Marx: For Orgerons, 'O' What a Night
Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Marx is the author of “Walking with Tigers: A Collection of LSU Sports Stories” and five other books. You can follow him on Twitter: @LSUTigersBook
For Ed Orgeron and family, his first Louisiana Saturday night as head football coach of LSU will long be remembered for all the good things that happened on the field at Tiger Stadium: his team’s 42-7 pounding of Missouri last night, the staggering 634 yards of offense (a school record against an SEC opponent), a dominant defensive effort that yielded no points until late in the game.
But the Orgerons of little Larose, La. – and now of Mandeville and Baton Rouge as well – will also forever cherish a special collection of once-in-a-lifetime nuggets sprinkled throughout their inaugural game night as the first family of LSU football.
First was a glorious walk down Victory Hill. Coach O – suited and booted and overflowing with joy (a self-declared “proud Cajun”) – led the traditional team walk as thousands of fans lined North Stadium Drive and shouted with encouragement. Coach O responded with a high-octane array of appreciation: alternately flashing “thumbs up” and pumping fists in the air, all the while sharing a warm smile that looked as if it might never fade away.
The pregame scene is always popular with fans. But this time Coach O had invited former LSU players to join in the walk – a nice way to link the program’s past with its present – and that added even more excitement than usual.
About fifty ex-Tigers participated. The group included All-Americans Ronnie Estay, Warren Capone, Tyler Lafauci, Kevin Faulk, Bradie James, Corey Webster, and Craig Steltz. It included long-ago fan favorite Dalton Hilliard and current NFL players Jalen Mills and Dillon Gordon (on a bye week for their Philadelphia Eagles). Several of the men carried a large banner with a proud message: “Once a Tiger … Always a Tiger.”
Before entering the locker room, Orgeron enthusiastically hugged and high-fived a good number of the former players. “Good to have you guys here,” he said. “GREAT to have you here!”
Corey Webster – one of the final guys who went face-to-face with Coach O – was moved by the moment.
“You could really see the excitement in his face, in his eyes,” Webster said. “Coach O, he was actually blushing, he was so excited. That was real. That was from the heart.”
When Orgeron walked onto the field before the start of warm-ups, one of the first people he saw was Marty Chabert, an old friend from – as they say – down on the bayou. The 60-year-old Chabert is a former state senator who grew up in Chauvin and used to watch Orgeron play football at South Lafourche High School. They’ve been friends their whole adult lives, and their families have always known each other.
Orgeron and Chabert shook hands and hugged.
Then Coach O, “Bebe” to Chabert, had an idea: “Let’s get this moment for our dads.”
Leonard Chabert died in 1991. Cancer.
Ed Orgeron Sr. died in 2011. Also of cancer. He left behind a lovely wife, Coco, who had soon before retired after running a furniture store for thirty-four years. Now 74, Coco still has a wonderful laugh, a magnetic burst that clearly announces her zest for life, and she still loves football as much as the men in her family. But, oh, how she misses her husband.
Standing by the edge of the north end zone, Coach O asked a photographer if he would take a picture for him. Orgeron and Chabert stood side by side and each pointed an index finger toward the sky – toward the men who first gave them life and then taught them how to live it.
Jacob Aranza, a 58-year-old minister who lives in Lafayette, was invited to the game by Coach O and his wife, Kelly. He first got to know them as an overseer of their church – Church of the King – in Mandeville. Then he started personally counseling them, praying with them, and he has done so for four years. They’ve become close.
Now, during pregame warm-ups, Aranza sought out one of the Orgerons’ three sons, 24-year-old Tyler, who works in player personnel for the LSU football program (and already did before his dad was promoted from defensive line coach).
Standing with Tyler on the LSU sideline, Aranza wanted Tyler to look at the big picture: Regardless of anything that might happen the rest of the night, no matter the outcome of the game, what a remarkable and beautiful thing it was just to be standing there at that moment. His dad had one of the greatest jobs in America, and what more could a son ask for than to be there – working with him, sharing it with him – right from the start.
“Let’s just thank God for this moment,” Aranza told Tyler.
And they did.
Two other pastors who’d come to the game with Aranza joined him and Tyler in a small circle, arms around one another, and they prayed.
“Just a moment to relax and have a little conversation,” Tyler said as soon as they were done. “This next sixty minutes is going to be very intense for our family.”
Intensity came quickly. It came in typical fashion: Ed Orgeron getting more and more fired up as the minutes before a game ticked down.
He had two primary messages written on a white board in the LSU locker room: “60 minutes” and “Energy” – the latter scribbled the biggest and twice underlined.
Coach O clearly was not waiting for the sixty minutes of game time to display his energy. He was pretty much bouncing off walls: slapping players on their shoulder pads; unleashing brief outbursts of encouragement (“Here come the Tigers, baby!”); stretching right along with a room full of college kids who would soon be engaged in battle; breaking only to greet a few visitors who wanted to wish him well.
One of them was reality TV star Jase Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame, in for the game from his hometown of West Monroe. His message for Coach O was simple: “Just be yourself. That way, if it works, you won’t have any trouble reproducing it.”
Orgeron also exchanged greetings and shared a hug with East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux.
“We’re going to make Louisiana proud, man,” Orgeron told the sheriff.
“You’ve already made us proud,” Gautreaux said.
It was almost time now.
