How many games must LSU football's Ed Orgeron win to avoid hot seat in 2021?
BATON ROUGE — If LSU football coach Ed Orgeron's seat is not hot after a 5-5 season in 2020, it is at least warm.
That 15-0 national championship season in 2019-20, which came before COVID-19, cools things considerably for Orgeron, who will enter his fifth full season on Saturday when the No. 13 Tigers play at UCLA (7:30 p.m., FOX).
But there is always heat just behind the door, and he knows it.
"No question," Orgeron said as practice opened this month. "I do believe that we know we have to be a lot better than we were last year. That was not the LSU standard of performance. I think there's a little chip on my shoulder."
LSU returns all starters from 2020 but linebacker Jabril Cox, safety JaCoby Stevens, left tackle Dare Rosenthal and punter Zach Von Rosenberg, but some of the starters returning were reasons for the 5-5 season.
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"We feel that we have to improve ourself," Orgeron said. "That's just the way it is at LSU. Expectations are high, and we invite them."
Historically, LSU football coaches do not often return from back-to-back losing seasons, and a .500 season even during COVID-19 is close enough to a losing season. So would a 7-5 mark this season for the Tigers.
Former coach Les Miles never had a losing season, but he was fired after a 2-2 start in 2016 because of a slip to 8-5 in 2014 and a three-game losing streak late in 2015 that he never quite recovered from.
Orgeron has likely entered the Miles zone with last year's 3-5 start before the 5-5 finish.
"I don't care who you are or how many national championships you won, 5-5 is not acceptable at LSU," says Bobby Hebert, the former Saints quarterback and current Saints radio analyst who is one of Orgeron's closest friends, as they were teammates on South Lafourche's 1977 state championship team.
"He's got to win at least nine games to get back in everyone's good graces," Hebert said. "If he's around eight or seven, it could be bad. I'd be disappointed if he doesn't win nine or 10. I think they'll be that good. The natives will be restless with eight or nine. With 10, no one will be complaining that much."
Tim Brando of CBS and Fox Sports does not believe Orgeron is on a hot seat.
"He admittedly made some critical errors in judgment last season, but at his core he's still in fine shape," Brando said. "It's mystifying to me that he's seemingly close to any kind of hot seat. The bottom line is LSU's talent base and program culture seem to be better than people in and around Baton Rouge believe. And in today's climate, being two years removed from a national championship means little."
No coach in LSU history has had such a dramatic drop in win totals — 10 between the two seasons.
"COVID did have a lot to do with that," Hebert said.
Orgeron also might have lost part of the locker room last season, as several players protested against police mistreatment of Black people nationwide but did not inform their coach of a march to the president's office before the 2020 season.
"It’s completely different than the atmosphere last year," Orgeron said. "There were a lot of outside influences that caused negativity last year. And there was some stuff that we couldn’t control. I think none of that stuff is happening now."
LSU has experienced an atypical, uneventful August, and the team has been able to bond free of distractions.
"Last year everybody was off on different pages," senior defensive end Andre Anthony said. "Now, I feel we're definitely on the same page. Communication is there. That’s how a lot of stuff happened last year – lack of communication."
Orgeron took much of the blame for last season's disconnect with the locker room.
"I told these guys, you've got to promise me, 'If anything is going wrong, let me know first. If I can fix it, I will. Let's communicate,'" he said.
Orgeron has communicated better with new assistants — defensive coordinator Daronte Jones, linebacker coach Blake Baker, defensive line coach Andre Carter, offensive coordinator Jake Peetz, pass game coordinator DJ Mangas and offensive line coach Brad Davis.
"I hired some coaches who I didn't even interview from the last staff," he said.
Orgeron also just gave the defense to new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini before the 2020 season with disastrous results.
"I'm hands on this season," Orgeron said. “I’ve coached defense for 40 years. Last year I kind of stood out of it. This year I’m not. If I see something I don’t like, we’re not doing it."
Orgeron knows his hands could be the first to go.
"I was born in Louisiana," he said. "I understand LSU’s expectations and I said it when I was hired. I know exactly what LSU’s expectations are, and 5-5 doesn’t cut it.”
Hebert says a win over UCLA in the opener is vital. "It's a must win to set the tone," he said.
"UCLA is dangerous with (coach) Chip Kelly and a dual-threat quarterback (Dorian Thompson-Robinson)," he said. "If they get through that, they'll begin to roll, and 10 wins should suffice."
Several members of the LSU Board of Supervisors asked not to comment on the football coach's status in a departure from former ways.
"We wish Coach O the best," said board member Patrick Morrow of Opelousas. "We're behind him."