About 10 minutes into Sunday morning’s final championship press conference, Ed Orgeron was asked a question about his Cajun heritage, more specifically, his accent.
It’s a question the Tiger coach has heard hundreds if not thousands of times during his 36-year coaching career. Orgeron’s response on the eve of the biggest coaching game of his life, reiterated his pride in where he comes from and why he uses the way he talks as motivation.
“Being Cajun, I’m very proud of being Cajun,” Orgeron said. “My grandparents didn’t speak English, and my mother and father spoke Cajun French at the table and then when they wanted to talk about me they spoke Cajun French, so I learned Cajun French. I’m excited to be at LSU, at home where we’re proud of our Cajun heritage. We’re proud to be from Louisiana. I just feel at home here. People that made fun of my accent before, I thank them. That gave me internal motivation to do better, so I thank them to be motivators of my career.”
It was those people that judged Orgeron on his appearance and voice that ultimately made the decision not to hire him at USC, electing to go with Steve Sarkisian instead. Orgeron moved back home, where he didn’t have to look far for his next opportunity.
“I didn’t get the job at USC. I realize now it was for a reason,” Orgeron said. “It was to come home. I got to spend a whole year. I had never seen my kids play. I went to every practice, every game. Cooked a lot of food in the backyard. Had a blast. And then was very fortunate that Coach Miles hired me. I wanted to come back to Louisiana. I wanted to be at LSU, and Coach Miles hired me, and for that I’m forever grateful.”
Fast forward five years and Orgeron is now the leading man of the top team in the country and a chance to bring a National Championship back to Louisiana, playing the game in Louisiana. It’s a story that’s almost too good to believe.
But Orgeron said Sunday the words National Championship have not been uttered as LSU prepares for Clemson. Instead Orgeron, the coaching staff and the players are taking the same approach that’s led them this far, taking it one game at a time by “trusting the process” and “blocking out the noise.”
“We talked about we have to prepare to beat Clemson, one game at a time, just like we’ve done,” Orgeron said. “We have trusted the process. Today is Focus Friday. The guys are getting excited. They are getting antsy. I can feel it. I’m getting antsy, too. But I think we have to continue to work up through game time. They are going to make plays. We’re going to make plays. We have to work for 60 minutes and focus on winning the game and not worry about all the other stuff, block out all the noise just like we did all year.”
Orgeron realizes the battle that lies ahead with the man that sat just opposite him in the fifth floor ballroom of the Sheraton hotel Sunday morning. That man, Dabo Swinney, has transformed a program into one of the greats college football has to offer.
Clemson has experience on its side, experience of playing in a game of this magnitude. After all, two of the last three championships have been won by Clemson and with a win over LSU on Monday, will be just one of 12 teams to win 30 straight games.
“Certainly we reinforce from time to time what their opportunity is, but it’s not like we’re giving them anything they don’t know,” Swinney said. “They’re very well aware of what they’ve been able to achieve. And listen, regardless of what happens in the game tomorrow night, it’s really been a historic run. To win two out of the last three National Championships is amazing. I’m just super proud of all of our teams that have worked so hard to just be the best they can be, and that’s really our goal.”
Clemson will be chasing history on Monday night with plenty of motivation to go around. But what about this LSU team? It’s motivation lies in accomplishing something young football players in this state can only dream of.
Playing for a National Championship in Louisiana isn’t just something Orgeron takes great pride in but many of his players do as well. There’s homegrown talent from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to Monroe. And then there’s guys like Grant Delpit, a Louisiana native who was forced to move to Texas after Hurricane Katrina.
“There’s a lot of things you can look at this game for motivation, and the only motivation we’ve used is to finish strong and focus on winning the game,” Orgeron said. “But those external motivations are there. These guys have always wanted to play in the Dome. Grant is from New Orleans. His family was displaced from Katrina. All his family will be there. It will mean more to our guys that we’re playing here in New Orleans for the championship, no question.”