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Old friends Ed Orgeron, Lane Kiffin will occupy opposing sidelines in LSU-Alabama

BATON ROUGE, La. -- When Ed Orgeron discusses his relationship with former boss Lane Kiffin, he frequently makes an important distinction.

“We’re not coaching friends, we’re personal friends,” says Orgeron, whose fourth game as LSU’s interim head coach will come Saturday against Alabama and offensive coordinator Kiffin.

Anyone familiar with workplace dynamics knows how to interpret that statement. These weren’t co-workers who simply sat next to each other in meetings and traded notes out of professional courtesy.

“We care about each other’s family. We talk about personal stuff, he and I,” Orgeron said. “We’ve had a great relationship throughout the years. Lane has always treated me well. Everywhere he’s been, he tried to get me to go with him. I worked under him and I was an assistant head coach and we had a tremendous time together. I have had the utmost respect for him ever since he was a young coach.”

The feeling is apparently mutual. Kiffin doesn’t speak to the media per Alabama coach Nick Saban’s rules, but his actions speak for him. When Kiffin accepted his first college head-coaching job at Tennessee in 2009, he hired Orgeron as his recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach. The next year, Kiffin took Orgeron back to USC -- where they had once worked together as assistants under Pete Carroll -- to serve in the same role.

Even after USC fired Kiffin midway through the 2013 season and replaced him with Orgeron as interim coach, Kiffin publicly voiced his support for Orgeron landing the job in a full-time capacity.

Orgeron didn’t get that job and instead wound up at LSU, where he is now in the same situation as he was in 2013. His chances of landing his dream job, as head coach at his home state’s flagship school, will increase exponentially if the Tigers beat top-ranked Alabama on Saturday.

Even if he won’t say it publicly, Orgeron knows that to be true -- which is part of why the two or three weekly calls between Kiffin and him are on hold for now.

“I know he’s going to want to talk to me, but I ain’t answering back, man,” Orgeron chuckled. “I know how he is.”

Their friendship blossomed in the years when they worked closely as head coach and right-hand man, but Orgeron’s respect for Kiffin dates back to their first season together as USC assistants.

Kiffin was a 26-year-old hotshot son of defensive coaching legend Monte Kiffin when he accepted a post as Carroll’s tight ends coach at USC in 2001. He immediately made an impression on the elder members of the staff. In fact, Orgeron believes Lane’s having grown up studying defenses with his dad is part of the reason he is such an exceptional offensive playcaller today.

“He came in as a tight ends coach; he had all the answers the first day. I said, ‘Man, this guy’s going to be special,’” Orgeron said. “Great recruiter. We did a lot, we won two national championships together, so we’ve got a lot of great memories.”

Things might be different between them if not for a case of bad timing on LSU’s part in late 2008. Orgeron was coaching defensive line for the New Orleans Saints that season, a year after his three-year stint as Ole Miss’ head coach ended in failure. LSU and Tennessee both offered assistant jobs for 2009, but Tennessee’s came first.

Orgeron said he had just landed at the Knoxville airport when LSU made an offer “that was kind of hard to refuse,” but he did so -- and later experienced regrets about that decision, partially because of the distance it put between him and his Louisiana-based family.

“Every day I did,” Orgeron said. “Because my kids were here and I always wanted to coach at LSU. But the reason I had gone to Tennessee, because Lane and I were good friends and I wanted to coach under Monte Kiffin's defense.”

Instead, he stuck it out with Kiffin, which might even come in handy Saturday.

After all, they have talked strategy together in hundreds of meetings. Few coaches have a better idea of what Kiffin wants to accomplish than a former co-worker who spent nine seasons working on the same staffs.

Orgeron admits he has passed along notes about Kiffin’s tendencies to defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, although he isn’t sure how much they will help -- especially since Kiffin now runs a spread offense different from what they ran at USC.

“I did mention a couple of things, but they were obvious things that [Aranda] saw already on film,” Orgeron said last week. “And I think throughout the course of the week, I’ll see a couple of certain formations, a couple of plays and say, ‘That’s what we ran at SC. This is what he likes to do from it.’ But Dave has figured it out already.”

Orgeron speaks of Aranda with the same admiration he shows for Kiffin, which is why he says Saturday’s game will match “two of the best in the business.”

He just hopes one of them has an off night, friendship be damned.

“He’s a very dear friend of mine,” Orgeron said. “I wish him the best in everything he does except this week.”