There was a moment, near the end of LSU’s National Championship game against Clemson, where Joe Burrow approached the sideline.
With a smirk, the Heisman winner held out his left hand toward head coach Ed Orgeron, pointed at his finger and said, without saying, “That championship ring is going right here.”
The video went viral, but received little negative fanfare and press. Why? Because this season belonged to Burrow, who will go down as one of the Top 5 quarterbacks in college football history.
Let’s repeat that, for those in the back – college football history.
Not LSU history.
Not SEC history.
Not even BCS, College Football Playoff, whatever time metric you can concoct. No, the history of the college football game, he stands near the top.
Why? Because look at the evolution of the kid from Ohio. On a risk, he transferred to Louisiana State University from Ohio State, after realizing he wasn’t going to win the starting job. His initial season was very conservative, going 219 for 379 passing, good for 57.8% and amassing 2,894 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions.
He added 7 touchdowns on the ground.
Many of those touchdowns came in the seven-overtime, crazy ending to the Texas A&M game in 2018. What a strange occurrence that was, but it solidified something between Burrow and his teammates – he was an LSU Tiger, and he was going to give it everything he had. Reports said that, after the game, Burrow collapsed from exhaustion and his teammates described him as a warrior.
He needed that spirit, as early in the bowl game against UCF Burrow took a devastating hit that many thought would put him out of the game.
Instead, it was transformative.
From there, and the addition of former Saints analyst Joe Brady as a passing game coordinator, Burrow went on to snap UCF’s win streak (and fake national title claims) and give Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Trevor Lawrence their first loss as a pair at the other Tiger university.
Along the way, Burrow claimed the aforementioned Heisman, and the LSU offense became one for the ages. Burrow threw for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns with a 76.3% completion rate, with just 6 interceptions. That’s just one more turnover than his 2018 campaign, with 44 more touchdowns.
Burrow and the offense did it all against a brutal schedule that saw them face the preseason top 4 teams - all on the road. LSU ended up facing seven AP top 10 teams (at the time of the contest) and beat them all.
That’s not improvement, that’s pure evolution, and it stems from the evolution of one man that many wanted to put down and cast away – Coach Ed Orgeron.
When Joe Alleva, who thankfully is no longer LSU’s Athletic Director, announced that the university would hire Ed Orgeron and lift him from the interim coach tag, there were many fans and media members who scratched their head. They believed that Orgeron was the ‘settle’ pick and that Alleva just didn’t have the stones to pursue a coach like Tom Herman or Jimbo Fisher, who were looking for large money contracts.
It’s a good thing Alleva is gone for other reasons, by the way, like the method in which he handled Les Miles’ tenure and the Will Wade issues, but that’s another story.
Orgeron had a checkered past, with a failed stint has head coach of Ole Miss and then being snubbed for Steve Sarkisian as the head coach of University of Southern California.
I’m going to take this space to thank USC for making that blunder.
Why? Because Miles brought Orgeron home, to work for LSU which was his dream job. When he got the head coaching nod at LSU, he nearly cried because, as reported by Sports Illustrated, the place where the man came from doesn’t offer much hope. Being from Cajun country and believing that such a pinnacle is achievable almost makes you insane – but for a guy who rips off his shirt more often than not, and shotguns Red Bull energy drinks, I guess it all seems rather normal.
But he rose because he evolved. Critics of Orgeron said that his past coaching experiences showed that he wanted to be involved in everything, a horrible micro-manager who thought he knew it all. It cost Orgeron a huge reputation hit at Ole Miss, and haunted him with his interim tenure at USC.
So upon his arrival at LSU, Orgeron took a lower coaching salary (just $3.5 million, compared to Dabo’s nearly $9 million) so that he could secure some of the best assistants in college football. Dave Aranda behind the defense, Steve Ensminger and Joe Brady behind the offense, this team went through an eight-month, off season transformation that turned the squad into the most feared in the country, an offense that produced the highest numbers ever in the history of the sport.
That transformation earned every coach on staff a hefty bonus, with Orgeron claiming a little over $1 million in performance-based incentives.
Worth every penny.
So soak it up, Tiger fans, we all were able to witness greatness. But it went beyond that, it was a story that was almost too good to be true – a story of a coach’s evolution and redemption; an Ohio kid buys into a crazy culture and gets a second chance; a new coach comes into his own and proves himself; a defense finds itself at just the perfect time; and the list goes on, and on, and on… almost too much for a movie, it would have to be a television show.
And it all happened right here, in our back yard, at Louisiana State University.
J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.