Orgeron gathered everyone up: offense, defense, special teams. Everyone.
Pounding a football with his hands – always releasing energy – he stood before his team and put his gravel-filled voice to work: “Let’s go, baby! Let’s rock and roll!”
Orgeron tends to do that. He speaks in exclamation points – booming exclamation points wrapped in a Cajun drawl and a whole lot of love.
“Hey … hey … on the sideline … nobody sitting down! Energy! You’re either bringing energy or you ain’t. I want energy on the sideline! Get an IV after the game!”
Okay, there were actually a few additional words tossed in here and there, words that are best left in the locker room – and will be.
“…and make them say, ‘No Mas!’”
The players loved that – their barrel-chested Cajun coach screaming the Spanish phrase for no more – and that’s exactly what they wanted to do. They wanted to go so hard at their opponents that they’d ask for no more.
“No mas!” the players yelled back at Coach O. “No mas!”
“This is our house! This is your home!” Coach O shouted. “Make ’em pay! Make ’em pay! Let’s go! Sixty minutes!”
Things settled down for a team prayer.
Then Orgeron started right back at it – pelting his guys with more exclamation points: “One team! One heartbeat!” Coach O might end up elevating his favorite phrase into an official state mantra.
He was now in full throat, full frenzy, eyes wide, face red, veins challenged: “I want everybody to fight for their brothers tonight!”
Moments later, the LSU Tigers stormed out to the field, reaching up to touch the iconic “WIN!” bar mounted atop the double doors to the outside, and they did some shouting of their own: “No mas! No mas!”
Kelly Orgeron, along with sixteen family friends, watched from the head coach’s suite on the west side of the stadium. Early in the game, though, she was in viewing overload.
Being a football family can be difficult when your husband is embarking on one of the greatest experiences of his life and one of your sons – a college freshman – is at the same time playing in a game of his own.
Parker Orgeron, a wide receiver, was on a field in Lake Charles, playing for McNeese State in a game against Nicholls. The game was on television, but not in the Orgeron suite. Kelly felt that she had to keep the LSU game on in there.
Next door, though, in athletic director Joe Alleva’s suite, the TV was turned to the game in Lake Charles. That was because Alleva’s administrative assistant, Wanda Carrier, has a son on the Nicholls team, and her boss happily let her handle the remote control.
Glass paneling between the suites allowed Kelly to turn to her right and catch glimpses of her son’s game. Carrier also helped – as well as she could – by mouthing updates and flashing hand signals.
Kelly cheered hard for LSU and her husband. She also felt bad about missing Parker’s game. “Nineteen is my baby,” she said, referring to Parker’s jersey number, hints of both pride and sadness in her voice.
Soon thereafter, Wanda Carrier came rushing into her suite with an urgent announcement: “Quick, put it on the McNeese game. Parker just scored!”
“What?” Kelly said, jumping up from her seat.
Everyone scrambled for the remote control.
Within moments, Kelly stood in front of the wall-mounted TV as a replay showed Parker scoring the first touchdown of his college career: an eight-yard reception that put McNeese ahead 21-3 late in the first half.
“My baby!” Kelly said. She reached up and touched him on the TV. Then she turned away from the screen and threw up her arms in delight. “Yes!” she said.
Kelly and Carrier shared a lengthy hug – a pair of football moms clinging to each other with both joy and understanding.
Soon thereafter, with Kelly again locked in on the LSU game, Derrius Guice ran four yards for his second touchdown of the night, putting the Tigers ahead 14-0 with 8:34 left in the first half.
“Whoooo!” Kelly said. “I don’t know how much excitement I can stand in one night.”
There was plenty more excitement to come in Tiger Stadium.
“O” what a night.
“O” what a difference one week made.
The Tigers gave the scoreboard a workout. They had their best defensive game of the season. And the greatest football “O-rena” in America once again jumped with joy.
Coach Orgeron ended up jumping, too – literally jumping in the postgame locker room. Surrounded by his players, Orgeron jumped twelve consecutive times in celebration, bouncing up and down like a carefree child with too much sugar in his system, his players bouncing right along with him.
Once he was stable on the ground, his body steady but his mind and heart still racing with the adrenaline of victory, Coach O returned to the generation of exclamation points: “One team! One heartbeat! All day!”
“Hey, think about your preparation,” Orgeron told his gathered team. “Think about how hard you worked every day. You believed. You came together as a team.
“Hey, guys, this is a great victory. I want you to enjoy it. This is your victory. This is your team.
“You guys took accountability of your team. The sidelines! Offense! Defense! Special teams! How ’bout that coaching staff! Give ’em a hand!”
The players did – a combination of clapping and cheers filling the room.
“Hey, we just getting started,” Orgeron said. “Week one, we one-and-oh, baby!”
There was one remaining order of business.
Defensive back and senior leader Tre’davious White took the floor and presented a special game ball to his coach. In gold letters on white background it says, “FIRST WIN AS HEAD COACH.” And below that in purple: “HOLD THAT TIGER!”
“It’s been a hard week for us, with the sudden change, with Coach O coming in,” White told his teammates. “You know, a lot of people could’ve folded, man. But we stayed team.”
Orgeron said that the ball would go straight to his office for display.
“Coach deserved that,” senior offensive lineman Ethan Pocic said. “We’re all in it for Coach O. He’s brought a new energy. And we love it.”