With two notable exceptions, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron wishes the best for Northwestern State, his alma mater.
One exception is tonight, when he leads his red-hot Tigers against the Demons. No-brainer there. But blood is also thicker than sheepskin, so he’s solidly in McNeese State’s corner when son Cody quarterbacks the Cowboys against Northwestern later this year.
“Very appreciative,” he said of his time on the Natchitoches campus. “The best thing that ever happened at Northwestern was I got my degree and I networked.”
Northwestern was his second choice after he left LSU a couple of weeks into his freshman season and eventually landed in Natchitoches where it seemed like a better alternative than working in ditches around Larose.
And it was a long and winding road that brought him to his dream job, where he has the Tigers (2-0) ranked No. 4 in the nation waiting on the Demons (0-2) to visit Tiger Stadium tonight.
But it all started in Natchitoches.
“I networked, and I met some people, and I got to get into college coaching,” he said. “For that, I’m very, very appreciative.”
That glosses over some of the rougher edges, of course.
Billy Laird, the father of Northwestern head coach Brad Laird, was the team’s offensive coordinator. It reunited Orgeron with high school teammate and future Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert.
He and LSU defensive line coach Bill Johnson sometimes reminisce about those old days.
Orgeron was known as BéBé back then, a ferocious four-year starter for the Demons, but also a young Cajun bull with penchant for busting up beer halls around campus.
It was Johnson, who played at Northwestern just ahead of Orgeron before staying on as a graduate assistant coach, who talked to then-Demons head coach Sam Goodwin about putting Orgeron on staff.
Orgeron had to sleep in what amounted to a closest in the football building, but he got into coaching.
Orgeron’s rambunctious side eventually wore out his welcome in Natchitoches.
But Johnson was there again, helping him land jobs at McNeese, Arkansas and then the big jump to the Miami Hurricanes staff headed by Jimmy Johnson.
“Bill helped me get to McNeese. He helped me go to Arkansas. He helped me go to Miami,” Orgeron said. “I’m very appreciative of that.”
Johnson took a different path, veering into the NFL where he coached for 18 seasons, including on the Saints’ Super Bowl winning staff.
The Monroe native is at LSU now, at Orgeron’s bequest, as an emergency replacement hurried in August after a severe knee injury sidelined defensive line coach Dennis Johnson.
But both, Orgeron said, are where they always wanted to be.
“We’re happy to be at LSU,” he said. “We always wanted to be at LSU. He’s been a Louisiana guy all his life. He’s been with the Saints.”
Now they’re staring right back at where it all began.
Facing the Demons isn’t new for Orgeron. He did it twice during his otherwise disastrous three-year stint as Ole Miss’ head coach, winning the two games 27-7 and 38-31.
Orgeron will be the sixth LSU head coach to face off against his former school.
Only Charlie McClendon, a Kentucky alum who played under Bear Bryant, has a winning record, going 15-3 against his alma mater.
Mike Archer of Miami and Bill Arnsparger of Miami of Ohio lost their only games against their former schools. Gerry DiNardo was 1-2 against Notre Dame and Curley Hallman was 0-4 against Texas A&M.