BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ed Orgeron is proud to say that the man leading LSU today as its interim coach barely resembles the one who flamed out in his first opportunity as a head coach.
Down deep, Orgeron is still the intense, gravelly-voiced Cajun who took over at Ole Miss in 2005 and made a boatload of wrong moves in three unsuccessful seasons. But Orgeron now has a better idea about how to manage a program, precisely because he blew it as a Rebel.
"Look, that was a great opportunity for me," said Orgeron, who will lead No. 25 LSU (4-2, 2-1 SEC) against No. 23 Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2) on Saturday night (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). "I mean, that's a good job, and I didn't do well, and I didn't like it. I was mad at myself. So, in the five years that I became assistant coach, I said these are the things that I need to change. These are the things that they didn't work, to be honest.
"You’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror. You can place blame on other people, but nothing's going to change. I'm the only person that can change me."
When Ole Miss hired Orgeron at the end of USC's 2004 BCS championship season, he was the Trojans' acclaimed defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator who had never helmed a program of his own.
He and his staff -- a group that included current Rebels coach Hugh Freeze -- recruited well, bringing in athletes that helped successor Houston Nutt post consecutive nine-win seasons and appear in two Cotton Bowls. However, Orgeron never enjoyed a winning season as a Rebel.
His best effort was a 4-8 season in 2006, when the Rebels beat Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl and came close to upset wins against Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and LSU -- with the Alabama and LSU losses coming in overtime.
He was fired at the end of the 2007 season, finishing with a 10-25 record (3-21 in SEC play).
A larger problem at Ole Miss was that away from the field, Orgeron’s intense temperament grated on many around him. Nobody knows how to react when the head coach rips off his shirt and challenges players to test him.
As a line coach, enthusiasm bordering on insanity is a welcome job trait. Not being able to tone it down as a head coach creates problems.
"When you're coaching Warren Sapp [at Miami] at 28, 29 years old, you're not just going to walk in there with a tie and just say, 'Read stuff from a book.' I mean, it ain't going to happen that way," Orgeron said. "So those techniques that I used to create some of the best defensive lines in the country did not work as a head coach, but they were applauded as a defensive line coach. So I had to get out of that mode and get more into the head coach and delegate, and not be the hard butt on the staff."
Orgeron told himself that if he ever got another shot to lead a program, he would handle things differently.
So far, so good. Just as he was lauded for steadying the ship when he took over as USC’s interim coach after Lane Kiffin’s firing in 2013, Orgeron seems to have the Tigers back on track since taking over for Les Miles on Sept. 25.
His first two games produced a pair of 35-point wins, and Orgeron’s series of minor adjustments have helped the Tigers improve.
Unlike the Ole Miss-era Orgeron, he refuses to meddle in areas where he lacks expertise. He consistently makes the point that he’s letting his position coaches handle their jobs without his interference.
In practice, he keeps the team on the field for a fraction of the time that Miles did, which numerous players have said keeps them fresher in games.
And he and new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger put their heads together to freshen up an LSU offensive scheme that is averaging 546.5 yards per game since the coaching change.
"The opportunities that he has had at USC and then here, I think he has approached it differently," said Freeze, who was Orgeron's tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at the end of Orgeron's Ole Miss tenure. "When I talk to him now, he seems a bit different about his approach, and I think it is working for him. It was no surprise that the kids are playing well under him right now."
The true test is only beginning for Orgeron, however. ESPN’s Football Power Index shows that LSU faces the nation’s most difficult remaining schedule, starting with the visit Saturday from his old program.
Make no mistake, Orgeron wants this one, even if he insists that he will not make an issue of his history with his current team.
"He definitely has that fire in his eyes this week," said LSU nose guard Greg Gilmore. "Everybody has that one team."
Beyond that, Orgeron is trying to win a full-time job at his home-state school. Wins matter now, as does proving that he has the vision and temperament necessary to handle a job this big.
He wasn’t up to that task in 2005. Thus far, Orgeron seems to be making the most of his second chance in the SEC.
"I don’t have many memories of that place that I want to remember, so I kind of just let it go and then I moved forward," Orgeron said. "I’m glad to be an LSU Tiger, I’ll tell you that."