BATON ROUGE, La. — As much as Ed Orgeron might have preferred a different route to the top coaching job at LSU, the Louisiana native was never going to be able to hide his enthusiasm for his new opportunity — and didn’t try.
“It’s a great day in my life, I promise you that,” Orgeron said, calling it “a dream, obviously” to be the Tigers’ head coach.
“It’s a well-respected position that I’m holding right now and I hold it in high esteem. And I understand the expectations at LSU and I fully, fully intend to meet all of those expectations.”
The 55-year-old Orgeron, who was formally introduced as Les Miles’ interim replacement on Monday, said he has no idea whether he’ll have the job past this season and isn’t saying whether he sees his opportunity as an audition to remain long-term.
“Take the future aside. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. Let the chips fall where they may,” Orgeron said, adding that his sole focus was on his players’ success. “All I want to do is see them win.”
Orgeron said he’s tapped current assistant Steve Ensminger, a former LSU quarterback, to replace offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who was fired on Sunday along with Miles.
Orgeron said he’s also elevated defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to associate head coach. As for Orgeron’s old position as defensive line coach, he’s adding a new, but familiar face to the staff in Pete Jenkins, who is 75 years old and has had two previous stints as a defensive assistant at LSU since 1980. Orgeron said Jenkins would be his “mentor” and “right-hand man.”
“We’re going to flip the script,” Orgeron said. “We’re going to do things different. We’re going to do things that I’ve done in the past to re-energize this team.”
The decision to fire Miles, who was 114-34 in 11-plus seasons, stemmed largely from lackluster offensive performances in big games, particularly because of an anemic passing game.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said parting with Miles was tough, not only because of his past successes — which include a 2007 national title and two SEC championships — but also because of how he represented the university and cared for his players.
“Les is loved by his players, and that is because he cared about them as people,” Alleva said. “We will miss Les, and we thank him for all he did for us here at LSU.
“Change was necessary to give the players the best opportunity to succeed,” Alleva added. “I still believe this team has great things ahead of it and great things that can be achieved in the last eight games.”
Orgeron said the offense will be “tweaked” to feature more spread formations. He did not say whether he’d re-open the starting quarterback job, which has been held by both Brandin Harris and Danny Etling this season already. But he did say, “I’m still a pro-style guy,” which could lend itself more to the pocket-passing skills of Etling.
Orgeron also emphasized that he wants his players fresh and energized, and intends to pursue that goal with less practice time and more meeting time.
“As long as you get your work in mentally or physically, it’s good,” tight end Colin Jeter said. “If we are in the film room more and get the same work done, that’s saving our bodies.”
Known by players as “Coach O,” Orgeron was born in the bayou country southwest of New Orleans, in the town of Larose, close to where former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert grew up.
Orgeron, a defensive lineman, and Hebert were teammates at South Lafourche High School and in college at Northwestern State.
Orgeron was a head coach once before in the SEC with Mississippi from 2005-07, but never had a winning record there and was fired after three seasons. He fared better as interim head coach at Southern California in 2013, going 6-2 in place of Lane Kiffin, who’d been fired that season.
Orgeron also had a brief stint as an NFL assistant in 2008 with the New Orleans Saints, serving as a defensive line coach. He then left the Saints to become the defensive coach and recruiting coordinator for Tennessee, under Kiffin, in 2009.
LSU’s first game under Orgeron is Saturday in Tiger Stadium against Missouri.
“We’re going to start a new season,” Orgeron said. “Whatever happened in the past doesn’t matter.”
That message seemed to resonate with players.
“This will be a fresh start for the team. We still have a lot of goals. We can’t let the season go to waste,” Etling said. “To win out will require hard work, perseverance and guys coming together despite all the distractions.”
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