Never betray the family.
That's the message LSU coach Ed Orgeron sent to his in-state counterparts this summer.
Coach O, playing a Cajun version of Tony Soprano, made it a point to guard his Louisiana "family" at all costs. His capos -- the other state universities -- ensured his mandate was carried out: Under no circumstances could an out-of-state Power 5 school invade the sacred territory by participating in a satellite camp. "Protecting Louisiana" no matter what it takes.
The consequences for failure were well understood. Threats were heeded and schools acted accordingly. LSU's power in its home state is undeniable.
As coaches relentlessly seek an edge -- and feverishly try to prevent opponents from obtaining one -- Orgeron made the satellite camp issue a flashpoint for the type of control he plans to exert at LSU. Call it paranoia. Call it prudence. Orgeron is leaving nothing to chance.
Why the hubbub over Louisiana prospects? Because the bang for the buck recruiters get out of "The Boot" is better than just about anywhere else in the country. In the past four years, only four states -- Florida (201), Texas (173), California (128) and Georgia (126) -- have produced more ESPN 300 recruits than Louisiana has (66) according to ESPN Stats & Information. The difference is those other four states are among the 10 most populous in the nation. Louisiana ranks 25th.
The result is an intense battle for recruits. Texas A&M's presence in the SEC has turned Louisiana -- long a conference hotbed -- into a second recruiting base for schools in Texas. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said his staff prioritizes Louisiana almost as much as its home state. Said TCU coach Gary Patterson: "We've always found some guys; we've made a living out of kids in Louisiana that maybe were a little bit shorter [than elite programs prefer]."
Texas programs are increasingly drawn to satellite camps -- the instructional camps that are de facto recruiting tools for coaches looking to tap into fertile recruiting areas and that have been the source of much debate over the past two summers -- in Louisiana.
Orgeron's response -- with his future and livelihood in mind -- was to shut out programs he perceived as a threat and use every ounce of LSU's clout in the Pelican State to do it. No fewer than five Louisiana camps that were originally scheduled with out-of-state Power 5 conference participants were either canceled or modified with LSU and/or state of Louisiana schools as the main participants.
The reason? Influence from LSU and, in some instances, financial pressure forced the Louisiana schools to cave, sources told ESPN.com. Some examples:
+Belhaven College, a Division III program in Mississippi coached by Air Raid offense godfather Hal Mumme, tried to host a camp in Baton Rouge with Texas and Houston among the participants. Mumme said Belhaven, with the help of some high school coaches in Baton Rouge, signed a contract with an area school district to hold the camp at BREC Memorial Stadium (satellite camp legislation passed in April by the NCAA restricts FBS and FCS schools to host camps only on college campuses; such a restriction doesn't exist for Division II and Division III schools). Then, Mumme said, he got a call out of the blue from a "midlevel school administrator" who told Mumme that they were withdrawing the contract, citing an out clause.
"So we did some checking around," Mumme said, "and that's where they said, 'Well, we're getting a lot of pressure from LSU.'"
Mumme tried to move the camp to St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Catholic School in Hammond, Louisiana, (about 50 miles east of Baton Rouge and 60 miles northwest of New Orleans), where one of Mumme's former players is the head coach. There, too, the camp was scheduled then suddenly canceled shortly thereafter.
Hutch Gonzales, the coach at St. Thomas Aquinas, told ESPN.com that he was informed by his athletic director that the camp couldn't happen because it was a "liability issue" given the number of players who were going to be on the field.
"I didn't go into great detail with anyone because I kind of knew. I heard other things," Gonzales said with a slight chuckle.
When he said "he kind of knew," Gonzales admitted he was aware of the public pressure that comes from doing something LSU doesn't like.
"It's not a secret. It's pretty much public knowledge," Gonzales said. "Louisiana has a really strong affinity ... toward LSU. ... I know that it's not encouraged, to put it mildly, that people go and invite [out-of-state programs] into the state to try to recruit these kids."
+Arkansas, Houston, Texas and Texas A&M all tried to get into Hammond, as well, at Southeastern Louisiana University. Arkansas, Houston, Louisiana Tech and Texas were scheduled to participate in the Lions' June 8 camp while Texas A&M was to join for the June 11 camp. Soon thereafter, invitations to the out-of-state schools disappeared and were left only for Louisiana Tech for the June 8 camp, and LSU suddenly became a participant in the June 11 camp.
Two sources with knowledge of the discussions told ESPN.com that LSU threatened to never again schedule Southeastern Louisiana for a nonconference game in the future if the Lions conducted the camp with those out-of-state schools present. That constitutes a massive financial hit for schools that need the money; LSU is paying Southeastern Louisiana $500,000 to play in Death Valley in 2018. (By comparison, the Tigers are paying Nicholls State $575,000, McNeese State $600,000 and Louisiana Tech $1.15 million for future nonconference games.)
There was also pressure put on Southeastern Louisiana officials from state legislators, the sources said.
A spokesman for Southeast Louisiana, however, called the story "100 percent inaccurate."
When informing the disinvited schools of the change in plans, Southeastern coach Ron Roberts explained that "somebody else told him 'If you do [camps with out-of-state schools], you're going to get us all f---ing fired," the source said.
