Orgeron and Oxford

The rest of Tennessee's football team celebrated homecoming last weekend vs. Memphis. Assistant coach Ed Orgeron observes it this weekend at Ole Miss.

Orgeron will be returning to his former coaching home when the Vols visit Oxford for Saturday's game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It's sure to be an emotional time, since he was the Rebels' head man from 2005-2007. His tireless work on the recruiting trail set the table for Ole Miss but he didn't get to stick around for the meal.

Cut loose after just three seasons at the helm, he watched the players he left behind go 9-4 in 2008. Being the proud man that he is, Tennessee's first-year assistant head coach/defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator has got to be fired up about facing his former team.

"Well, I'm sure," UT head coach Lane Kiffin said this week. "That's natural for any of us. I think if you've been fired, if you ever went back to the place that you were at it's going to be a big deal to you, especially when you brought so many great players there and worked so hard - as we all know he does - to try to build that place right. It's a big deal for him."

Orgeron is unavailable for interviews this week but his words are reverberating across the practice field. His movements are animated and decisive. His energy and enthusiasm are boundless. But that's nothing new.

"Has that changed this week? No, because he is the first guy here everyday doing a phenomenal job with our defensive line, phenomenal job with our discipline and obviously has done a great job already with our recruiting," Kiffin said. "It has not changed his energy or his work ethic this week."

Linebacker Herman Lathers agrees that Orgeron is pumped, but no more so than usual.

"I don't see anything different," he said. "Coach Orgeron is always jacked up at practice. He might be a little more jacked this week than usual but he's always jacked."

Knowing Orgeron's history with Ole Miss, the Vols are solidly behind the Vol aide this week.

"We understand this is a big game for him," Lathers said, "so we're going to go out and execute for him."

Junior defensive end Chris Walker echoed those sentiments, noting: "We want to go down there and get a win for Coach O because he was there. He recruited a bunch of us there. We're going to go to work this week and watch a lot of film so we can go down there and play really well for him."

With a 5-4 record and a bowl bid on the horizon, Tennessee's players already have plenty of motivation to beat Ole Miss. Still, their affection for Orgeron will provide some added incentive this weekend.

"He's really intense, as everyone can see," Lathers said. "He's a real family person. He cares about his family, and treats us like we're in his family. I really love him for that."

Walker loves him, too.

"He's an awesome coach to play for," Walker said. "He teaches us the details of things we haven't learned since we've been here. He teaches us the little things that are going to get us sacks and tackles for loss. Just seeing the energy he coaches with is something that's really fun for us."

The Vol end grew to respect Orgeron during the recruiting process. In fact, the Memphis native vividly recalls how difficult it was telling "Coach O" he had chosen UT over the Rebels.

"Coach O and I had a really good relationship but it came down to me telling him I didn't want to be that close to home," Walker said. "It was pretty hard for him and he tried to talk me out of it. We had a really good relationship and it was really hard telling him 'Thanks but no thanks' but I had to do it."

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