Dig Baton Rouge

The Bayou’s Bebe: Orgeron brings love for Louisiana to LSU job

Update: Ed Orgeron was hired as LSU’s head coach on Nov. 26.

Around the college football landscape, he’s Ed Orgeron—the fiery assistant coach that is among the best recruiters in the country.

But take a trip down to Orgeron’s hometown on the marshy bayous of south Lafourche Parish, and one will immediately discover the coach’s second persona.

To those folks, he’s simply “Bebe” (pronounced bay-bay) the French nickname he adopted from his father, who also was “Bebe” around friends and family.
It was in Lafourche Parish that Bebe’s passion was born.

Orgeron at South Lafourche High School. Courtesy of South Lafourche High School.
Orgeron at South Lafourche High School. Courtesy of South Lafourche High School.

It was there that the coach developed a deep love for Louisiana and its Cajun-oriented people—a bond that bleeds through the coach through and through as he paces the sidelines on Saturday afternoons and evenings every fall.

Orgeron is currently LSU’s head coach—a position he earned after the school parted ways with Les Miles.

How long he holds the job, no one yet knows. That will likely depend on how many games LSU wins in the final weeks of the season.

But for Orgeron, he’s enjoying it while it lasts – a life-changing moment for a Louisiana man who grew up dreaming of the day he’d lead the Tigers into battle.

“It’s special—it’s obviously special,” Orgeron said after leading LSU to a win against Missouri. “It’s obviously something that I dreamed about. It was good. We’re going to enjoy it. It’s a tremendous honor to be the head coach at LSU—a tremendous honor.”

The Bayou’s Bebe

It’s an honor that’s been many, many years in the making for the man they call Bebe.

Orgeron has been a football guy his whole life.

He’s always been pretty successful, too.

Bebe was an accomplished player at a young age—one of the strongest, most physical players of anyone his age in Lafourche Parish.

As a member of the South Lafourche High School football team, Orgeron used that physicality to be productive—one of the best linemen on the team.

Bebe was a starting offensive and defensive linemen for the Tarpons throughout his career—a key cog on a team that won the State Championship. Folks around those parts remember those days – all too well.

They remember Bebe as a top-flight player who was named to Louisiana’s All-State team in 1978. They remember a guy who wasn’t overly big, but who had a motor that allowed him to move players that were much bigger and taller than he was.

“He was incredibly physical,” Larose native Pete Adams said. “He was one of those guys that you could see they just couldn’t keep off the field. He was popular among his classmates, and he was one of those guys who just wasn’t afraid to hit, and it didn’t seem like he was too afraid to get hit, either. He just loved to be out there on the field.”

“He was a great player,” added Scott Bouzigard, who was a teammate of Orgeron on the championship-winning team. “He came a long, long way. We all knew that on the night of the game, he was someone we could count on.”

Many don’t know this, but after graduating from high school, Orgeron actually signed with LSU – the only school he said he wanted to play for out of high school.

But Bebe didn’t adjust well to life off the bayous. He got homesick, then quit the LSU team shortly after joining it. Bebe returned home, and his father told him that he was now an adult, so he had to join the workforce.
He worked alongside his pop at the local telephone company, digging ditches for eight hours a day to run cable wires. A few days into the process, Bebe said he remembered his love for football, and he wanted it back.

“I was miserable (digging ditches),” Orgeron said. “I had to get back out there.”

He did, and the next semester, he was at Northwestern State – the place he spent his entire college career.

Orgeron at Northwestern State. Courtesy of Northwestern State Media Relations.
Orgeron at Northwestern State. Courtesy of Northwestern State Media Relations.

He played with high school teammate and future NFL quarterback Bobby Hebert – the guy who talked him into joining the Demons’ team.

After a successful career, he got into coaching.

He’s been doing it ever since.

Long-time coach

Orgeron started his coaching career at Northwestern State in 1984. He was a graduate assistant.

He held the same job at McNeese in 1985 before getting his big break – an opportunity to be the strength and conditioning coach at Arkansas.

Bebe held that job for two seasons before quickly rising up the ladder to Miami – a job he held from 1988-92, working with the team’s defensive line.
At Miami, Orgeron was a rising star. The Hurricanes were loaded, and he coached Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland, Warren Sapp and even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Orgeron’s staff headshot from Miami in the early ’90s. Courtesy of Miami Media Relations.
Orgeron’s staff headshot from Miami in the early ’90s. Courtesy of Miami Media Relations.

But Orgeron didn’t handle the fame that well, and his career started to spiral out of control.

In 1991, a woman filed a restraining order against Orgeron, alleging that he attacked her multiple times. In July 1992, he was arrested for his role in a bar fight. After the incident, he took a leave of absence from coaching.

