“Every time you’re in front of your team everything you say matters and it has to be intentional.” -Dabo Sweeney, head football coach, Clemson University
By Mike Kuchar
This wasn’t the introductory team meeting that players were expecting. It was 2004 and Louisiana native Ed Orgeron has just been hired to lead the program at Ole Miss, one of the gems of southern college football. In his deep Cajun-like drawl, instead of projecting how physical his team was going to be, he pontificated on how tough he was. Before players knew it, “Coach O” was ripping off his shirt and challenging some of them to a fistfight. Luckily, no one obliged. "It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in my life," a former player said. "I mean, we had plenty of guys on that team from some really bad places. He would’ve been jumped or shot or both. I still can’t figure out if he knew that, that no one would try and fight their new head coach.”
Turns out his coaching staff wasn't spared this brunt of tirades either. During that first season in Oxford, he'd wear them down both emotionally and physically, treating each as if they were defensive linemen—the only position he coached before getting the promotion. Ultimately, he strangled the life out of the program, finishing 10-25 over three seasons from 2005 to 2007. In hindsight, he says going 100 mph, on and off the field, "broke people, it broke the team.” He was using the wrong messaging and it had a catastrophic consequence on the progression of the program.
Now the 2020 version of “Coach O” has made a 180-degree transformation, thanks in part to the experiences he had in that first go around. Coming off a national championship campaign at Louisiana State University, Coach Orgeron told me it took him over a decade to learn two very important lessons: number one, don’t have kickers and quarterbacks compete in the Oklahoma Drill (seriously) and two, never take for granted an opportunity to message the core values of the program.