Ed Orgeron’s Struggles Have Led LSU to Barry Odom

Ed Orgeron


For months, Barry Odom’s name has been bandied about in connection with the LSU defensive coordinator position.

Well before Bo Pelini was fired, Odom was seen as likely candidate to try to make LSU’s defense fearsome once more. Pelini will get a buyout payment of $4 million after receiving $600,000 per game to coach the worst defensive finish in program history. LSU ranked No. 124 nationally in total defense.

Earlier this week, AL.com’s Matt Zenitz reported Odom, Arkansas’ current defensive coordinator, was a candidate for the position alongside Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and former NFL coach Kris Richard. 

For a few days, it seemed like Odom was out of the running when other Razorbacks appeared to make it known on social media he was staying put.

But LSU may make another hard look at him now that LSU’s probable top target, Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, has decided to roll with the Fighting Irish instead. “Notre Dame has hired Marcus Freeman from Cincy as its DC,” longtime Arkansas sportswriter Jim Harris Tweeted. “LSU wanted Freeman badly. Don’t discount another run by Orgeron at Hogs DC Odom. Odom certainly has to know, tho, that this time Orgeron will be very hands-on with his DC, to avoid what happened with Pelini.”

LSU isn’t the most scandal-free program on earth these days, however.

It’s the subject of investigations into sexual assault and harassment charges that indicate a disturbing campus-wide problem.

Harris wrote: “Really, with everything up in the air at LSU concerning investigations of the program for on- and off-field problems (Baylor-like, with accusations of sexual assault etc.) one could easily understand Freeman staying away and Odom, comfortably compensated at UA, saying no.”

We don’t yet know what kind of raise Odom will get above his current $1.2 million per year, but it’s a safe bet it will be significant. In October, Sam Pittman said the school would do it what it could to keep him: “We’ll do our best. There’s different ways to keep a man. I think he’s happy here, I think his family’s happy here. Obviously if he gets a big-time head coaching job, I’d be ecstatic for him and happy for him but if he doesn’t or doesn’t get the job that he wants, there’s ways to keep a man happy.”

Who is the next LSU defensive coordinator?

If not Odom, Harris says to watch out for Ryan Nielson.

Other names to follow, according to 247Sports’ Shea Dixon, are:

David Reeves (UAB) – a two-time finalist for the Broyles Award

Mike Elko (Texas A&M)

Kevin Steele (formerly of Auburn)

Will Muschamp (formerly head coach at South Carolina)

The below article is from 11.21.20

As bad as things have gotten for LSU, they almost got worse.

On Saturday, the 3-3 Tigers barely squeaked by an Arkansas team against which they were favored by 44 points last season. Had the Hogs not been missing the majority of their best defensive linemen because of COVID-19, it’s likely Arkansas would have won instead of losing 24-27. That would have cemented the most dramatic single-year fall from grace any SEC football program has ever suffered. 

In 2019, LSU rampaged undefeated through its slate with surgical offensive efficiency that shattered records and won the program its first national title in 13 years.

Then, the floodgates opened.

A mass exodus, including Heisman winner Joe Burrow among 14 starters in all, coupled with the loss of star coordinators Joe Brady and Dave Aranda, prepared fans for an inevitable letdown. The common thinking was that LSU would drop to perhaps a .500 SEC team, similar to how the undefeated 2010 Auburn team was followed by a 2011 Auburn team that went 8-5 overall after the loss of Cam Newton. It wasn’t until the next season, 2012, that the bottom dropped out for the Auburn program and its head coach Gene Chizik was fired.

Until Arkansas, LSU was looking closer to that 2012 Auburn squad which finished 3-9 overall.

In losses to Mississippi State, Missouri and Auburn, its defense has given up 44+ points and looked horrible. While LSU did lose a lot of talent, its cupboard is far from barren. Expect 7-10 of its current players to be taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. Instead, much of the blame should fall at the feet of the LSU staff, specifically head coach Ed Orgeron and defensive coordinator Bo Pelini.

A Climate of Dysfunction 

It appears that very similar issues to the problems that plagued Chad Morris-era Arkansas’ defense through much of the 2018 and 2019 seasons are now running rife at LSU. 

Miscommunication and uninspired play are commonplace. “It’s pretty much just a disaster on that side of the ball,” LSU analyst T-Bone Herbert said on the “Locked on Razorbacks” podcast. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Guys don’t know what to do. I mean, you see a guy in motion pre snap and it looks like you lobbed a grenade into the defense. [There’s so much] freaking out and pointing at each other, nobody’s set at the snap. It’s bad.”

