If athletic director Pete Boone was looking for the exact opposite of David Cutcliffe he found it in Ed Orgeron.
Orgeron was in Meridian a few days ago for an alumni meeting. By the time the evening ended I didn't know if he was our football coach or the head of the cheerleaders squad.
Where Cutcliffe was paternal, Orgeron was enthusiastic. Where Cutcliffe always shared the program with an academic representative, Orgeron took the entire evening by himself. Where alumni meeting speeches in the past were dominated by building academic facilities programs, grade point averages, academic achievment and enrollment counts with ten minutes of bland conversation about the football team thrown in, Orgeron held center stage for 30 minutes and there was only one subject, football. It was just what the alumni wanted to hear, with all due respect to President Robert Khayat and his past references to classrooms rather than stadiums.
And where the local alumni made reservations for 120, nearly 200 showed up to meet the new coach and hear what he had to say. After the way he lit their fire 200 chairs won't take care of the crowd at the next one.
I asked Meridian High School Coach Ed Stanley later if he thought Orgeron could recruit. Meridian this year has the largest number of potential Division I athletes in the state, at least 6. Stanley just smiled, extended his thumb, pointed it to the ceiling in the universal symbol of "can he ever" and shook his head "yes".
One evening in Orgeron's presence and I knew why he was named the best recruiter in the country last year in his job at USC.
We had a chance to talk. It went like this.
Are you going to be able to make do with what you found here at Ole Miss?
"There is no doubt. I think there are more and better athletes here in the South than there were in California. We found two good running backs here. We have speed at receivers. We have some possesion receivers. We have three tight ends returning. We feel pretty good about them. I feel pretty good about our quarterback situation. I think we have some athletes there. We're going to be fine there. The offensive line, losing Chris Spencer to the NFL hurt us a little bit, but we're going to replace him with a younger guy. We ought to be solid there. Defensively I was really surprised at the talent there. I think we've got some guys that are really good, especially at the linebacker position. Defensive line - we should be strong in the middle. We're sufficient at ends but we need to get better there and in the defensive backfield. Our kicking game is suspect because none of our kickers are in right now."
Most coaches taking over a new job like to give themselves a five year window of opportunity to build their program. Is that how you see it at Ole Miss?
"No. I'm not into five years. I'm into doing it now. I don't know if we can. We'll see. I'm not thinking about five years. I'm thinking about today. Getting better today. I'm into competing now."
You've been quoted as saying you would rather play the bigger name teams than padding the schedule with a bunch of Humpty Dumptys.
"I just think the higher your competition the more you can test your program. I like to play the best teams available. I'm into competition. I believe our practices, like our games, should be built on competition."
Of the opponents you really want to beat this year name me one, two and three.
"I can't say that. I want to win all of them. I don't feel any different about one than I do about another. It's about our football team and it's about competing."
You bring a great reputation as a recruiter. What is the secret of being a great recruiter?
"Being honest and hard work and getting to know people and showing them your program. And getting to know their needs."
There are portions of this state, East Central Mississippi being one of them, in which Ole Miss has not done very well recruiting in the past. Is it because we haven't worked those portions of the state very well?
"I don't know what happened here in the past but I promise you we will work every part of this state hard and we will do a great job of recruiting in Mississippi."
Is that a promise?
"That's a fact."
Give me an analysis of your recruiting this past year.
"I was pleased with the way we recruited Louisiana, the way we recruited Florida, the way we recruited Memphis. I was disappointed about some of the young men who were lost in Mississippi. We need to do a better job and we have done that so far."
The interview went on to other subjects. He does not like the ever increasing raising of academic standards because he thinks it denies some young athletes the opportunity to play football in college and especially in the South. Orgeron feels most of the kids signed for the 2005 Ole Miss class will qualify academically . Finally, we asked him to evaluate the facilities he found at Ole Miss.
"Fantastic. I've been at Miami, I've been at Syracuse and I've been at Southern California. No one has facilities that compare with this school. If someone has better facilities I'd like to see them. These are championship facilities in every sense."
So there you have it. The man loves his job, loves the school and loves the opportunity at age 43 to become a head coach at a major school in a major conference.
If I'd had any doubts about the future of Ole Miss football when I came to the meeting I didn't have any when I left. None at all.
The Rebels are in good hands.
Torgerson chats with Orgeron
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