Over the weekend, news broke that LSU head coach Ed Orgeron had reached a “separation agreement” with the school, an agreement that will see him coach out the remainder of this year before leaving the program when the season ends. As embarrassing as the start of LSU’s 4-3 season has been, this still rates as a decent shock. Orgeron led LSU to a national title 21 months ago and he signed a six-year contract extension shortly after the Tigers wrapped up their perfect 2019 season. The school will have to pay Orgeron the $17 million left on his contract, though clearly they don’t mind paying a heavy premium to get Orgeron out and formally open up what will surely be the most desirable coaching job available during the forthcoming offseason.
Shortly after news of the separation broke, the Athletic published a long, detailed story on Orgeron’s tenure and the series of interlocking mishaps that ended it. Their story makes two things explicitly clear: Orgeron is a “volatile” man who created all sorts of problems for the team and administration through his deep stubbornness and reawakened horniness, and those problems never jeopardized his job security until LSU started to lose. This is not a new dynamic, not even within Orgeron’s very program. It’s not terribly surprising that all the dirt on Orgeron only really comes out after he’s on his way out the door. College football’s only priority, institutionally speaking, is winning. Ed Orgeron didn’t get shuffled out because he mishandled abuse allegations and angered his colleagues; he’s leaving LSU because he stopped winning enough for his issues to be ignored.
This is not to say that the issues themselves are not noteworthy. Shortly after LSU won the national championship in January 2020, Orgeron and his wife divorced. As someone identified as an LSU source told the Athletic, “Something that had priority in his life that didn’t have a priority before was talking to (women). That just became too high on the totem pole.” Orgeron allegedly started bringing women around various LSU facilities, and players and staff noticed that he was spending far less time on his job. It got to the point that he drew scrutiny from the most powerful people in the state:
It created messes for him, like the time Orgeron pulled up to a woman at a gas station wearing exercise attire. “Hey, you look like you work out,” he said, according to multiple sources. “We could work out together.” The woman informed Orgeron she was married and pregnant, to which he responded, “Why does that matter?”The Athletic
That woman was the wife of a high-ranking LSU official. Word of this reached the LSU Board of Supervisors, the collection of prominent Louisiana attorneys and business owners appointed by the governor who make the most important decisions at LSU.
Under Orgeron’s leadership, at least nine players were accused of sexual misconduct. LSU has been under federal investigation for its mishandling of sexual misconduct, and while many of the football-related incidents took place under Les Miles’s watch, Orgeron was named as a defendant in a lawsuit against the school by victims for allegedly failing to report information about a rape committed by then-LSU star Derrius Guice. A 74-year-old Superdome worker also says she came to Orgeron after Guice sexually harassed her, yet Orgeron didn’t do anything. Orgeron denied her claim and said he first learned about the incident from the school.
Orgeron followed his national title up with an awful 5-5 record and the worst defensive season in program history. Part of that downfall is because Orgeron hired Bo Pelini without taking the time to conduct a real search or even perform due diligence on Pelini. The Athletic reports he briefly lost the locker room following last summer’s protests against the murder of George Floyd when he refused to join the team as they protested and sent assistants to talk to his players instead of facing them.
Still, Orgeron cleaned up his coaching staff and convinced enough draft-eligible players to return for LSU to enter the season ranked. It was only after Orgeron’s team lost to UCLA that the knives started coming out for him. A prominent LSU radio guy and former Orgeron ally detailed a chair-throwing incident and told the story of when Orgeron confronted “LSU boosters at a fishing camp.” Losses to Kentucky and Auburn seemed to have sealed Orgeron’s fate, and he and the school began negotiating his exit even before this past weekend’s upset win over Florida. The school and its boosters kept faith in Orgeron through the personal misadventures and extremely serious Title IX investigations, yet a 9-8 stretch was enough to do him in. It’s an unfortunately neat representation of what really matters in college football.