Commentary: Orgeron's staff shaping up

While nothing is "official" yet, several coaches on Coach Ed Orgeron's new staff are already recruiting on behalf of Ole Miss. From what we know and from the brief contact we've had with each new mentor, Rebel fans are going to be impressed with the men charged with the guidance of the grid program.

Our interaction with members of the new coaching staff has been brief. A "bump" here, a call there, a brief interview with a couple.

But if first impressions mean anything, the staff Rebel Coach Ed Orgeron has put together has a chance to be dynamic.

Despite some premature panic by a handful of Reb fans, Ed has taken his time to hand-pick coaches who have a blend of experience and youth, but the common denominator that has been apparent in our brief encounters with them is they share Orgeron's passion for the game and their profession.

You can feel it. You can sense it. You can almost taste it.

As soon as Ed was hired, he had a few names in mind who were already lined up. Shawn Slocum, who will probably coach the secondary; Joe Cullen, who will coach the defensive front; and Frank Wilson, who will mentor the running backs.

Coupled with keeping Tight Ends Coach Matt Luke - and briefly Jay Hopson before he accepted the defensive coordinator position at Southern Mississippi - off the former staff, almost half of his staff was done immediately.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Slocum, R.C.'s son, Cullen, who did stints with Gerry DiNardo and Tommy West, and Wilson, a highly-regarded high school athletic administrator/coach in the New Orleans area.

Slocum and Ed knew each other from a coaching stint Shawn had at Southern Cal. Obviously, he knows Slocum well and has placed a great deal of faith and trust in him as it is thought Shawn will be the assistant head coach as well as secondary coach. Slocum, who has a degree in architecture, is extremely bright and personable. His communication skills jump out at you even in a casual conversation. Slocum got out of coaching when his Dad was fired at Texas A&M a couple of years ago, trying his hand as an architect, but found out pretty quickly that his passion was still in coaching. We've been told when Ed got in the hunt for the Rebel job that Slocum was the first assistant he called. Again, if you can legitimately draw valid conclusions from first impressions, I can see why.

It just so happens I met Cullen at the same time I met Slocum. He was equally impressive and was willing to sit down and do a short interview in the middle of his Ole Miss acclimation.

According to Joe, he and Ed shared a common thread in both looking up to the same defensive line coaches - John Teerlinck, who won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos, and Ron Marinelli of the Tampa Bay Bucs, who are regarded in the profession as DL gurus.

"We would go to their practices and summer camps," said Cullen. "Ed and I became fast friends because we are a lot alike. We coach the same way - with the same style and the same intensity. When he got the job here he called me and told me to get on a plane. I booked the first flight. We are both 'tough love' kind of coaches, who demand the very best on and off the field. We are high energy coaches - we both take pride in that and that is why we hit it off so well in the past."

Both believe the energy of the defense starts up front. "Our motors will never stop - I promise you that," Cullen stated. "We will create havoc up front and we will be the leaders of the defense."

Wilson was the first of two African-American coaches Orgeron hired. In a chance meeting, Wilson also makes a good first impression - sharply dressed, professional, bright. We've heard from a second-hand source that none other than Archie Manning thinks highly of Frank and believes he will make a major impact in the recruitment of Louisiana. That's endorsement enough for us.

Of course, every Reb we have talked to is elated over the retention of Matt Luke. He will fit right in with Orgeron - high energy, passionate about his craft, relentless recruiter. But what hasn't gotten the play it deserves is how Matt - and brother Tom Luke, the on-campus recruiting coordinator, Director of Football Operations Steve Cheatam, Recruiting Assistant Kent McLeod and, for a couple of weeks, Hopson - were major factors in holding things together during the two-week coaching search and beyond while the new staff was/is getting in place and acclimated. Many kudos to all of them.

The first four assistants were the "easy" part. From there, Ed had to throw out some far-reaching nets to identify and capture the rest of his assistants.

With his background being on defense, Orgeron filled up that side of the ball with Linebackers Coach Charlie Camp from Oregon State.

A 1996 grad of Arizona who started over 30 games at LB during his college career, Camp comes to Ole Miss with NFL and college credentials. His M.O. is also that of a "fire-breather," even though he is in his early 30s age-wise. From what we have been able to pick up through various sources, the hiring of the New Orleans native should produce Rebel linebackers who play with abandon. He was the second of two African-American coaches hired by Orgeron.

