After 35 Years Away, The Time is Right for Ed Orgeron to Become a Razorback Again

Ed Orgeron

Fair warning — this is one of those “pipe dream” pieces. It’s also a blatant exercise in pot-stirring.

Now, with that warranty out of the way, hear me out: if Ed Orgeron wants to work a college job again soon, it should be at the University of Arkansas.

The deposed LSU football coach wouldn’t likely be here long. He also would concededly be a polarizing choice to succeed ousted defensive line coach Jermial Ashley. When Ashley’s dismissal was announced Sunday, one conclusion about the impetus seemed logical. Ashley had failed to get a highly desired portal target, Jaxon Player, whom Ashley coached into 2020 All-AAC First-Teamer status at Tulsa.

So Player’s departure from Tulsa led many to believe, if not assume, that he would rejoin Ashley in Fayetteville. Instead, Player opted to transfer to Baylor. It’s hard to imagine that one recruit’s decision would break an assistant, though.

Maybe it isn’t that difficult if a chance to assemble a “super staff” comes along.

Sam Pittman knows position coach value better than anyone

Nobody’s appreciation of position coach credibility runs deeper than Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman’s. The Hogs head coach, of course, spent the better part of his career operating in that capacity.

And Pittman cultivated his reputation as a crackerjack recruiter that way. Similarly, Orgeron’s path as a longtime defensive line coach took him all over the Southern United States. It isn’t just that Orgeron and Pittman have that connection. They’ve never served on the same staff, but both spent a short time at Tennessee during one of its transitional periods.

And, of course, both coached elsewhere in the SEC. Pittman’s stint at Georgia burnished his standing as a top-flight seer and developer of talent.

Meanwhile, Orgeron learned much—only seemingly some might contend—from his failures at Ole Miss. That ill-fated first go as a head coach at Oxford from 2005 to 2007 yielded only nine wins.

But when Houston Nutt left here to succeed Orgeron, he found shelter in Orgeron’s toiling. The affable Cajun’s recruits and some key transfers set Nutt on a quick path to early success.

Orgeron kept working, bopping along from Tennessee to USC along with Lane Kiffin. He found his way to his home state of LSU when the university excused Les Miles in September 2016.

All he did was win a national title in his third full year. Personal controversies, paired with a quick fall-off from that championship height, greased the wheels for the Tigers to move on.

Orgeron’s pride, and an insistence he’s taking a year off, may render this all moot. But it’s clear Pittman is finding it rather fruitful to take on other SEC program’s castoffs, too.

…and Ed Orgeron knows How to Leverage Such Value

It wouldn’t simply be a marriage of convenience. Orgeron knows the conference and its recruiting hotbeds as well as anyone, and has more than passing familiarity with some current Hogs such as incoming LSU transfers Landon Jackson and Dwight McGlothern.

Most importantly, Orgeron’s personal resiliency is something to appreciate, if at a distance. After legal issues led to his exit from Miami in 1992, Orgeron soldiered back from the abyss. He rebuilt his image though he didn’t significantly alter it, either. His antics, as they were, made him more affable and appealing later.

Indeed, Orgeron got another head coaching chance in 2014 when USC canned Kiffin early in the year. He acquitted himself very well, nearly earning the position permanently.

The next interim opportunity went even better. He closed out LSU’s seemingly lost campaign in ’16 with six wins in eight games. Recruiting victories of his own and his new staff led to an influx of homegrown talent. Transfer quarterback Joe Burrow augmented that, and the Tigers started to come alive late in 2018.

There’s hardly any need to recap what happened in Baton Rouge the following year. Orgeron’s 15-0 Tigers stand as one of the inarguably legendary college teams ever assembled.

A Chance at Redemption in a Familiar Place

Orgeron is Cajun through and through, and nobody could help but love how proud he was to have the LSU gig. His familiar, ever-upbeat “Geaux Tigahs” punctuated every interview.

But Orgeron is also a fan of Pittman, the Razorbacks and of Fayetteville itself. He has more than a passing familiarity, given he spent a short spell as the Arkansas football’ assistant strength coach in the mid 1980s and that time made an impression him. And let’s not forget Pittman gave Odom a chance to prove Missouri was both wrong and hasty in dismissing him.

Maybe there’s a chance for Orgeron to start a personal comeback tour here, too.

