LAROSE, La. • A cardboard likeness of Ed Orgeron, wearing a purple polo with gold LSU lettering, stands in an entertainment parlor at the home of one of his childhood friends.
The life-size cutout was displayed a couple years ago at a celebration dubbed “Coach O Day” in the predominantly Cajun south Louisiana community where Orgeron grew up, a place where everyone seems to have a nickname and shares stories in the same Cajun French-influenced accent synonymous with the raspy-voiced coach.
Don “Noochie” Adams now has the keepsake in his house, which is surrounded by towering cypress trees and sprawling live oaks just down the street from Bayou Lafourche – a waterway where the distinctive outriggers of shrimp boats rise above the banks.
This is where Orgeron’s long, circuitous football life began.
“Bebe loves the community,” said Adams, referring to Orgeron by his childhood nickname, pronounced BAY-BAY. “He never forgot about the bayou. It oozes out of him. He never changed.”
Cajun pride is swelling in Lafourche Parish now that the former two-way lineman at South Lafourche High School, who won a 1977 state title with the Tarpons, is on the brink of capping off arguably the LSU Tigers’ greatest season in the program’s 126-year history with a national title.
No. 1 LSU (14-0) plays third-ranked Clemson (14-0) tonight in the College Football Playoff championship in New Orleans, about 60 miles northeast of where Orgeron grew up.
Orgeron, 58, is only the third Louisiana native to coach LSU since the Tigers joined the Southeastern Conference in 1933. The coaches of LSU’s national title teams all came from out of state: Paul Dietzel (Ohio) in 1958, Nick Saban (West Virginia) in 2003 and Les Miles (Ohio) in 2007.
‘A horse in the race’
Like virtually everyone in his community, Orgeron was a big LSU fan growing up and accepted a scholarship to play for the Tigers, but struggled with his adjustment to college life away from home and dropped out.
Later, he finishing his playing career at Northwestern State.
“I watched LSU football since I can remember,” Orgeron said last week. “I knew one day I’d get a chance to represent LSU and just representing all the guys that played in the purple and gold. This is what we live for.”
“You grew up as an LSU fan, but we’ve got a horse in the race now,” said Lane Fillinich, a high school teammate of Orgeron. “We’ve got the key to the city now.”
The sentiment is widespread in Orgeron’s old stomping grounds. On the front lawn of a brick home a few miles up the bayou from where Adams lives is a purple and gold eye-of-the-tiger emblem resembling the one emblazoned on the 50-yard line at Tiger Stadium.
The home belongs to Cornelia “Coco” Orgeron, Ed Orgeron’s 77-year-old mother. She said an artistically inclined neighbor painted it on her lawn and a few others in the area.
“I go to the store and everybody says, ‘Our boy did good,’” Coco Orgeron said. “Let’s put it this way, he has a lot more cousins than he ever had.”