BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Perhaps it's only fitting that there should be a figurative elephant in the room at LSU football headquarters during Alabama week.
Interim Tigers coach Ed Orgeron shows no interest in discussing how significant Saturday night's clash with No. 1 Alabama could be for his coaching future — and legacy.
"That's way out there, man. I ain't going to think about that. The focus is about these players, the LSU family," Orgeron said in his distinctive, raspy, baritone voice on Monday. "These next four weeks are going to pass fast. My job is to do the best thing I can do for this team today, let the chips fall where they may. Everything else is going to take care of itself."
LSU has been silent on whether Orgeron is viewed by administrators as a serious candidate to take over permanently for Les Miles, who was fired in late September after LSU lost to Auburn and fell to 2-2. As a tradition-rich program in a talent-rich state — not to mention its premier practice facilities and legendary, 102,000-seat Tiger Stadium — LSU can offer about as plum a head coaching job as there is in college football. There should be interest from numerous top coaches with resumes superior to that of Orgeron, who went 6-2 as an interim coach at Southern California and never finished above .500 in three seasons in charge at Mississippi.
At the same time, Orgeron, a south Louisiana native, has made no secret that being the head coach at LSU is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and he has no interest in going anywhere else.
If he beats Bama — the age-old LSU nemesis with the elephant logo — he just might stick. LSU, now ranked 15th, is trying to end a five-game losing streak against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
"Obviously, if we win this game, it's huge for his coaching resume," tight end Colin Jeter said. "We're going to do everything we can as players to get our job done and play for him, because, I mean, he's one of the best players' coaches I've ever had. He does a phenomenal job of making guys happy and making guys motivated to work."
Orgeron, a charismatic Cajun, was already popular among Louisiana football fans and high school coaches. That was one of the reasons Miles hired him as defensive line coach two years ago, and then chose Orgeron to fill a recruiting coordinator vacancy after last season.
When athletic director Joe Alleva fired Miles, Orgeron was the logical interim choice in terms of galvanizing a dissatisfied fan base behind the program for the duration of this season. But it's unlikely the behind-the-scenes power brokers who helped pay Miles' $9.6 million buyout had Orgeron in mind as a permanent successor. Houston's Tom Herman and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher — if available — might be more preferred choices among those with the greatest influence.
So far, however, LSU's recent performances have kept Orgeron in the running. LSU has won all three games since he took over, and impressively so.
LSU has scored an average of nearly 42 points per game during that span, during which the Tigers have hit on big plays in the passing game from quarterback Danny Etling, and long runs by Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice.
LSU's defense has yet to allow more than two TDs in a game all season, and might have had its best game in its last outing against Ole Miss, when the Rebels — who scored 43 points against Alabama — failed to score 30 points for first time this season in a 38-21 loss to the Tigers.
"All I can see is what's happened on the field. His leadership obviously has had some effect on that," Saban said Monday when asked about Orgeron. "The team seems to be playing with a lot of energy and a lot of confidence. They've executed really well and haven't made a lot of mistakes. I just feel like in the last three games they've played really, really well."
Orgeron repeatedly has been telling Tigers players that the team is theirs, that they deserve the credit for recent results and that it's not about the coach, LSU defensive back Donte Jackson said.
"He doesn't want us to play any game for him. He wants us to come play for the state, for the university, for ourselves, for our families, before we even think about him," Jackson said. "That's what really makes him a great guy. That's what really makes us want to actually go out there and play for him."
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this report.
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Posted on Tue, November 1, 2016
by BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer