As expected, Ed Orgeron was an absolute delight Wednesday at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. He spoke fondly about his time at Arkansas as an assistant strength coach on Ken Hatfield's staff.
Orgeron's eyes glowed and his smile widened when he was told trainer Dean Weber, at the Wednesday event, called him someone "who was their hardest worker and also had a lot of fun." In his heaviest Cajun drawl, he said, "I think that would be right. I did have a blast here. Everything about my time here was good."
Orgeron played at Northwestern State where he became friends with several coaches with Arkansas ties, including Brad Scott and John Thompson. It was those connections that led Hatfield to offer him a strength job. He said he was out of coaching at the time working in the shrimping business.
"I was on a shrimp boat when the call came," he said, indicating he was shoveling shrimp. "I said, 'Hold on a second.' Then, I threw that shovel in the gulf. I told them I'm coming."
Orgeron is out of coaching after Southern Cal changed staffs. He had served as interim head coach after Lane Kiffin's termination. He had previously worked as defensive line coach under Pete Carroll at USC, retained after the previous staff was fired. He had three seasons at Ole Miss as head coach before his last USC stint.
The native of Larose, La., south of New Orleans, got his break when Arkansas called. He worked two years under Hatfield, spending much time working with defensive coordinator Fred Goldsmith. He said he learned many defensive techniques from defensive line coach Wally Ake and Goldsmith.
The next job was at Miami, when good friend Tommy Tuberville suggested he take a graduate assistant post on Jimmy Johnson's staff. He said he still remembers the day Johnson asked him to come to his office for a visit.
"He said he was going to tell me his secrets to coaching," Orgeron said. "I told him I'd get my notebook. He said, 'You should be able to remember this one.' Then, he said, 'Get great players.' I said, 'I got it.'
"I learned a lot from Coach Johnson and Coach Carroll. They are both geniuses. I saw how Coach Johnson did it. He moved safeties to linebacker, linebackers to defensive ends, defensive ends to defensive tackles and defensive tackles to center."
Orgeron has spent the last two days on the Arkansas campus. He said he had a long visit with head coach Bret Bielema and studied the team at practice this week.
"I like what I saw," he said. "They've recruited and evaluated well. He is building a big, physical team here. You need to do one of two things, either build a big physical team or go for speed and the spread.
"He's got a darn good defensive line, a big offensive line and good tight ends. And, I love what I see here as far as facilities.
"It was wow. I love the weight room. Everything is right there. I went to practice the other day and it was windy and a storm coming. They just moved inside in a split second. Wow."
Orgeron was stunned to see the changes from 1987.
"I worked in the corner of the Broyles Center, the old weight room. I was jogging this morning by there and out popped Jeff Long from the door I would use. It was a great weight room then. We talked a little bit this morning."
Orgeron said he's close to a couple of UA staffers, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and linebackers coach Randy Shannon. He told a story about Shannon helping Cortez Kennedy shed weight as a player at Miami, going from 350 to 285 and becoming a millionaire after going to Seattle in the first round.
"He stayed with Randy," Orgeron said. "Randy chained the refrigerator door at night because that's when Cortez ate. He couldn't get any food at night staying with Randy.
"This is an excellent staff. I think Brett knows what he's doing as far as recruiting and evaluation. I know that Michael Smith is a good recruiter and will do well in Louisiana. I've known about Michael down there. I watched the team and I like them. This is one of the good SEC jobs."
Orgeron told the TD club about his first trip to Little Rock for an Arkansas game as a staffer. There wasn't room on the team bus for all the support personnel the day before the game. So it was suggested that he could ride a "special" bus on Saturday.
"I assumed it was something for prominent alumni, so I had my nicest Razorback shirt," he said. "I looked good. I got to that gus and got on, it was the cheerleaders, the recruiting girls and the dance team. I was the only guy, 25 and single, too. I said to myself, 'Yes!' "
Orgeron was known as "Hip Sled Ed" during his time at Arkansas for the work he put players through in conditioning. He said he got to know one future NFL executive in his early morning "discipline problem" classes.
"We had an outside linebacker named Steve Jones in the 6 a.m. sessions and I worked the dog out of him," Orgeron said. "I was told, that's Jerry's son. I asked Jerry who? Jerry Jones. Who is that? I figured it out."
Goldsmith taught him how to defend the option. It was easy.
"There was Steve Atwater in the back of the defense," Orgeron said. "And, he had Wayne Martin and Tony Cherico (in the defensive line)."
There was a question about what it would take for Orgeron to get back in coaching.
"That's easy," he said. "The one with the most money."
Actually, he said, it might be that he signs on as a recruiting coordinator and he didn't rule out an NFL job. But he knows that recruiting and the college game is one of his strengths.
"I learned about recruiting," he said. "You find out who makes the decision and that's who you recruit. And, you better evaluate. Those stars, they don't always tell the story. Great players develop out of zero stars, one or two. You hear about the five stars, but none of those guys come to school with an 'S' on their chest. Cortez Kennedy was 350. Warren Sapp was 220. You develop them."
State of the Hogs: Ed Orgeron
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