Lewis: Ed Orgeron set to enjoy autumn away from coaching

Ed Orgeron is celebrating his 53rd birthday Sunday.

But for only the second time in the past 40 years, the occasion comes without Orgeron’s being part of a football team, either as a player or a coach.

The recruiter extraordinaire, an assistant on four national championship teams, the one time head coach at Ole Miss and, most recently, interim head coach at Southern California, is spending the fall with his family in Mandeville, watching twin sons Parker and Cody, both juniors at Mandeville High, pursue their promising athletic careers in football and tennis respectively while unaccustomedly carrying out “honey-do” lists from wife Kelly.

But as for football, he’s pretty much sitting this season out.

Orgeron had missed many of those other opportunities during the past five years because Kelly and the boys, including stepson Tyler, now a student assistant at LSU, chose to remain in Mandeville — where they’d moved in 2008 when Ed was an assistant with the Saints — while he’d lived in hotels in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Los Angeles.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Orgeron said. “I get to be with my wife and my kids all the time, attending their practices, cooking them breakfast and doing all of those things.

“But I miss the players; I miss the camaraderie with the coaches. I miss waking up every day with the purpose. This is my one chance to do this though.”

If Orgeron has his way, that situation won’t last for long.

His plan — his hope — is to be a college head coach again next season. Failing that, Orgeron figures he’ll be a defensive line coach on either the college or NFL level.

Orgeron could have been doing the latter this fall. There were talks with Nick Saban at Alabama and “three or four offers,” made during a visit to the Senior Bowl in January, although Orgeron said it wasn’t a job-hunting expedition.

But basically the decision had been made back in early December that only another head coaching position would keep him out of Louisiana this fall.

That came about when Orgeron was passed over by USC despite guiding the Trojans to a 6-2 record after the dismissal of Lane Kiffin on the Los Angeles International tarmac following a 62-41 loss at Arizona State. During the press conference introducing new head coach Steve Sarkisian, Athletic Director Pat Haden called Orgeron “one of the greatest Trojans of them all.”

But Haden also indicated that decision to go in another direction than retaining Orgeron, who was considered the players and fans choice, was made well before the Trojans’ 35-14 loss to archrival UCLA.

Orgeron declines to talk about what happened, citing an agreement with the school that involves his contact, but his disappointment level was such that he departed immediately rather than remaining for the Las Vegas Bowl.

It still comes through in conversation. “I would have stayed at USC forever,” he said. “It’s the best coaching job in the world.

“It’s got a great family support atmosphere and some of the best athletes in the country are right in your backyard, even though you also can go after any recruit in the country because of the heritage and tradition. I had sort of a unique relationship there because people loved me for what I am.”

Indeed.

The gravel-voiced Cajun from Larose seemed an unlikely favorite in Tinsel Town, even though he’d earlier built his reputation, especially as a recruiter, during seven seasons at USC under Pete Carroll helping to restore the Trojans to the level of their past glories.

You know you’re “in” when good buddy Will Farrell is imitating you on the Dan Patrick Show (“It’s like Bobby Boucher meets Sling Blade”) and other movie and music stars drop by practice to talk to the team.

But, Orgeron concedes, that door is probably permanently closed.

So is, most likely, an immediate return to a head coaching spot at a high-profile school.

Going 10-25 in three seasons at Ole Miss doesn’t look good on a résumé, although Orgeron insists that he learned much about what a head coach needs during that time, lessons that showed during his brief tenure with the Trojans.

“I’m older and wiser now,” Orgeron said. “As head coach, you’ve got to coach the whole team and the whole staff.

“And most of all, you’ve got to let the players know how much you care about them.”

And if the right heading coaching job doesn’t open up, Orgeron is certainly willing to become an assistant again.

“Most guys have to take a step back at least once,” he said.

Either way, Orgeron knows about rebuilding a career.

Early on, he was forced to take a leave of absence from Miami to deal with alcohol and anger management issues. That turned into a year away from coaching in 1993 while his father helped him get his life straightened out.

The following season, Orgeron started over as a graduate assistant at Nicholls State, reaching USC for the first time four years later.

Today, Orgeron is a sober family man whose biggest regret is missing time with his wife and sons because of his chosen profession.

Mention getting to watch Cody win the Class 5A tennis championship last spring, and Orgeron pounds his chest with pride.

Parker is a promising wide receiver who is attending LSU’s select camp this weekend.

Orgeron didn’t get to see any of his games last season. He won’t miss one this time.

However, he is not serving a volunteer assistant for Mandeville, preferring to leave that to Skippers coach Guy Lecompte and his staff.

“I haven’t bought a ticket and sat in the stands in a long time,” Orgeron said. “That’s where I want to watch him play.

“I like being known as Cody and Parker’s dad.”

However, Orgeron isn’t totally distancing himself from other aspects of the game.

He plans some short trips to watch practices in August and, with his family, plans to make some LSU and Saints games this fall, although he looks forward to relaxing on weekends as well.

“Sundays used to be nothing but working all day,” he said. “Now I can get up, go to church, come home and eat some gumbo and watch football.”

Also, Orgeron and some similarly situated colleagues are working on a project designed to find ways to better defense the zone read.

Because that coaching itch never quite goes away.

“Football has been good to us,” he said. “We’re not worried.”