Career Advice from Coach O

By now, you have the advantage of knowing the outcome of yesterday’s SEC football championship contest between LSU and Georgia.

No matter the outcome, LSU surprised everyone this year with its high-powered offense, led by quarterback Joe Burrow. And leading the team onto the field Saturday was their barrel chested, gravel voiced, Louisiana loving head coach, Ed Orgeron. 

I met Coach O about two years ago. His is the story of an underappreciated underdog who just kept fighting. I think his story offers some lessons the rest of us can apply to our careers and to our lives.

It was 120 degrees on the field in Tiger Stadium that day in August 2017. The sun was on a seek and destroy mission as the Tigers were wrapping up their Saturday scrimmage on the last day of August camp. My youngest son was playing fullback and tight end for the Tigers that year, his senior year, and Melinda and I were sweating it out in the stands. 

Ed Orgeron had won the head coaching job the year previous, an unlikely choice who had fought hard to win the confidence of the LSU athletic selection gods. This would be his first full season as head coach and he knew he was on a short leash. 

LSU fans love you…until they don’t.

Most of the team had left the field. John David had been one of the last players to leave the field and we were talking with him in what little shade we could find. That’s when I looked up and saw Coach O coming our way. 

He walked right up to Melinda and me, put out his hand, smiled and growled, “Byron. Melinda. So nice to meet you. That’s a mighty fine boy you got there. Go Tigers,” and walked on to the bus. He had nearly shaken my arm off.

I was speechless. I turned slowly to see Melinda was in a similar state.

“John David, that’s amazing,” I said. “He doesn’t know us. Never met us. But he knew our name. He’s got 100 kids on this football team and for him to know our names…well, that’s just really impressive!”

John David let me soak in the glory for a moment, then put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Dad…that’s why they put name tags on you when you entered the stadium.” 

And with that, I pulled the name tag off my chest, allowing all the hot air to escape. 

OK, so it did take me a couple of years to get over the fact that I’m not a big deal to Coach O, but I did get over it. And I’ve come to admire some things about him and his career that I think you and I can learn from. See what you think…

1. Learn. Not if, but WHEN you fail, learn from it.  Things were not always grits and grillades for Coach O. His stints as a head coach at USC and Ole Miss didn’t end well. But if you read anything about his time in previous captain’s chairs, you’ve to admit, he’s learned from his past. Gone is the control freak. The angry man. He’s doing what he loves. He’s better than he used to be. That’s something for all of us to shoot for.

2. Adapt. For years LSU was known for it’s ground and pound offense. LSU stood for Low Scoring University. The idea was to beat you to a pulp and outlast you in the fourth quarter. And every year, that tended to work until they played Alabama.

Things are different these days. New quarterback. New, young passing game coordinator. New look offense. 

What are the unbreakable rules in your world that need to be broken? The unchallengeable assumptions? The good thing standing in the way of the best thing?

3. Get help. Ed Orgeron was hired at LSU to be the offensive line coach. When the Les Miles was handed his pink slip, O was promoted to the temporary position of head coach. He knew there was a lot he didn’t know, so he sought out help. He eventually recruited an overlooked quarterback from Ohio and a staff assistant coach from the New Orleans Saints to round out his vision for a new look LSU offense. 

Where do you need help? Are you humble enough to ask for it? And when others help you succeed, will you give them the credit and the compensation that reflects their contribution? 

Coach O, we wish you and your LSU Tigers the best for the rest of this season. And thanks for coaching us up with your example.

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