Editor's note: This story was originally published last April after Louisiana native Ed Orgeron joined LSU's staff. Now that he's taking over as interim coach for Miles, here's a look back at why this is a special job for Orgeron.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- This one's personal for Ed Orgeron, so forget the Coach O caricature for a minute or two.
He's at the program he always admired, often from a short but safe distance. He's a son of Louisiana, born in Larose, where Bayou Lafourche meets the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. He won a state championship with South Lafourche High School, playing alongside Bobby Hebert. He signed to play with LSU and spent a year with the Tigers before a position change prompted him to leave for Northwestern State. His coaching career started at two in-state colleges -- Northwestern State and McNeese State -- and later featured a stint at another, Nicholls State, as well as one with the NFL's New Orleans Saints.
But his zig-zag through coaching never brought him to Louisiana's flagship college program.
"I watched them all my life," he said. "Everybody cheers for LSU."
Everybody cheered LSU's hiring of Orgeron as defensive line coach in January. It was labeled one of the best -- and most obvious -- moves of the offseason. Seeing Orgeron in purple and gold makes you wonder what took so long. He isn't literally at home in Mandeville, Louisiana, where he spent last season after not being retained as USC's head coach, but his current setup isn't much different -- plus, he's back in the football grind.
"My kids are here, my wife is here, I'm in the best living [situation] I've lived in my coaching career right now," Orgeron said. "I loved LA, but I’m living in a hotel, and my wife and my kids are in Louisiana.
"After a while, you can only go to P.F. Chang’s so many times."
It's a little more natural picturing him at Mike Anderson's Seafood, one of his favorite spots here in town. Orgeron jokes that his ordering choice there is simple: the left side of the menu or the right.
"The year off taught me this," he said. "Before, when I was coaching, I was always interested in the result. Taking the year off, the thing I missed the most was the process, the daily grind of being around, going recruiting, doing this, doing that [snapping fingers].
"I always have respected the process, but I was going to enjoy it."
He enjoys the LSU players, whom he respected from afar but impress him with their drive and toughness. He enjoys working for Les Miles, whose "communication is wonderful," and on a staff that includes new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, a longtime friend, and wide receivers coach Frank Wilson, who played at Nicholls State while Orgeron coached there.
"Frank is like a son to me," Orgeron said.
Orgeron missed "the destruction" of practices and enjoys the build to a season. He inherits a defensive line with typical LSU talent, especially inside with tackles Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture.
Orgeron wants the line to apply sufficient pocket pressure without assistance from the linebackers or secondary. Although LSU's defense excelled in several areas, sacking the quarterback was not one of them, as it finished 99th nationally in sacks percentage (4.7 percent of attempts). Coaching the defensive line is second nature for Orgeron, who has done it for five major college teams and the Saints, but he admits the offenses in the SEC West are more dangerous than the last time he worked in the division as Ole Miss' coach from 2005-07.
"He has a great passion for the game," LSU defensive end Tashawn Bower said. "It’s special. There’s a bunch of people who don’t have the passion for the game that you should at the college level. He definitely has it, and a lot of guys on this team have it, so it’s a good bond and a good connection.
"We absolutely relate and connect well with him."
The fire still burns, but LSU is getting a slightly more mellower Coach O. He coaches more like a professional coach, with less bombast and more selective word choices and delivery.
"You can get your point across a different way," he said. "When you're a head coach, your words are very powerful. When you’re an assistant, only your position group listens to you. You've got to be really careful what you say."
A careful Coach O? Let's see how long that lasts.
His shirts are staying on for now.
"Not yet, not yet," safety Jalen Mills said. "I'm waiting on it. I told him when he takes his off, I'm going to try and take mine off."
Orgeron's second head-coaching stint, while brief, ended much better than his first, as he helped prevent a total derailment at USC in 2013. Other opportunities to lead a program could come, especially with Orgeron's well-known recruiting clout.
But Orgeron is all in at LSU.
"[Pittsburgh Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin spoke to us and he said, 'Be where you are,'" Bower said. "That kind of translates to Coach Orgeron and what he has going on now."
LSU was always the school Orgeron could see but couldn't quite reach. Now, he's home.
"I'm happy being here," he said. "It means a lot to be an LSU Tiger."