Orgeron returns to Ole Miss

Published 5:07 am Friday, November 13, 2009


Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee assistant Ed Orgeron is always a little more intense than any of his players or fellow coaches.

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So is it even possible for him to turn it up another notch when he returns to Mississippi, the school that gave him his first shot as head coach and fired him after three seasons?

“Yes,” defensive lineman Chris Walker said. “We’ve only seen a little bit of it, and we know he can get a little bit more intense than he’s been. We’re kind of expecting that this week.”

If Orgeron has any hard feelings about returning to Oxford, he isn’t saying. The 48-year-old coach has declined all requests for interviews this week.

But Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin says it’s natural for any coach to feel a little extra fire when facing a former team — even when that coach is already brimming with intensity.

“If you’ve been fired before, if you ever went back to the place 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,” Kiffin said.

And while Orgeron isn’t talking about the past this week, many of his recruits are.

The Louisiana native is touted as one of the nation’s top recruiters. It’s what got him the job in Oxford in late 2004 and why coach Lane Kiffin spent $650,000 of his budget for assistant coach salaries on luring Orgeron to Tennessee.

Now the rosters at both Ole Miss (6-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) and Tennessee (5-4, 2-3) are stacked with players sought by Orgeron in the past five years.

Vols redshirt freshman linebacker Herman Lathers was hooked on Orgeron’s recruiting pitch in 2007.

“I was. But once Coach O left, I changed my decision,” he said.

Walker heard from him too. Orgeron worked on selling Ole Miss to the Memphis native because it was close to home and would give the self-proclaimed mama’s boy plenty of opportunity to play in front of his mom.

Walker said he formed a good relationship with Orgeron but had his heart set on getting farther away from home.

“He used that on me, and I was like, ’Yeah, you know this is kind of close, and I do want to be near my mom.’ But my mom was going to be wherever I went anyway, so that made it kind of easier (to say no).”

Mississippi defensive end Kentrell Lockett’s recruitment was a little different. Orgeron told Lockett to imagine what it would be like when he became a freshman All-American while leading the nation in sacks.

“To a high school student that gives you chills and goose bumps. You have to play for this guy. He has a way of words and just getting you. You think it’s the only guy you can play for,” the junior said.

But that’s not how it turned out.

When he was hired, Orgeron was considered one of the nation’s top assistant coaches after molding several national title teams at Southern Cal. But he finished 10-25 in three seasons and was fired after the Rebels finished 3-9 overall and winless in the SEC in 2007.

He left behind a program stacked with talent but listless after four straight losing seasons. Just days before he was fired, 20 players were put on probation for stealing from a hotel.

“We all would like to show him how we’ve developed since he’s been gone,” Rebels senior center Daverin Geralds said. “Especially me, an offensive lineman going against his group. You want to dominate his guys.”

Geralds doesn’t miss Orgeron’s grueling, full-contact practices late in the season when many players were banged up.

Those are the kind of practices many Vols have credited with improving their play. Walker, who during spring practice was named most improved defensive player, said Orgeron has helped the defensive linemen improve their chances for sacks and tackles for loss.

“He’s an awesome coach to play for,” he said. “He teaches us the details of things we haven’t learned since we’ve been here … and just being able to see his energy that he coaches with is fun for us.”

Though Ole Miss is favored by 5 points, Tennessee seems to have the momentum coming into the game. The Vols have won three of their last four — with a narrow loss to an unbeaten Alabama — while the Rebels have tumbled from the Top 25 after a much-hyped preseason.

But the Rebels also want to win one for their old coach.

“It’s good and bad. It’s a reunion. It’s mixed feelings. It’s emotional. It’s a game we just need to come out on top with,” he said.