred mission to ramp up the recruiting at Georgia, with special emphasis on getting wider and more irritable along both lines.

Now, Smart certainly hasn’t revolutionized any offense since he signed on with UGA – unlike Orgeron and his record-setting transfer quarterback Joe Burrow – so we’ll cut the comparisons there.

The point is, what we have in Saturday’s SEC Championship are two programs on a similar trajectory intersecting in Atlanta. Alabama finally let somebody else out West get a little oxygen. And now we are allowed to watch another program getting back in touch with its highest aspirations.

You see, it’s not so hard to build a winner. Just spend a bazillion dollars on the frills. Recruit manically, as if the fate of mankind depends upon a 5-star teenager. And we’ll see you in Atlanta.

Listening to Orgeron speak here Monday, he was a man quite happy with how the plan has come together. Because of the rumbling voice and that big round head, people sometimes can underestimate him, distill him into a caricature. That’s a mistake.

The man is on a roll. The word is out again on LSU, and if you haven’t heard it, Orgeron is happy to amplify.

Those rankings of the 2020 recruiting class put the Tigers no worse than second in the country. “Our recruiting is going phenomenally. They want to be in our system, they want to come play here,” Orgeron said.

“Every time you turn on the TV they’re talking about LSU’s offense, that has helped.”

His people are extremely happy to have a relevant team again. He has no fear of facing Georgia in Georgia because, “I know our fans are going to be there, I feel good about that. Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve had great fans. We will treat this as an away game, we’ll have crowd noise on Tuesday and Wednesday (in practice). We’ll be very well prepared for all the Georgia fight songs they’ll play.”

And, of course, he is undistracted by the thought that thus-far unbeaten LSU conceivably could lose Saturday and still make an argument for playoff inclusion. Why would anybody entertain such a thought?

“I’m not buying into that at all. We got to win. Whether we have to win to get into the playoffs, I’m not even talking about that,” he said. “Our goal is to beat Georgia and win the SEC and then see what happens. That’s not coming into play, we’re not talking about that, not even considering that right now.”

Oh, yeah, that focus. Orgeron and LSU has that in common with the guy at Georgia, too. (Along with everyone else who has ever tooted a whistle for a living).

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