+Tulane -- which partnered with Texas A&M for a satellite camp last year (which outraged then-LSU coach Les Miles) -- struck a deal with Michigan to host a camp June 9. Later, it was canceled, and a new camp was rescheduled a week later with LSU instead.
Tulane coach Willie Fritz, through a school spokesman, told ESPN.com that the Green Wave initially wanted to have a camp with LSU, but LSU couldn't commit. So the Green Wave invited Michigan, who had another camp scheduled in another city for the same date. Because of uncertainty of how many Michigan coaches could attend Tulane's camp, Fritz said he decided to pull out and called LSU again, at which time they decided to join the Green Wave.
"We received absolutely no pressure," Fritz said, "and it was completely our decision."
Michigan recruiting coordinator Cooper Petagna told SI.com in May that Tulane backed out despite being told Jim Harbaugh would be present for the camp.
Tulane, however, is a private school and not subject to as much pressure as others could be from LSU.
Orgeron publicly said his lockdown methods are part of an effort to keep Louisiana together, while correctly pointing out that schools have plenty of time during the spring evaluation period to come evaluate prospects without any interference from LSU.
"We have six weeks in April and May that we can go identify and evaluate players that we've been studying for over two years," Orgeron said at SEC media days in July. "And we go to Texas. We go to Georgia. We go to Alabama. [Out-of-state schools] come to our state. ... Guys [are] not going uncovered nowadays. If there's a guy on a country road, my GPS will get me there if he's that good. There's a lot of opportunity given to these young men during those six weeks of evaluation."
The point that Mumme and other non-FBS coaches or high school coaches make, though, is that Orgeron's pressure to push other schools out of the state hurts both the small colleges with limited budgets and the prospects LSU won't even sniff who are trying to get to those schools and are using satellite camps as a tool. For instance, Delta State -- a Division II school -- and Cornell, an Ivy League school (which doesn't offer athletic scholarships) were supposed to join Texas and Houston at Belhaven's camp.
As a high school coach, Gonzales wants his players to get maximum exposure.
"We just want to get them in front of anybody we can," Gonzales said. "As much as we'd love for all of our guys to go to LSU and play, that's not the reality of things. ... That's why we welcome all college coaches in the office and we welcome them at practice. And if there are satellite camps in the area, we encourage them [the players] to go and take part in those things because we feel like the more people you get in front of, the better shot you have to play at the next level; and anybody that's going to offer you a free education, you should take that."
University of Texas coach Tom Herman and his Lone Star State counterparts understand this is how the game is played. The Longhorns, Aggies and Horned Frogs aren't going to camps to get the under-the-radar players. They're trying to nab the best.
"... My feelings aren't completely altruistic," Herman said. "Do I understand that Texas going into Louisiana benefits Texas? Absolutely, I understand that. ... I've coached at the Belhaven level. I've coached at the Southeastern Louisiana level. We'd be dying to be at a camp with Texas, to be able to spread our brand and go evaluate guys, go offer scholarships to players you would have never had an opportunity to be exposed to and those players would never have had the opportunity to be exposed to you and your university."
"We did some checking around, and that's where they said 'Well, we're getting a lot of pressure from LSU.'"Belhaven College coach Hal Mumme on why he canceled a satellite camp.
The lengths LSU went to try keep schools out of the state comes as no surprise to opposing coaches.
"You can't shock this Louisiana boy," said Houston coach Major Applewhite, a Baton Rouge native.
How have we reached this point, where something as benign as satellite camps became a battleground for coaches who should be on summer vacations instead of scouring for talent? As coaching salaries rise, so does the pressure to win. As pressure increases, so does coaches' paranoia.
Combine that with the explosion of avenues that information can travel out from a program in 2017 (social media, fan message boards, traditional media) and risk-averse coaches embrace their inner control freak. If there's a remote possibility that something even minute could harm the win-loss total, they seek to eliminate it.
Herman's qualifier -- "my feelings aren't completely altruistic" -- is 100 percent correct. Would Herman or Sumlin or Bret Bielema care as much about those unknown Louisiana prospects who might go to a Belhaven or a Delta State if they couldn't go in there and scoop up premium talent for their own programs? Probably not. If Louisiana wasn't as fertile a recruiting ground as it is, there wouldn't even be an issue.
"We try to give guys opportunities to be better students and better people and better athletes," Applewhite said. "That's what I think we have to put at the forefront of our minds. It's hard. It's hard when it deals with your employment and your paycheck."
The bottom line is the people Orgeron must please -- Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva, LSU president F. King Alexander and the countless fans -- care mainly about one thing: wins. It's the same reason why Les Miles, for as fun and entertaining as he was, got fired last year. Not enough wins.
The best way ensure victory? Get the most talent, by any means necessary. In the end, it's about control, and Coach O wants all of it -- and might need every bit he can get.
"I'll promise you this," Orgeron said, "if there's a player LSU wants, we are going to fly there. We are going to drive there. And we are going to get to his high school to evaluate him.
"Now, as far as satellite camps, am I a big fan of satellite camps? No. Do I wish we could go back to only having satellite camps on our campus? Yes, I do, but that's not my decision."
It's not, but come hell or high water, Orgeron is still ensuring he gets his way.