Ed Orgeron is one of college football's biggest personalities, and for much of his life he has done everything big. He has coached big, played big, lived big -- and, yes, he has dreamed big.
As somebody who grew up on LSU football in the small town of Larose, Louisiana, and helped lead South Lafourche High School to a state championship in 1977, Orgeron considered the "Tigahs" -- as he calls them in his unmistakable baritone voice -- football royalty. He listened to every game on the radio with his father and envisioned former LSU great Ronnie Estay devouring ball carriers.
Orgeron's playing career lasted about two weeks at LSU, as he grew homesick and returned home. Previously he had turned down a chance during the recruiting process to go to Alabama and play for Bear Bryant.
As Orgeron's lifelong friend, former NFL quarterback and Louisiana native Bobby Hebert, notes, it was sacrilegious in those days to leave the state and play for anybody else if you had the ability to play at LSU. So when Bryant called the Orgeron house, hoping to arrange a visit, Ed Orgeron Sr. told Bryant not to bother, that his son was going to LSU.
So imagine the pride Ed Orgeron Jr. felt when LSU officials told him early Saturday morning that he was their man.
It doesn't matter if he was their second, third or even fourth choice. The people who know him best, his fellow Louisianans, will tell you very pointedly that he was the right choice. He's one of them. He eats the same food, speaks the same language and can make a tasty roux with the best of them.
Orgeron assured me in early October, when I spent some time with him right after he was named LSU's interim coach, that he was going to get the job permanently. He wasn't being arrogant or boastful or pretentious. He was just being himself. It's why he's so revered in his home state. He revels in meeting the steepest of challenges head-on, whether it's whipping up a gumbo or developing another stud defensive lineman.
But not even Orgeron, 55, could have imagined as a kid he'd one day have the keys to the LSU football program.
"It's hard to explain what LSU meant to a kid from the Lafourche Parish," Orgeron told ESPN.com in October. "The only LSU game I remember watching on TV was LSU and Notre Dame, and Ronnie Estay must have had about 18 tackles. He was my idol. I had the channel changer. I had to keep it because nobody was going to change the channel.
"When I think about LSU, I also think a lot about my dad. Cancer ate him up. We tried everything, but lost him four years ago. He was a huge LSU fan. He had a GED, but had an unbelievable work ethic. My mother peeled potatoes. Her parents trapped for a living, muskrats, and caught shrimp down on a camp in the marsh, and she lived with her sister so she could go to school.
"That's where I came from. That's where I get my fire, my parents."
It's that same fire that has endeared him to players and fans alike, but it's also a fire that Orgeron has learned to better keep under control. He was admittedly a bull in a china shop during his first foray as a head coach at Ole Miss, where he was 10-25 from 2005 to 2007 and fired after three seasons. To this day, some at Ole Miss will tell you that Orgeron was borderline maniacal when he was coaching the Rebels -- but Orgeron said it was more a case of him not channeling his passion and energy in the right way.
Plus, that was more than a decade ago, and he has evolved as a head coach, which is underscored by his success at both Southern California and LSU during difficult interim stints.
"It's night and day from what I was at Ole Miss," Orgeron told ESPN.com in October. "I treat everybody with respect. I treat every day like it's a recruiting day. I want everybody to have a role and have ownership and enjoy coming to work.
"I went to Ole Miss as a D-line coach," he said of his approach back then, "and when you're a D-line coach, that's how you are."
In other words, don't expect to see him ripping off his shirt any time soon.
"The last time I ripped my shirt off was at Tennessee," Orgeron said. "I said, 'You know what, the Wild Boys act is over.'"
And while he might not chug Red Bulls by the gallon like he once did, he still sips on an energy drink from time to time. "I've got some Monster [energy drinks] in my fridge. I'm going to drink some caffeine," Orgeron said. "If that's the worst thing I do in a day, I'm in good shape."
He takes over an LSU program that's also in good shape, but a program that Orgeron wants to return to championship shape. Les Miles is no longer around because he hadn't won an SEC title since 2011 and had lost five straight to Alabama and Nick Saban. That drought was extended to six straight earlier this month when Alabama beat the Orgeron-led Tigers 10-0 in Baton Rouge.
"I've always felt God had a plan for me, and this is where I was supposed to be," Orgeron said. "I lived away from my family for so long when I was coaching at USC, but now we're all back together. I'm happy, and they're happy. I want the people of Louisiana to be happy. They're my family, too, and I want to connect them.
"I know what they expect out of their football team. It's the same thing I expected when I grew up rooting for the Tigers, and we're going to give it to them."
Forgive Coach O if he takes a second to pinch himself just to make sure he's not dreaming.