The Cajun Comeback

January 14, 2020 The Cajun Comeback

By: Jeff Yoder

Coach O’s Journey to the National Championship

The stories of LSU Head Coach Ed Orgeron are almost unbelievable. The accounts of players, coaches, and former teammates paint him as a legend, a myth, an enigma. A national champion? That was once out of the question. But Coach O’s story is the story of second chances; a comeback for the cajun.

It was shoveling shrimp. It was chasing gators. It was digging ditches for telephone poles. The town of Larose, Louisiana sits in the heart of the Bayou in Lafourche Parish, and this was home to Bebe Orgeron (Birth name: Edward), and the deepest, hoarsest, cajun voice box you’ve ever heard.

Every Coach O recollection from childhood friends and teammates used the same word to describe him: Hell-raiser.

The football star from crawfish country dreamed of playing for LSU. That dream came true in 1979, but it disappeared faster than a plate of shrimp on a Bayou table. Orgeron left the Tigers after his freshman season for what many deemed “homesickness.” He had only known life in the Bayou. He was lost in Baton Rouge, forced into the shadows of the roster, and the shadows of a big city as a small-town kid… The ‘small shrimp in a big pond’ expression, you might say.

It took a summer working odd jobs back in Larose to remind Orgeron how much he loved football, and a friend convinced him to play at Northwestern State, even further from his home in the Bayou. He excelled, and eventually used his success to transition to coaching, but that journey was another small shrimp story at first.

Orgeron tales from far and wide feel like rumors, but he doesn’t dismiss them. A list of bar fights and alcohol-related incidents in the 80s and 90s can be found all over the internet, but that was the young Orgeron — the cajun hell-raiser.

Orgeron’s reputation followed him, but he was beloved by players and coaches everywhere he went. He was hard as a coach but full of heart as a man.

The journey from his first coaching job to today spanned 36 years. The first 20 featured seven stops as an assistant, strength coach, or defensive specialist before his first head coaching job in the SEC — three disastrous seasons at Ole Miss without a winning record.

After more than 30 years of failures, travels, and disappointments, Bebe from the Bayou was running out of head coaching chances, until a miracle. In 2016, LSU made him the head coach of the Tigers.

National and local media ridiculed the hire. We already saw Orgeron coach in the SEC, so what would be different this time around? The story of second chances was in every breath of Coach O’s raspy pitch to LSU administration. The son of the Bayou, and the face of (as he puts it) the great state of Louisiana.

“Everybody deserves a second chance. We learn. We mature. That’s why we need coaches.” — Ed Orgeron

And as a coach, Orgeron delivered another second chance to quarterback Joe Burrow. Another football transfer who left his dream school (Ohio State) after getting lost in the shadows of a talented roster.

That tear-jerking quarterback-coach relationship just produced the greatest all-around season in college football history. It ended with Coach O hoisting the National Championship trophy just 60 miles north of his home in the Bayou. A storybook ending for second chances, and a cajun comeback.

We’ll cap the college football season with the deep, scratchy sound of this year’s Underdog…

🔊 Geaux Tigers