Joe Burrow was on a recruiting visit to Louisiana. As a kid from Ohio, he wanted a taste of the local culture. And if anyone knew Louisiana culture, it’s Ed Orgeron, the LSU coach who grew up in bayou country and now leads the state’s beloved football program. So when the pair went out to dinner in May, Burrow anticipated the ultimate in local cuisine: crawfish.
The only problem: The menu at Mike Anderson’s restaurant didn’t include crawfish.
“I was looking forward to having crawfish in crawfish country,” Burrow said.
Orgeron made a call. Mike Anderson Jr. answered.
“Being in the business for a while,” Anderson said, “we have some vendors who can get that stuff when you need it in a hurry.”
One call led to another, and sure enough, 15 pounds of crawfish landed at the table for Burrow and Orgeron. They finished it all.
Burrow, LSU’s Heisman-winning quarterback, told that story last month, and fans loved it.
Start asking around, though, and this is hardly the only Orgeron anecdote worth retelling. Friends in Lafourche Parish in Louisiana remember the wild days of Orgeron’s youth, when it took a summer shoveling shrimp on a boat to convince him to finish college. Orgeron’s legendary energy is a popular topic, too, with Tommy Tuberville remembering how they used to pack coffee grounds under their lips like chewing tobacco to stay caffeinated during Miami’s hectic practices.
With Orgeron on the brink of bringing a national title to LSU (the Tigers face Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship game Monday on ESPN), we talked with more than a dozen of his friends, family and players about his highs, lows and, of course, food.
Coco Orgeron, mother
As a kid, Ed Orgeron was pretty much just as he is today.
“He’d wake up at 6 a.m., and it was go, go, go,” his mother said.
He’d watch Roy Rogers in the morning, and then it was off for a day of sports. Orgeron was always outdoors, and usually the majority of the neighborhood kids were playing just outside his porch, where his mother would sit, swing and read a book, watching the kids play.
When Ed was in second grade, however, the fun hit an abrupt ending. He broke his leg. The doctor fitted him for a cast that ran nearly all the way up his thigh. Within a week, however, Ed had figured out a way around the problem.
“He learned how to play football with the cast on, with crutches,” his mother said. “We had to go in to the doctor nearly every week to get the cast changed.”
The doctor begged Ed to take it easy, but that wasn’t happening, so the process simply repeated itself every few days, with Ed and Coco showing up at the office, the mud-crusted cast coming off and a new one going on. Then it was back to football.
“You should’ve seen how fast he could go on those crutches,” his mother said.
Bobby Hebert, high school and college teammate
Hebert and Orgeron grew up just a few miles apart, and they won a state championship together in high school in 1977. Hebert pulled out a photo of that team the other day, he said, and he was struck by how they all looked back then.
“We were all hippies,” he said. “We had the long hair like Trevor Lawrence. That was no clean-cut Marine team.”
After Orgeron quit LSU (he left school the summer after his freshman year and returned home) and worked the shrimp boats for a summer, he decided to return to school at Northwestern State University, where he roomed with Hebert.
“His dad dropped him off and just said, ‘Make sure he gets up in the morning and goes to class,'” Hebert said.
Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU offensive lineman
Before games, LSU has a team meeting in which the Tigers hold a “Call Out Session.” It’s essentially a pep rally in the team hotel. Orgeron is always the star, but there’s one session from last season that stands out.
“Coach O comes in to try to get us fired up. He’s carrying two Red Bulls,” Cushenberry said. “He rips his shirt off and shotguns both Red Bulls. Everybody was fired up after that.”
Pete Carroll, former USC head coach
USC was looking for a new head coach in December 2000, and Carroll interviewed. He decided to stay in Los Angeles, mostly waiting to hear whether he’d land the job. There was a high school championship in Anaheim that weekend, so he went.
“I’m on the field, and I hear, ‘Hey, Coach Carroll,'” he said, doing his best impression of Orgeron’s Cajun accent.
The two spent the next few hours talking. Orgeron knew every player on both teams in the game, had scouted them and knew details about all the best recruits.
“And I just knew that this guy was going to bring me something that I couldn’t get otherwise,” Carroll said.
Tommy Tuberville, former Miami (Fla.) assistant coach
Jimmy Johnson hired Orgeron at Miami, despite a lack of on-field coaching experience, but he loved the guy’s energy. What quickly became clear, however, was that Orgeron’s energy was matched by his acumen on the defensive line. He simply loved coaching technique.
Tuberville and Orgeron were both young and single at the time, so they’d vacation together, and inevitably, talk would turn to football, and from there — well, it could get heated.
“We’d be at dinner in some restaurant in Key West, and he’d get down in a three-point stance to explain some technique,” Tuberville said. “In hotel rooms in Costa Rica, he’s going all-out.”
Tuberville said the attention to detail carried over to the practice fields, where Orgeron would often line up against his own D-linemen — Russell Maryland, Warren Sapp, The Rock — and run drills without any pads or protection. He’d come away bruised and bloodied.