It’s clear that the Tiger’s defensive players and Bo Pelini aren’t on the same page. Hell, at this rate, they may not even finish in the same book. Some of the reason is more than just a technical issues adjusting to Pelini’s 4-3 scheme or his personality rubbing folks wrong.

In the Arkansas-LSU interview below, LSU insider Matt Moscana says that some of the players didn’t feel like Pelini and Orgeron responded to the national discourse about social justice in the wake of the George Floyd murder this summer in the way they wanted. 

This, apparently, caused rifts that haven’t yet healed. Through five games, it looked like Pelini has lost his players. 

Watch Out, Arkansas 

Morris’ successor Sam Pittman has proven well worth the investment, in major part because Pittman has recruited to Arkansas a much higher caliber of assistant coaches than Morris ever could. 

Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom has stood out as a frontrunner for the Broyles Award, annually given to the best college football assistant, for leading an Arkansas defense that has gone from a national laughingstock to one of the SEC’s better units (even when accounting for a 65-point scalding at the hands of Florida).

The question of whether Odom will stay in Fayetteville for more than one season is one of the most pressing issues facing the Razorback football program. Other programs have and will continue to come after him in an attempt to hire him away from Pittman. 

“Barry’s a special guy and I’ve known that for a long time, 20 years,” Pittman said on the Buzz 103.7 in late October. When asked if Arkansas would raise Odom’s current salary of $1.2 million per year, Pittman said: “We’ll do our best. There’s different ways to keep a man. I think he’s happy here, I think his family’s happy here. Obviously if he gets a big-time head coaching job, I’d be ecstatic for him and happy for him but if he doesn’t or doesn’t get the job that he wants, there’s ways to keep a man happy.”

Pittman, however, didn’t address what would happen if another program tried to lure Odom away for a lateral move, but with the promise of doubling his salary and providing a more fertile recruiting base for future NFL talent. 

If Pelini gets fired, expect LSU to at least put in feelers with Odom and his agent. 

In this scenario, Hog fans should hope that one of the other top potential candidates to replace Pelini — current LSU assistant Corey Raymond and Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman — comes through instead. 


The Fall of Ed Orgeron 

Since Orgeron is coming off such a great year in 2019, it’s more unlikely that he will be fired after this season. 

It would be one thing if all the issues were on the field and in the locker room, as the case seemed to be with Chad Morris at Arkansas, but mounting off-the-field issues for Orgeron are hurting his case.

Longtime Arkansas sportswriter Jim Harris doesn’t put too fine of a line on it. “It sounds this year like Orgeron has tumbled head over heels into the party hot tub,” he says.

“He has a girlfriend, got divorced right after the national championship game, all this crap…. Plus, Bo Pelini is a bad fit this time around. The coordinators he had to replace were sensational at their jobs, and the guys he tapped to take over aren’t up to it. It’s mostly a new team, lots of talent but not near as much direction or leadership.”

Orgeron can do whatever he wants in his private life, but the biggest issue here isn’t a divorce or getting a girlfriend or taking up boxing as a hobby.

The biggest off-the-field issue comes on the heels of a damning USA Today report that exposes how during Orgeron’s LSU heading coaching tenure, nine members of his program have been reported to police for sexual misconduct and dating violence. Many people within the athletic department, including an assistant coach, had knowledge of some of the allegations, but didn’t appear to act. In response to that report, a Yahoo sports columnist said Orgeron should be fired among a swath of other athletic officials. 

“Ask the victims of the at least nine players who played for you, Ed, about safety, equity and accountability,” Shalise Mansa-Young wrote. “Ask the women who have had to uproot their lives and transfer schools because you and your department protected those men and treated those women as little more than nuisances. women who have had to uproot their lives and transfer schools because you and your department protected those men and treated those women as little more than nuisances.”

Orgeron isn’t the only one to blame here, nor should he shoulder the majority of the blame given there isn’t evidence that he specifically ignored any of the claims. 

Still, it matters that this is the kind of toxic climate that has taken root under his watch. “At best he failed to detect it, wasn’t aware of it, which is not great in and of itself,” USA Today’s Kenny Jacoby reporter said. 

“And at worst, he knew about it and was complicit.”

The rot runs deep at LSU. More troubling incidents will be reported in the coming months, Jacoby added. 

Listen to his interview about Ed Orgeron and LSU football here:

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