While he got his life together, he returned to Larose, and used tutelage from his father to lead the way.

“I think that time saved me,” Orgeron said in an interview in the Miami Sun Sentinel years after the incident. “I think getting my act together saved my life.”

He got back into coaching, and it didn’t take long for him to reach the pinnacle.

In 1994, he was a volunteer coach at Nicholls.

He then went to Syracuse and then to USC—a job he held from 1998-2004.

After that, Orgeron got his big break, and was asked to be the head coach at Ole Miss. That gig lasted just three seasons, but Orgeron helped show that it’s possible to recruit talented players to Oxford—a blueprint that Houston Nutt and then eventually Hugh Freeze followed in their philosophies.

After his departure from Oxford, Orgeron coached for the Saints, then for Tennessee and then again for USC—even rising to the school’s interim head coaching position in 2013.

He went 6-2, and many felt he should have gotten the job full-time.

But Bebe didn’t, and he admits that it hurt.

The sting sent him to where he always seems to end up when in times of crisis—right back to Louisiana.

Louisiana man relishes opportunity

Orgeron sat out the 2014 season.

He spent a lot of it watching his twin boys—Parker and Cody—play high school football. Both boys are now at McNeese State.

He said the break was much-needed, because it allowed him to recharge his battery.

“I watched more college football in my time off than I did when I was coaching,” Orgeron said during a radio interview with ESPN-New Orleans last year. “It give me my passion back. It gave me a chance to see it from a different perspective. I got a chance to see how other people were doing it.”

After the year away, Orgeron was a highly sought after commodity. He tried to go back to USC, but the Trojans weren’t interested. He then put out feelers to LSU, but wasn’t sure if the feelings were mutual. But then it happened.

“Coach Miles told me they wanted to have me on the staff,” Orgeron said. “So that was that. The next day, I was over there working.”

Orgeron coached the Tigers’ defensive lines in 2015 and helped mold several players—like Arden Key, Davon Godchaux and others—into future NFL commodities.

He endured the tough 2015 season, including the drama surrounding Miles job security. Orgeron said his focus for 2016 was to make the Tigers’ thin defensive linemen bigger and thicker.

“We need to stop the run better,” Orgeron said before the season. “When the weather gets cold and our schedule gets mean, we have to be able to throw opponents back. We didn’t do that last year. In fact, they threw us forward.”

Little did Orgeron know that once 2016 finally did get here, the LSU program would be his to mold.

Now, to prove oneself

The 2016 LSU football season started with a thud—a tough, hard-fought loss at Wisconsin.

Suddenly, Miles’ seat was as hot as ever.

After a couple wins, things started to boil when the Tigers mismanaged the clock and lost to Auburn, scoring the potential game-winning touchdown one second after time expired.

Athletic Director Joe Alleva made the decision to fire Miles after the Auburn debacle.

Orgeron was named the team’s interim coach, because of his experience in that position during his time at USC. At a team meeting designed to break the news to LSU players, Miles told them Orgeron was the right man for the job.

“There was no doubt that Ed could do great things for the team,” Miles said. “He’s a guy we always had great respect for. He’s a guy that the players could perform for.”

Orgeron as LSU's interim head coach. Photo by Sean Gasser.
Orgeron as LSU’s interim head coach. Photo by Sean Gasser.

Alleva gave Orgeron the option to either retain offensive coordinator Cam Cameron or replace him. Orgeron replaced him, and opted to get his offensive playcalling from other members of the staff. So far, so good.

In Orgeron’s first week on the job, he changed almost everything about the program. He shortened practices, increased the energy and opened up the team’s offense.

In their first opportunity to showcase those tweaks, LSU dismantled Missouri 42-7. The once-inept LSU offense was suddenly more modernized and successful. The Tigers gained a school-record 634 yards in the game – the most yardage any LSU team has ever generated in a conference tilt.

After the game, Orgeron said the day was one of the best of his life—a dream that’d come true for the Louisiana-born Cajun.

“It’s a tremendous day for the Tiger family,” he said. “I’m really proud of our players and our coaches for coming to work on Monday and believing in what we’re doing and our preparation on a daily basis.”

So now, the challenge is to try and secure the gig full-time. In November, LSU will battle Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Florida.

Reports out of Baton Rouge state that Orgeron will be a strong contender to get the job full-time. In LSU’s news releases, the Tigers don’t refer to Orgeron as an interim head coach.

And that’s just the way Orgeron likes it—exactly the way he always dreamed it’d be. Perhaps the only thing he’d maybe change is that instead of Ed, they’d call him Bebe.

“I’m not thinking about being the interim coach,” Orgeron said. “I’m here to be the head coach. I’m here to get a job done. … I want to be here. I plan to be here. I want to see this thing through.”

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