SCOTT: Clock ticking on Orgeron era

Ed Orgeron would insist the level of talent has improved in his three years at Ole Miss.

He would contend that the discipline is strong, that things aren't quite as bad as they seem, and that the program is following a five-year plan and better days are just around the corner.

While all of that might be true – and only history will tell the tale – Orgeron and the Rebels haven't done much to provide convincing evidence this season.

With the clock ticking on the season, the Rebels are 3-7 and 0-6 in the SEC headed into an open date, followed by a home game against No. 2 LSU on Nov. 27 and a game at surging Mississippi State on Nov. 23. Considering the way the Rebels, Tigers and Bulldogs have played over the course of the season, Ole Miss is in danger of finishing winless in the SEC for the first time since 1982.

It's no wonder why so many Ole Miss fans are starting to doubt whether or not Orgeron can get the job done – and whether or not he should even be given more time to prove himself.

The past month hasn't done much to help Orgeron's case. Sure, Ole Miss took Alabama to the wire on Oct. 13 and the Rebels will forever dispute the controversial call in the final seconds, but they still lost 27-24. Chalk it up as the latest in too many moral victories under Orgeron.

Any good feelings that came out of that loss were totally eviscerated the next week when the Rebels lost to Arkansas 44-8 – at home. Even though Ole Miss did play relatively well on Oct. 27 in a 17-3 loss at Auburn, a loss is still a loss.

Other than losing, the worst thing that came out of the Auburn game was the absence of defensive end Greg Hardy, a talented-but-enigmatic sophomore who led the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss before getting himself suspended before the Auburn game. When Orgeron and Hardy met on the Monday after the Auburn game, Orgeron told Hardy he was suspended indefinitely and barred him from all team-related activities for the rest of the season.

Hardy's suspension isn't due to any one thing in particular. Instead, it can be attributed to a pattern of behavior that includes missed meetings, missed weight lifting sessions, and arriving late to meetings and practices.

Ole Miss linebacker Tony Fein told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger two weeks ago, "He skips to his own beat," while Orgeron called Hardy "high strung." That's a nice way of saying Hardy puts himself ahead of the team and no matter how talented he is Orgeron can't afford to let him have free run outside team rules and expectations.

"We do have team rules, and we do have consequences for breaking team rules," Orgeron said. "I stick to those team rules regardless of the young man that commits them."

Orgeron supporters look at Hardy's suspension, as well as the recent one-game suspensions of starting offensive linemen Corey Actis and John Jerry, and insist Orgeron has a strong hold on his program. Critics contend that Orgeron can't control his players and that his team is falling apart.

The day after Hardy's suspension, former Ole Miss graduate assistant Matt Saunders, who coached Hardy at Briarcrest Christian, responded with an online comment on The Commercial Appeal's Web site.

"The thing people need to understand about Greg is that he walks to a different tune," Saunders wrote. "He is young and immature, and he is only 18 years old. But instead of going out partying and doing drugs like other athletes do, Greg is usually playing basketball at the Turner Center, staying out of trouble. So if Ole Miss wants to suspend a kid because he missed some meetings and practices ... feel free to do so.

"But to hold double standards for other players on the team, the ones who regularly miss class, abuse drugs, and party ... with just a slap on the wrist ... they are wrong. I have seen this stuff with my own eyes, and the reason I am not down there anymore is boiled down to one fact ... Coach O does not know how to treat a human being with any class or dignity ... because he has none himself."

In response, Orgeron said, "I can't comment on any of that stuff. We're really busy here working on our football team, stuff that matters. I'm really focused on that."

While Saunders brought criticism, Orgeron received much-needed support from Ole Miss president Robert Khayat and athletic director Pete Boone. Of course, those two men hired Orgeron and they need him to succeed. The talk in Oxford is that neither Khayat nor Boone is on solid ground with Ole Miss supporters.

"I'm very high on Ed Orgeron," Khayat said. "(I'm) very loyal and supportive to him and committed to him."

Boone added, "He will be our coach next year."

In a story by The Associated Press, Orgeron admitted that some things have not gone as he expected from the moment he took the job. He came to Ole Miss from USC, where he served as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. Orgeron didn't bring any experience as a head coach or major college coordinator, but Khayat and Boone were attracted to his Louisiana background, recruiting prowess, and fiery personality; but the media quickly learned of past alcohol problems that cost him his job at Miami in 1992.

"I get here and it's just negative, negative, negative, negative," Orgeron said.

At his first team meeting, Orgeron ripped off his shirt and challenged his new players, who didn't see it the way the Trojans saw it when Orgeron led them through a "SC-Wild Bunch" cheer. Instead, word leaked out and the stunt quickly went public.

"We got ridiculed for it here," Orgeron said. "I didn't understand. I really didn't. That really freaked me out. I mean, what's wrong? And it really irked me that a lot of the things I said came from someone in that room."

Orgeron even has a song dedicated to him, but it's hardly flattering. A Memphis radio personality wrote the "Coach O Song," making light of Orgeron's gravelly voice, Cajun accent, and the questionable decision to sign Brent Schaeffer out of junior college and establish him as the starter before he ever stepped foot on campus. When Schaeffer struggled throughout the 2006 season, the blame ultimately fell on Orgeron's shoulders.

The heat really started to rise under Orgeron in the third game of this season when Vanderbilt whipped Ole Miss 31-7. Along the way, the joke around the SEC refers to the weekly Lincoln-Financial game as The Ole Miss Network.

No hot seat would be complete without its own Web site. In this case, made its debut on Oct. 3 and isn't exactly doing Orgeron any favors. Critics found more ammunition to question Orgeron on Saturday when the Rebels allowed 17 fourth-quarter points and had to hang on for an unimpressive 38-31 victory over Division I-AA Northwestern State. Orgeron is now 10-23 at Ole Miss, 3-19 in SEC games.

"We're right in the middle of something," Orgeron said. "We played very close to some top teams. A couple more recruiting classes, and I know I can get the job done I was brought here to do."

Whether he will get that opportunity at Ole Miss remains to be seen, but if Khayat and Boone have their way, Orgeron will be back for another shot in 2008.

"Unless something completely insane happens – and I mean like breaking the law or something – he will be our football coach next year," Khayat said. "It's not going to have anything to do with wins or losses this season. We believe he's taking this program in the right direction."


Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and Tiger Rag's SEC expert. Reach him at

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