The offensive side of the ball took Ed longer to fill. First, he had to setlle on an offensive coordinator. With some collaboration with the administrators at Ole Miss, Ed narrowed his list to several candidates and had extensive talks with all. After several long conversations with former Ole Miss OC and most recently NC State OC Noel Mazzone, Ed made an offer Mazzone could not refuse. (Mazzone never wanted to leave Ole Miss in the first place and has always harbored a desire to come back.)

That decision was met by some of the Ole Miss faithful with mixed emotions. Although most acknowledge Mazzone's prowess with quarterbacks and his success in recruiting, some were quick to point out a lack of productivity in the red zone during his stint at Ole Miss with Tommy Tuberville. That premise can be debated from now until eternity. One camp says Mazzone - during the Rebs' probation-strapped times - did not have the talent available to make much happen when the going got tough inside the opponents' 20. Another camp of Rebels points to his dismissal at Auburn under Tuberville and the aforementioned red zone failures at Ole Miss. I have kind of excused myself from that "debate" for two reasons. One, I am personal friends with Noel and cannot be real objective (I'm elated to have him back at Ole Miss and feel the positives outweigh the negatives by a wide margin). Two, I know the kind of research Ed did in this hire and feel it is close to crazy to support Ed - which it seems most Rebels do - but not support his hires.

Some Rebs have implied Mazzone's hire was "forced" on Ed. I know that is simply not true. Ed asked for help and Noel was recommended by the administration as a viable candidate, but the final decision was Orgeron's. The administration took some heat during the hiring process. Fine - it did seem to take a long time. But I have gotten no indication - and I have been on the inside of this deal from the jump - that any of the powers that be have tried to dictate or hamstring Orgeron with who he wanted to hire.

With that issue settled, Ed jumped at the opportunity to hire Wide Receivers Coach Matt Lubick, the son of Colorado State Coach Sonny Lubick. While still a young gun in the profession, Lubick coached under Dennis Erickson at Oregon State before going to CSU and he brings a reputation as an excellent recruiter to the table. For you single lady readers, Lubick, who will be 34 this month, and Cullen, are single, which has absolutely no bearing on their coaching ability! It is widely thought that Lubick was also a top choice of Mazzone's in terms of bringing a West Coast flare to the offense. (Mazzone and Orgeron have been talking extensively about offensive coaching candidates, we were told.)

The final piece to the offensive puzzle was the offensive line coach. Again, Orgeron and Mazzone put their heads together and came up with a list of candidates that have been documented on this site. They finally agreed on veteran OL Coach George DeLeone who has been at Syracuse for 20 years and was also the Associate Head Coach of the Orangemen. In his mid 50s, DeLeone brings a great deal of experience and maturity to the staff. He served as offensive coordinator at Syracuse for several years and helped in the development of the offense that featured Donovan McNabb, now the star of the Philadelphia Eagles. He has also been a QB coach and a defensive coordinator at Syracuse. Impressive resume', to say the least.

It is believed, but has not been verified, that Dennis Slutak, who is Orgeron's right hand man with special teams coordination at USC, will be the ninth and final member of the new staff. We feel pretty certain Slutak will be on the staff, but we aren't sure in what capacity. Will he be special teams coordinator? Will he help Slocum with the secondary? At this point, we don't know, but if Ed has that kind of faith in Slutak after working that closely with him at USC, we trust his judgment.

There are still some unanswered questions around this staff. Who will be the recruiting coordinator? Ed, Shawn and Lubick, that we know of, have that experience. Who will be the special teams coordinator? Ed and Shawn, off the top of our heads, have done that before and Slutak seems to be in line for some of that duty as well.

But even with some info in limbo, we tip our hats to Ed in the hiring of his new staff. Every assistant we have had the pleasure of talking to has said their decision was easy - they wanted to work for Orgeron and they wanted to work at Ole Miss.

All pointed to the "energy" level and the passion for football that will be vital to winning and will be apparent to all fans under Orgeron. They all have marveled at Ole Miss' facilities and are grateful for the opportunity to coach in the SEC.

Again, not a word of this commentary is official and there is a slight possibility we could be off on a hire, but even if that is the case, we like the balance of those we are sure of.

The feedback we have gotten from a lot of different sources is positive. This staff is something for all Rebels to get excited about.

That's how we see it. Sit back and enjoy the fruits of the new staff's labor.

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