Ed Orgeron deserves a raise and an extension, but proceed with caution
If LSU third-year head football coach Ed Orgeron gets a $1 million raise in his yet-to-be-announced contract extension, his annual salary of $4.5 million will surpass the $4.3 million previous Tigers’ coach Les Miles was banking when he was fired four games into his 12th season in late September 2016.
Sounds out of whack, doesn’t it?
Does Orgeron deserve such a payday cashing in last year’s 10-3 marquee season when the Tigers beat four top 10 teams and finished No. 6 and No. 7 in the AP and Coaches polls respectively?
Relatively speaking on several levels, well, yes.
His salary is a drop in the bucket considering LSU football produced $86.6 million in revenue for the 2017-18 fiscal year ending June 2018.
The raise would par for a coach riding a brief wave of success.
A year ago, South Carolina gave then third-year head coach Will Muschamp a three-year contract extension and a $1 million salary increase after the Gamecocks went 9-4 and beat Michigan in the Outback Bowl
Now, there’s portion of Gamecocks’ fans questioning athletic director Ray Tanner's haste rewarding Muschamp, especially after South Carolina went 7-6 in 2018 and was embarrassed when it was shutout 28-0 by Virginia in the Belk Bowl.
Auburn definitely had buyer’s remorse after its coach Gus Malzahn and his wily agent Jimmy Sexton used a 7-year, $50 million offer from Arkansas in November 2017 to prod Auburn to give Malzahn a new 7-year, $49 million deal.
Malzahn got a $2 million annual salary bump coming off the ’17 season in which the 10-4 Tigers beat eventual national champion Alabama but lost to Georgia in the SEC championship game and UCF in the Peach Bowl. And Sexton negotiated that 75 percent of the remainder Malzahn’s contract is always guaranteed if he is bought out.
This past season with more Malzahn money in the bank, No. 9 preseason ranked Auburn finished 8-5 overall and 3-5 in the SEC.
Rewind to Sept. 24, 2016 when then-No. 18 LSU played at Auburn in which both Malzahn and LSU’s Miles had their jobs on the line. Auburn’s Daniel Carlson kicked six field goals, a game-winning TD pass by LSU QB Danny Etling was nullified because it was snapped after the final horn and Miles got fired the next day being replaced by interim Orgeron.
Malzahn eventually cashed in the big payday.
Miles, last seen in a Dr. Pepper commercial as the maniacal villain who stole the national championship trophy, finally got a head coaching job last November at Kansas where finishing 8-4 will get a coach a parade through downtown Lawrence.
Which brings us back to Orgeron.
This time a year ago, he was heading into 2018 national signing day No. 2 needing a substantial recruiting win.
For most of January, he had done damage control on a 9-4 2017 season that unceremoniously ended with a last-minute Citrus Bowl loss to Notre Dame followed by the firing of one-year-only offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
When Orgeron axed Canada, it spawned the obvious question why he hired Canada if their offensive philosophies weren’t compatible.
On signing day, Orgeron’s long courtship of Patrick Surtain II, the nation’s No. 1 cornerback, failed to pay off. Surtain signed with Alabama and Tide coach Nick Saban. The Tigers finished No. 14 in the Rivals.com recruiting rankings.
Then, after spring practice when none of LSU’s quarterbacks separated themselves fighting to become starter, it made it difficult to believe the Tigers would finish better than 7-5 in the regular season considering their 2018 schedule that ranked on paper as one of the toughest in the nation.
The apprehensive mood around the upcoming season changed when Orgeron swayed Ohio State graduate transfer quarterback Joe Burrow, who had two remaining years of eligibility, to sign with the Tigers. Add Assumption College grad transfer placekicker Cole Tracy, who proved himself as the greatest one-season rental in LSU history, and the script dramatically flipped.
It certainly helped that two of LSU’s preseason ranked first-month victims Miami and Auburn, didn’t come close to playing to expectations. No. 2 ranked Georgia, a 20-point loser to LSU, hadn’t played a close-to-perfect game when it traveled to Tiger Stadium in October.
But still, the Tigers’ performances were beyond expectations, especially with the preseason lack of experience at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. The fact LSU finished just a handful of blown officiating calls away at Texas A&M from finishing 6-2 in SEC play can’t be overlooked.
So yes, Orgeron should be rewarded.
But the unknown caveat of his new contract will be his buyout. It was jacked up in his original deal because his annual salary was low by SEC head coaching standards.
On Orgeron’s original contract that was supposed to run through 2021, the buyout was $3,500,000 if before 11/28/17; $3,000,000 if before 11/28/18; $2,500,000 if before 11/28/19; $1,500,000 if before 11/28/20; $500,000 if before 11/28/21.
Though Orgeron is 25-8 overall and 15-7 in the SEC, LSU would be wise not to get caught in a Malzahn situation.
If Orgeron does get $1 million more in salary, lower his buyout annually by $1 million, extend his contract by no more than three seasons through 2024 (because he has plenty of built-in financial incentives tied to team record, postseason accomplishments and team academic performance), give assistants pay raises and proceed with caution.