Kyle Fetterly, Syracuse head equipment manager
One year, Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni decided he wanted to start two-a-day workouts earlier, so he scheduled practice for 5:45 a.m. That meant the equipment staff had to arrive at 4 a.m. Sure enough, Orgeron was right there with them.
Orgeron was always the first guy in, full of energy, and he’d work out on the field just before practice — sit-ups, push-ups, chin-ups, squat thrusts. One day, one of Fetterly’s assistants stopped him.
“Coach, you’re in good shape. Why do you do all this?” he asked.
Orgeron looked stunned. To take a day off would mean falling behind, and that’s not something Orgeron would ever do.
“Son,” he said, “the day I can’t whoop a man’s ass is the day I don’t get out of bed.”
Rashard Lawrence, LSU defensive end
The Tigers were practicing during the fall of Lawrence’s freshman season in 2016. He wasn’t playing much, and he was still getting a feel for Orgeron, who could be intense with his defensive linemen.
The details of what happened that day are a bit sketchy, but suffice it to say, defensive tackle Christian LaCouture accidentally clocked Orgeron in the face during a drill. Blood poured out of Orgeron’s nose.
“He just wiped it off and kept going like nothing happened,” Lawrence said. “Coach O, he can take a lick.”
LaCouture is now a member of Orgeron’s staff, working as a graduate assistant.
Tyler Spotts-Orgeron, son
Tyler was maybe 10. His younger brothers, twins Cody and Parker, were 4. It was a Saturday in California, and they were bored. They made the mistake of telling their father.
“On my in-home visit, the first thing he asked was, ‘Mama, where’s the gumbo?'”
LSU safety Grant Delpit
“He didn’t like that too much,” Spotts-Orgeron said.
So off they went to the local high school, and they ran defensive line drills for an hour, hitting bags and doing get-offs. If LSU’s current crop of linemen become exhausted by a workout now, Spotts-Orgeron makes sure to tell them he was running the same drills when he was 10.
“And I learned never to tell Dad that I’m bored on a weekend again,” he said.
Grant Delpit, LSU safety, and Bobby Hebert
The key to recruiting, Hebert said, is that Orgeron always knows how to connect with the moms. He’s a genius at convincing them that he’s the right guy to take care of their boys.
“On my in-home visit,” Delpit said, “the first thing he asked was, ‘Mama, where’s the gumbo?'”
Said Orgeron: “If I’m doing 20 visits, I’m expecting 20 gumbos.”
Austin Deculus, LSU offensive lineman
Ed Orgeron reflects on LSU’s historic season ahead of their matchup with Clemson for the national title.
Deculus had just been big-game hunting in Texas with his father before Orgeron came to visit during recruiting. Deculus and his dad shot a buffalo and had the meat shipped to them in Louisiana. They had enough for nearly a year’s worth of food — steak cuts, sausage, pretty much anything. But for Orgeron’s visit, Deculus whipped up some bison chili.
“Coach O had five bowls,” he said.
Ja’Marr Chase, LSU receiver
“We stopped what we were doing, went into the coaches lounge and ate it immediately,” Chase said.
Ken Hatfield, former Arkansas head coach
Orgeron got his first job — as an assistant strength coach at Arkansas — because he was big and loud.
The problem, Hatfield said, was that after Orgeron had the players’ attention, no one was quite sure what he was saying. The thick Cajun accent and the guttural, gravelly voice often left players simply running in whatever direction Orgeron pointed, hoping they were doing what he’d asked.
The older guys just told them, “Do what the guy ahead of you is doing, and you’ll be OK,” Hatfield said.
John Bel Edwards, Louisiana governor
Edwards met Orgeron over dinner in 2017, and the two became fast friends. Edwards chalks it up to Orgeron’s enthusiasm. It’s infectious. More than that, though, it’s genuine.
Edwards was Orgeron’s guest at the Heisman ceremony last month. Edwards was sitting next to Orgeron’s wife, Kelly, when Joe Burrow took the stage to accept the award. Burrow talked about the LSU program, his teammates, how thankful he was that Orgeron took a chance on a transfer QB from Ohio. When Edwards looked over at the coach, Orgeron was crying.
“Some people, when they speak out, especially when they do it over and over again, you can question how genuine and authentic they are,” Edwards said. “I don’t know anybody who knows him well who thinks he’s insincere. He’s as genuine a person as you’ll ever know.”
This past August, Coco Orgeron turned 77. Her son called on her birthday, and she shared a thought that had occurred to her earlier that day.
Orgeron’s high school team won a state title in 1977. His uniform number was 77. And now she was 77, too.
“This is your year,” she told him.
“Mom,” he said, “we’re going to have the best team this year. I have a great feeling.”
Coco smiles about it now, enjoying the coincidence.
“But then,” she said, “I always thought he was going to be successful.”
ESPN.com’s Brady Henderson contributed to this report.