2017 Best Column: Glenn Guilbeau

By Glenn Guilbeau

USA Today Network/Gannett Louisiana

BATON ROUGE – Close your eyes and imagine it is a year ago when then-LSU coach Les Miles was about to be fired, and someone tells you that the next coach is going to be LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron.

Now, open your eyes.

Orgeron – a career journeyman coach, a failed head coach and a somewhat successful short term head coach at USC and LSU – is LSU’s next football coach.

“I’m the search,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said two months ago after firing Miles.

“I’m worried,” I said.

Well, I’m still worried.

Alleva first started looking for a new head football coach more than a year ago and started thinking about looking for a new head football coach when he came here in 2008. And this is it?

This is an embarrassment.

Texas’ search and hire lasted two days, and it’s going to get the coach LSU has been trying to hire for two months – Houston’s Tom Herman, a bright rising star at 41.

Herman could have been LSU’s first true offensive head coach hire in history. Instead, it hired a 55-year-old defensive line coach whose new offense managed just three points through a dozen goal-line plays in a 16-10 loss to Florida two weeks ago and was shut out by Alabama, which allowed an average of 36 points to Ole Miss and Arkansas, 10-0 early this month.

Herman’s agent Trace Armstrong reportedly told LSU it could hire Herman for $6 million. “And LSU said no,” Armstrong said.

Maybe, that’s not true. Herman, who coached at four Texas colleges (Texas as a graduate assistant, Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice) before becoming Houston’s coach two years ago, was probably going to Texas no matter what LSU offered. But LSU should have offered the $6 million or $7 million. And LSU should have offered Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher $8 million. He may still have stayed, too, but you have to get the money out there. You have to try.

But LSU did not max out. Instead, in the end, it took a Black Friday approach to this search and ended up with a bargain, but this could be a nightmare in the long run.

Orgeron’s yearly salary will be about $3.5 million, which means LSU will save $1 million in the coaching swap between Orgeron and Miles. And Orgeron can throw a large salary at Alabama offensive coordinator and old USC buddy Lane Kiffin, who makes $1.4 million at Alabama. LSU now has a lot of money left over. It does not owe Orgeron a buyout. LSU made a similar bargain move when it hired Oklahoma State coach Les Miles after the 2004 season. It saved a $1 million in the Nick Saban-for-Miles swap when Saban left for the Miami Dolphins.

So, that makes 17 years since LSU boldly set the market for a new football coach as it did when it hired Saban from Michigan State in 1999 for $1.2 million. During the negotiations, then-LSU athletic director Joe Dean and others at LSU balked at the idea of paying so much for a coach.

And then-chancellor Mark Emmert stepped in and stopped the quibbling between Saban’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, and LSU. “Pay him what he wants,” Emmert said.

And it was done. Emmert wasn’t looking for a bargain. He was shopping at Neiman Marcus, and he got value over a long period of time because he didn’t settle for journeyman defensive assistant coach Phil Bennett, who could have been hired at a bargain price. He didn’t settle for defensive coordinator Mike Archer for cheap as Dean did after the 1986 season and found himself looking for a new coach just four years later … and another just four years later … and another just five years later.

Instead, Emmert’s shot at the moon launched LSU’s football future from bad and average and very good every now and then over the previous quarter century to sustained success for the next 11 years. There were national championships in the 2003 and 2007 seasons after none since 1958 and a national championship game appearance at 13-0 in the 2011 season. There were Southeastern Conference titles in 2001, ’03, ’07 and ’11 after none since 1988.

LSU was never greater for longer than in that span because Emmert set the market. He didn’t settle. He set the market. Alleva is obviously no Emmert.

Maybe Alleva would not have gotten either Fisher or Herman for $7 or $8 million, but he should have tried harder and higher.

That’s what one has to do to be great. One doesn’t settle. Alleva settled.

One also interviews a few other sitting head coaches out there and gets one. My goodness, Alleva fired Miles on Sept. 25 and really started looking late last year, and he couldn’t find a bright, 40ish, rising coach out there other than Fisher and Herman? Alleva’s template for this hire resembles that of his Johnny Jones hire in basketball. What’s easiest?

Alleva’s “search” for a football coach in the end didn’t leave Nicholson Drive. It didn’t even make it to Cyber Monday.

How far has LSU fallen? To a career journeyman coach, a failed head coach and a somewhat successful two-time short term head coach. Orgeron may work out. He is uniquely talented. LSU has looked very good through most of his 5-2 run, but other than a victory over No.. 22 Texas A&M, the wins were over unranked foes. Orgeron does not have a significant upset on his resume. Still, he may be the ultimate diamond with the rough voice. He definitely could work out in the short term. But what happens after defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and Kiffin – if O gets him – move on to head coaching jobs? What happens long term?

I hope he wins, because he is a great person. But he is not a great hire.

Remember this, Orgeron is the only Ole Miss coach of the three before him from 1983 to 2005 and the two after him following 2007 who did not have at least one winning season through three or more years on the job. Orgeron lost big in all three of his seasons, going 10-25 overall and 3-21 in the SEC. And that was without probation. He was and is one of the worst coaches in Ole Miss history. LSU fans made fun of him for the way he talked, at the time.

That was a decade ago, but that is LSU’s new head coach.

And it’s not a dream.

 Glenn Guilbeau

Glenn Guilbeau

USA Today Network-Louisiana

AGE: 56

COLLEGE: University of Missouri-Columbia

BACKGROUND: Guilbeau wins a first place for the second consecutive year and his third overall, taking the Column category after winning Game Story and placing second in Column with an honorable mention in Features a year ago. This year’s winning column was written on the morning last November that interim LSU coach Ed Orgeron was promoted to full time. Guilbeau called the bumbling year-long search process orchestrated by athletic director Joe Alleva an “embarrassment,” though added that Orgeron “may be the ultimate diamond with the rough voice.”

A native of New Orleans, Guilbeau won his initial first in Game Story for his account of LSU’s upset of Tennessee in 2000. He had honorable mentions in Column in 2015 and 2014 and placed in several FWAA contests in the 1990s along with two firsts in the 2001 Associated Press Sports Editors contest, in which he has placed several times. He has covered college football for 30-plus years at Tiger Rag Magazine in Baton Rouge (1983-85), the Montgomery Advertiser (1985-86), the Alexandria Town Talk (1987-93), the Mobile Register (1993-98), the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004) and, since 2004, at USA Today Network-Louisiana, while also covering the Saints. Guilbeau lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, Michelle Millhollon, a former political reporter at the Baton Rouge Advocate who is now communications director for Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., and their boxer mix Bailey.