Sure, it’s easy to think he wouldn’t want to jump back into the coaching waters with a $16.8 million buyout in hand. But a $15.5 million dollar buyout didn’t stop Will Muschamp from coaching for another SEC team just months after getting canned by South Carolina. Muschamp went from head coach in the SEC to defensive analyst, and the move has unquestionably worked out for him.

Kirby Smart, Sam Pittman’s former boss, saw an opportunity when an SEC head coach hit the open market and gave it his best shot. When it comes to Ed Orgeron, Pittman would be wise to do the same.

***

Next Razorbacks Defensive Line Coach

Here is a list of potential candidates for the next Arkansas football assistant coaching job. They would make a much smaller splash than Ed Orgeron, but would also be easier to get.

Joe Bob Clements (Oklahoma State)

  • In 2021, the Cowboys finished No. 5 in rush defense (87.6 yds/gm), No. 2 in TFL/Gm (8.1) and No. 1 in team sacks at 4.1/gm in the Big 12.
  • Has developed 13 players who went on to play in the NFL

Calvin Thibodeux (hired in December by SMU after 6 years at Oklahoma)

  • A proven recruiter, which Pittman loves (named one of Rivals’ top-25 recruiters of 2018 and ’19)
  • His 2020 unit was a big reason the Sooners ranked seventh nationally in sacks per game (3.4), ninth in rushing defense (105.1 ypg), 22nd in tackles for loss per game (7.4) and 29th in total defense (350.6 ypg).

Tray Scott (Georgia)

A Crossett, Arkansas native whom Sam Pittman knows from his time as the offensive line counterpart with the Bulldogs. In the last three years, Scott has led a unit that consistently ranks in the top 3 in the nation in rushing defense. The 2021 Georgia defense is one of the best defenses of all time, as Razorback fans can attest after seeing it what it did to Arkansas nearly midway through the season.

Tray Scott played at Arkansas Tech from 2003-07. Here’s his coaching career since then:

2008-10……………….. Arkansas Tech (Graduate Assistant. Def. Line)
2010-11………………. Arkansas State (Graduate Assistant. Def. Line)
2012……………………………… Ole Miss (Graduate Assistant, Def. Line)
2013-14………………………………. Tennessee-Martin (Defensive Line)
2015-16…………………………………….. North Carolina Defensive Line)
2017 – Present…………………………………….. Georgia (Defensive Line)

Greg Scruggs (Cincinnati)

A 31-year-old rising star who played for Super Bowl champions in Seattle and New England, Scruggs certainly would bring the recruiting acumen and energy that Pittman prizes. His defensive lines have been a big part in Cincinnati posting a 22-1 record over the last two seasons.

In 2021, the Bearcats ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense (16.1) and seventh in total defense (305.8). 

Brick Haley (Minnesota, after spending three years at Missouri)

This former Razorbacks GA appears to be the frontrunner among media at this point.

“He has strong ties to Barry Odom having coached the defensive line at [Missouri] from 2017-2020,” Arkansas football reporter Otis Kirk wrote on Pig Trail Nation. “Haley, 54, has made several stops in coaching among them LSU, Texas, Mississippi State and the Chicago Bears… He just got hired by Minnesota, but that didn’t prevent Pittman from hiring Cody Kennedy away from Southern Miss soon after being hired there.”

I’m not sure if Brick Haley would still be as energetic as the younger candidates on the recruiting trail, but he may also benefit from a recharged outlook after taking a year off.

Here’s his coaching background:

2022-present: Minnesota – Defensive Line
2018-19: Missouri – Senior Associate Head Coach/Defensive Line
2017: Missouri – Defensive Line
2015-16: Texas – Defensive Line
2009-14: LSU – Defensive Line
2007-08: Chicago Bears – Defensive Line
2004-06: Mississippi State – Defensive Line
2002-03: Georgia Tech – Linebackers
1999-2001: Baylor – Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
1998: Clemson – Outside Linebackers
1997: Houston – Outside Linebackers
1994-96: Troy State – Defensive Line
1991-93: Austin Peay – Defensive Line
1990: Arkansas – Graduate Assistant

See our latest post here:

Otis Kirk below discusses some of these top candidates, and also has some fun talking Ed Orgeron:

Another Razorbacks beat reporter, Tom Murphy, gives the latest here:

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